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« Can I have an inclusive? | Main | Technorati tags: Take 2 »

January 13, 2005

Technorati Takes Tags Global

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

Technorati just launched Tag Search across blogs, Flickr, and Socialtext wikis. Here's a zeitgeist and a search for social software tags.

How It Works

Their implementation goes beyond the concept of Taggle and implementation of Taggregator to break down social silos in some fascinating ways.

Scraping Flickr and tags seems to be the easy part. They also infer tags from blog post categories in major blogging platforms like Blogger and Typepad. You can also include a tag within a post with a simple rel="tag" statement added within an html link, like this indicatr. Socialtext added rel tags to its categories enable open discovery of tagged wiki pages.

But as tagging goes global, its a good time to consider even more why tagging and folksonomy work.

Networked Individualism

What Flickr and do really really well is provide both personal and social incentives for participation, which fits the networked individualism model. People are not bound to a single group or themselves alone, they are the center of a network that ebbs and flows through multiple communities with different facets of their identity. You own your photo collection or bookmarks and tag them first for your own benefit. The individual incentives are strong for collection, and the interface for tagging lowers barriers to doing so. Group incentives for sharing, such as attention, feedback, implcit reputation and group forming itself encourage meaningful classification.

Emergent Intelligence

There are strong similarities to how wikis and tagging works. Tagging lowers transaction costs for contributions and fixing mistakes. This increases participation and the probability of the right data actually existing in the first place. It also enables a dedicated community to self-govern (and note that as in the case of Wikipedia, the enthusiasm hasn’t worn off)

A single tag can be applied in error, and be fixed locally, but that matters less when viewed in the aggregate. Larger patterns arise that are statistically significant.

The other day I was listening to an interview with Malcom Gladwell about his book Blink, which posits that snap decisions are better than carefully considered judgements. Especially when made by experts who have developed a muscle memory of the brain. One of the callers pointed out (at 9:00/30:15) we are better than making snap decisions work better at discrimination (does it belong in the good category or the bad category) between things than characterization (determining the nature of things). Fine, I thought, that's tagging.

Gladwell's theories seemed to run counter to those of another popular book these days, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, which holds that group decisions are better than those of individual experts. But not only are these two views complimentary, Surowiecki and Gladwell are having an open conversation about it this week.

So just think about the emergent intelligence mechanism we are creating with a neural network overlaid on the net. Considered blog posts gain authority through link attention. Consensual wiki pages gain authority over time. Links and snapshots bridge across places, physical and virtual. Tags are applied in the blink of an eye and patterns emerge from the crowd.

Social Discovery

But below all that global heady stuff, what tags do really well is aid social discovery. Technorati's tag search may be disconcerting at first, it plugs structural holes between clusters in ways usually left to people as boundary spanners. Facets of identity may be impacted by context shifting. But social software services are adapting to support context within group forming. On Flickr, you have friends and family privacy with the social network as a filter. On Socialtext, you have private spaces defined by the group of participants. The open affordances of tags have led to local/global/local navigation and easy group forming. But the same opennes raises interesting questions about tag spam and the tyranny of the majority.

UPDATE: Technorati’s official launch

Full Disclosure: Technorati is a customer of Socialtext and I have lots of friends who work there. I also happen to think this is very cool stuff.

Tags: , , , , , , .

Comments (8) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. Jody on January 14, 2005 7:18 AM writes...

Thanks for the link to the model of networked individualism! I also want to comment on tagging being discrimination or characterization.

I think it is a matter of interface design. delicious uses a free type interface when adding a post -- I would say that this falls into a characterization task. If a user would be presented with a list of available tags to put the bookmark into, it would become a discrimination task.

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2. Roger Benningfield on January 14, 2005 10:29 AM writes...

"They also infer tags from blog post categories in major blogging platforms like Blogger and Typepad."

Ross: I hope that gets upgraded. Virtually every enty in my blog includes actual tags ("keywords" in the local parlance) that are exposed via the ENT extension to RSS. My categories are extremely broad, and have less to do with the content of a post than with the structure of the site. The real metadata is in the list of tags.

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3. Ross Mayfield on January 14, 2005 11:18 AM writes...

Jody, what if the tool offers both like we do?

Roger, agree that keywords are a more natural interface than categories within typepad.

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4. Jay Fienberg on January 15, 2005 3:30 PM writes...

I think there are so many different things being lumped together as "tags" and "tagging", that I'm skeptical about what's happening vs what's being imagined.

For example, what are the differences between the "meta" keywords on a web page, and these tags in blog posts?

There are differences, and the interesting ones, it seems to me, are cultural rather than technical, e.g., how are the tagging cultures of Flickr,, and Technorati different than the keyword tagging cultures of web pages?

(Also, then, there are the structural / "form" idioms these cultures use that are different than one and other: blog posts are different than photos are different than bookmarks are different than wiki pages are different than web pages.)

I don't think tagging is going global as much as Technorati is promoting a particular culture or two of tagging (and, perhaps, more tentatively, maybe it's not even a culture, but just a style or technique).

As Technorati does a great job, maybe we'll see a specific tagging culture going global. In any case, I think we'll be seeing some interesting ineractions between the different styles / cultures that Technorati is combining, and the possibilites of a whole new network emerging out of that.

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5. Scott on January 15, 2005 8:50 PM writes...

You know, it would be great if this tag system actually worked! I've been posting to my blog (and including the proper tag) but Technorati is failing to find my posts. It's freakin' crap! I also am pinging Technorati every time I publish a new post but nothing seems to work. Not getting any reply back from support their either, so overall I'm pretty f#4ked off. Thumbs down from me.

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6. nevermind on January 17, 2005 11:18 PM writes...

Technorati's tag search may be disconcerting at first, it plugs structural holes between clusters in ways usually left to people as boundary spanners. Facets of identity may be impacted by context shifting. But social software services are adapting to support context within group forming.

Are you folks really under the illusion that the less open your communication is, the more important what you are saying becomes?

Because I'm in this business, and I have absolutely no friggin' idea what the sentences above are talking about.

Jargon-laden opacity suits insular, closed and elitist communities. That doesn't seem to be the ultimate goal here, so why the alien lingo?

Is it utterly impossible to communicate these ideas in regular English? The kind people actually use when they talk to each other?

How about open-sourcing your ideas here? We, the people thank you.

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7. Sylvia Anderson on January 24, 2005 3:10 PM writes...

That is awesome! Thanks for the link.

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8. vanderwal on January 26, 2005 5:27 PM writes...

Technorati adds a tagging tool, big whoop. It is a tag ping back to Technorati to let them know to come and include that content, which can very easily be spam. If it was to be a folksonomy the rel="tag" would point not to Technorati but to the content that is relevant to that tag, which could be to ones own existing category for information with that tag. Correcting the direction of the link, would provide a tool like with the same integrity.

Currently the only purpose of Technorati's link direction is to inflate its Google ranking. If Technorati were honest about it they would add rel="nofollow". The Technorati folks on usually very smart, but in this case they were complete fools. In working to game Google they have added little value, where they could have added a ton of value to the internet. Such a shame.

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