Do you tag stuff in the most individual way possible, or do you let tags overlap?
March 18, 2005 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Tags. They're used everywhere on the Web now to categorize stuff, but not everything has a unique name. Do you tag stuff in the most individual way possible, or do you let tags overlap? For instance, if I post a picture of my computer screen and one of my house, do I tag them both "windows"? Or do I tag one "Microsoft Windows" and the other "house windows"? Is someone named "Chris Smith" stuck with being conglomerated with other people with the same name, or should I ask Chris Smith what his middle name is and add it to the tag? It's easy for New York City to get the tag "NYC", but should photos of Springfield, Illinois be "Springfield", "Springfield, IL", or "Springfield, Illinois"?
posted by Nikolai to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should tag them at a level of detail that will enable you to find it again in five years. Your tag selections will likely coincide with many that I would chose.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:06 PM on March 18, 2005

I wonder about this a lot when I use Do I add the tags "blog" and the tag "blogs"? Is more better? Should I use both the US and UK spellings (i.e., "humor" and "humour") so anyone likely to be online can find it?

Great question. Hope you don't mind me adding to it.
posted by abbyladybug at 8:33 PM on March 18, 2005

fff has it. Think about what you search for in the future, and what keywords you'd use to try to find the link/photo/whatever that you're looking for.

The answer will depend heavily on your own needs and preferences. The power of tagging [cue theme music] depends on the aggregate regressing to a mean. (This addresses abbyladybug's question: use whatever works best for you -- it will probably work best for other people too. And if it doesn't, it will work best for *enough* people that it works out ok in the end.)

For example, if I took photos of Springfield, Illinois, I might tag them "springfield illinois barn mathematicians goodbeer party". Then, next time I wanted to relive those glory days of rural math-geek parties, I'd find that photo; ditto if I wanted to remember all the places I stopped in Illinois on my road trip in 2005; ditto all the times I actually shelled out for decent beer....
posted by gleuschk at 8:42 PM on March 18, 2005

This is a big limitation of tags, especially tagging systems (like the one here) that don't allow multi-word single tags. Not everyone uses the same system (Chris_Smith or ChrisSmith), and not everyone uses the same level of detail. is a perfect example: do I tag for myself or for others? Am I more interested in keeping track of my shit or in sharing my shit? These are the questions that keep me up at night. Or at least that make me scratch my head once in a while.
posted by goatdog at 9:01 PM on March 18, 2005

I think the point of tags is that you tag things in whatever way makes sense to you. That way you don't have to ram your photos/bookmarks/posts/whatevers into someone else's arbitrary categories.
posted by the_W at 9:03 PM on March 18, 2005

A note from a weblog designer to our staff about why tags are the devil. (He's kinda right: if I tagged, say, all the objects in my apartment, I'd never remember which words I'd need to find them.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:04 PM on March 18, 2005

If it's for your own benefit, tag it as it makes sense to you. If you are aiming for other people to find your tags, as on flickr, I would tag it with as many variations on the theme as you can think of. Multiple tags is a good thing.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:37 PM on March 18, 2005

I've started tagging stuff about people using their full first and last names unless they're really famous or powerful. So it's elizabethedwards, joebeanesposito, and seanconnery, but it's arafat and kerry and bush. Although that could be a problem too, someday; we're already on our second Bush, so what should I tag a story about his father? Maybe it should be full names for everyone.
posted by Asparagirl at 11:31 PM on March 18, 2005

I want more of a rating system for tags. So I made one myself on my blog.

The idea is when you're reading a post, you can add any tags you find useful, so it's not just the author that controls them. You can also "vote" on tags by simply submitting a tag that's already been submitted.

End result? If you agree something should be tagged as "humor" but you notice the number 2 result is already "humour", you'll just tag the different spelling.

It's not perfect, but I think it adds something.
posted by jragon at 11:34 PM on March 18, 2005

Though I do think overthinking is bad. Remember, you'll still find these things with plain old search engines/bookmarks/categories/sticky notes/strings around your finger.

Tags are just another potentially useful thing, not the solution to all of the world's searching problems.
posted by jragon at 11:36 PM on March 18, 2005

What CunningLinguist said. When your brain tags stuff, it fires in all directions. "Windows" brings up Bill Gates, Philip Glass, Dale Chihuly, as well as squeegee, ammonia, bird, ice and ass. Seems to work, though.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:12 AM on March 19, 2005

Exellent question! Short answer: there is no perfect way.

