Tag It! What's Up With All the Tagging?

So if you are any kind of a web efficinaficionadoado than you probably have some of the following accounts: Myspace, Digg, Del.icio.us, Last.FM, maybe even Bloglines, or Rojo, and don’t forget about iTunes. You probably also have a decent mp3 collection, one that’s properly tagged so you can find your music when you want it and can find it on portable mp3 players. It seems that these days all you do is tag, tag, and tag some more. You tag websites, music, news feeds, and even your friends. Don’t believe me on the friends one? Look at your IM list, I’ll bet it is sectioned off for friends, acquaintance, and work people. And with the increasing desire for desktop search (from say Google, Apple’s Spotlight, or even Beagle in Linux), it is becoming increasingly important for your data to be tagged for easy finding later.

For those that are new to this concept and sitting there wondering what I mean by “tagging”, it’s really quite simple. You take an item and you “tag it” by using common phrases associated with the item. So lets say you’re looking at your favorite band’s website, we’ll use Foo Fighters as an example, and you decide to Del.icio.us this webpage, you might tag it as such (Del.icio.us uses a space as their delimiter/seperator) “music davegrohl nirvana rock alternative”. As you can see all those items relate to the Foo Fighters in some way or another. So when you search your tags later you can search for “davegrohl” and that link would get returned since it is tagged as such. That’s what tagging is.

So why tag? Well for one, it allows you to organize without really organizing. You can have stuff spread out all over the place, but if you type in the right set of tags you can find whatever you want. And since the tags are based on how you would tag something, it only requires your own brain to unlock words to find it. Also in a community setting, everyone’s tags can later be used to find something, the downside to that is no one is likely to use the same tags as you to label something. Sure there will be similarities, and you may even find a few people that will tag similarly but no one else in the world thinks exactly like you think so no one is going to tag exactly like you. Tagging also gives us a sense of control, because we feel organized, at least a little. If it’s tagged, I can find it later is usually the thought process. Finally, I think we tag because with all the information floating around on the internet, tagging allows us a way to locate it later. It allows the user to come back to something at their own leisure to read it, study it, try it, or view it. Imagine, you are surfing through Digg, and you find 10 articles across 3 pages that you would like to read. Now normally you’d have to bookmark or read. But if you “Digg” it (Digg’s way of “tagging”) you can come back to it later. Or you can use Del.icio.us to “bookmark” (read tag) it and come back to it later on. Tagging and moving on with the knowledge that you can read it when you get home or on a break makes it much easier to digest all the news bits floating around. And since people like to get their news from a variety of sources based on what is important to them, it’s much easier for them to filter for the content they are really interested in.

How integrated is tagging bound to come in the age of desktop searches, live bookmarks, and blogging? Well at the rate at which I’m seeing the ability to tag pop up, I have a feeling that tagging is going to be around for a while. We as humans are pretty scatter brained, and the idea of being able to just tag and go without and real sense of organization is an appealing one. I think as desktop searching becomes more normal (as it is bound to do with the release of Vista) we will see tagging become more popular.

What do you think?

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