It's 2012 and ten of my sites, all driven by syndicated content, have tagging. What value does tagging/folksonomy bring to the table, if any? Is it time to retire tagging?
I maintain a small network of ten Drupal sites. All of them use a freetagging vocabulary for posts alongside a traditional category vocabulary. The content on the biggest site is predominately made up of blog entries about social media/marketing.
Content is submitted by users (sometimes directly, usually pulled in via RSS that has been voluntarily submitted), and curated by a small editorial team that doesn't make any effort to prune or normalize the tags the users add to their posts. As a result, we have about 27,000 rows in our term table for our largest site, almost all of which are tags. In some cases, contributors add no tags; in other cases I've seen as many as two dozen tags on a single eight- or nine-paragraph post.
I don't see much sign that there's an emergent taxonomy going on: There are a number of different conventions in use. Some tags are capitalized, some aren't; some are pluralized, some aren't; some use spaces, some don't; some start with Twitter-style hash marks, most do not. Because our contributors don't really think of themselves as writers for our sites
, I don't think they have much incentive to self-police or organize. Because we really only expose tags by the byline/dateline and treat them as equal with categories for purposes of display, tags don't play a big part in the organization of the sites: There are no tag clouds, popularity-driven tag lists, etc. We also don't really expose them as something an individual user can follow or otherwise collect in a personalized space.
When I look at the numbers, our combined taxonomy indexes (categories and tags) comprise less than a half of a percent of actual traffic.
We don't have any interest in cleaning what we have up, either. It would be a huge task, and our editorial team would be on the hook for policing whatever we were left with. Some of that could be handled with simple rules (lower case, no space, no plurals) but I'm not sure that would be to any good end.
I did some analysis on the number of posts per tag and found that the vast majority of the tags in the database are applied to single posts: 12,602 tags are used just once, 2700 tags are used just 2-5 times.
I see the value of tags in certain circumstances. Certainly on a social bookmarking site I can see how they help surface bookmarks and allow communities to organize in the absence of a formal taxonomy tailored to them. I also see their value in organizing fast-moving bodies of information where there's a big universe of things and creating individual categories in a more rigidly maintained taxonomy would be onerous. I also understand that tags can be a value to improved site indexation, and possibly good for SEO (to the extent they generally constitute single-word links to pages full of content related to that keyword).
At the same time, I've got concerns about our situation: We have over ten thousand tag archive pages that have one post each, which means indexation probably isn't really being helped. Rather, I think we're inviting spiders to spend their time crawling down blind alleys.
So, I'm pretty close to pulling the trigger on tags and weathering whatever complaints may come, but I'm doing my due diligence here (and elsewhere) by asking what I might be missing. Anything? My gut tells me tagging was added as a "feature" at some point when that was simply what was done for an up-and-coming site that wanted to show how Web-savvy it was, so I'm more than ready to consign the feature to the same hole those little 80x15 buttons from 2003