Long answer: I think this is sometimes called the granularity issue. Any item you tag will have many different facets, and many levels of granularity. There are therefore many levels you can choose to tag on, and as folks have said, you should do so at the level that is best for you. With things like places, for instance, *I* like to have a basic hierarchy - e.g. in the case of Springfield, I would have 'Springfield,' 'Illinois,' and (as I travel internationally) 'USA,' as separate tags. I also include a 'travel' tag in each of these. But that's just me. It might be cool for instance to tag by lat/long, or by zip code.

What is interesting about tags is that at the beginning they can seem overwhelming, but very rapidly some frequently used tags emerge. It would be nice to apply these retroactively to your first tags. Developing a personal taxonomy is an iterative process, I think. There are some cool client-side tools that allow you to search your tags (e.g. cocoalicious); what I would really like to see is a tag editor that allows you to treat each tag as a separate field and to perform 'regular expression' operations on them (e.g. if you have used both, to replace all 'photographs' with 'photography').

do I tag for myself or for others

I think the only person you know how to tag for is yourself; this is because you have a good idea of the scope of your interests, and the relevant domains and sub-domains, but a poor awareness of how others may want to see the world. Think about every time you buy a present for an SO ...
posted by carter at 8:27 AM on March 19, 2005

Part of the answer depends on how your system uses tags--for example, delicious lets you do tag1 AND tag2 (but not NOT or OR). I think that Joshua Schachter is also working on word stemming (so window = windows), and delicious already has related tags. So if you use "windows" and "house" as two tags for fenestration, you'll be able to home in on it; it would be harder (in terms of memory) to home in on "housewindows."
posted by adamrice at 8:31 AM on March 19, 2005

IMO it would be best to avoid word stems: no plurals, no verbing, etc. KISS principle: reduce it to the most basic forms, to maximize search collisions.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:49 AM on March 19, 2005

I predict that very soon the tagging engines will adopt the smarts of Netflix and Amazon, and they'll begin to make some of these associations for us. They'll offer choices as keywords are entered, both for tagging and for retrieval. If you've typed "Gates" and "Windows" -- the engine might offer "Architecture?" and "Microsoft?"
posted by Tubes at 9:36 AM on March 19, 2005

RJ Reynolds: (He's kinda right: if I tagged, say, all the objects in my apartment, I'd never remember which words I'd need to find them.)

Thing is though you can't grep your apartment.

I tag for me and I'll throw everything I think is appropriate on an item.

I don't sweat a windows tag being applied to things you see thru, an operating system, a person and a period of time (launch window). Because most everything has multiple tags the other tags on an item will differentiate.
Conceptually it's sort of like the advantages of a relational database.

what I would really like to see is a tag editor that allows you to treat each tag as a separate field and to perform 'regular expression' operations on them (e.g. if you have used both, to replace all 'photographs' with 'photography'). already has a limited form of this functionality.
posted by Mitheral at 10:19 AM on March 19, 2005

Two quick thoughts.

First, have people checked out the new experimental post? Here's the bookmarklet (I think that link should work, if it doesn't just go here). It solves some of the issues discussed here by showing you what other people have tagged the item with. It shows you both tags you have used in the past and tags you haven't, and it makes it easy to add tags by clicking on them.

Second, I agree with Mitheral, I would love it if allowed you to edit multiple tags at once. I have found that as I've gotten more comfortable with tagging I just go crazy and tag with everything I think it belongs to, whereas at the beginning I tried to limit to a few tags. I've been slowly going back and tagging things appropriately, but I think this would be a great tool.
posted by nbrier at 10:47 AM on March 19, 2005

if I tagged, say, all the objects in my apartment, I'd never remember which words I'd need to find them

Of course you would, because you assigned the tags. Just in the same way it is easy to use a program you wrote, it is easy to remember the tags you used. All you have to do is think, "If I was tagging this, how would I tag it?" and there's your answer, because how you tagged it is almost certainly going to be the way you would have tagged it if you were tagging it. After all, you = you.
posted by kindall at 8:36 PM on March 19, 2005

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