Why Tags? Because “people are very bad and inconsistent at organizing things”

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/04/28

Had a great discussion with a colleague today about advantages to tags and folksonomies for navigating corporate intranets.

I know it was a good conversation because her eyes did not glaze over as I went on like a tech fanboy about why we should try re-architecting some of our web projects around these concepts.

(Quick note — since I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on the blog yet — I am now working remotely for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford — and yes I still live in Seattle — downtown Renton specifically — you know, the future home of the Sonics)

This was much better than my feeble previous attempts to advocate tags to other folks I’ve worked with on other projects.

(When someone’s eyes glaze over as I begin the third sentence of my explanation, it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ve made things too complicated.)

What happened between the two conversations?

I kept my eye out for concise descriptions that would help me craft a compelling “Why Tags?” nugget.

On that hunt, I came across this —

There were several severe problems with this folder-based approach. First, people are very bad and inconsistent at organizing things. One day etrade.com will go into the “finance” folder and another day it will go into the “favorite links” folder.

It’s a quote from Ari Paparo’s “Getting It Right” post that I learned about via Scott Berkun back in December.

Ari was writing about Yahoo’s acquisition of tag leading del.icio.us — the cool thing about Ari’s post is that he’s writing from the perspective of an entrepreneur who started and failed with a web based bookmarking company back in the day (circa 1999-2000).

The main difference he points out between the very similar companies is that of tags/folksonomies — del.icio.us had them and has succeeded where Blink.com did not have them and failed.

In his words —

Congratulations to Josh on the del.ico.us acquisition. Yahoo will make a great partner for the bookmarking service. Now a little part of me is cringing as I write this. Having founded a bookmarking company in 1999 with pretty much the exact same vision as the new crop of services, I’ve got to feel, well, a little stupid. (or angry, or depressed, or whatever). Maybe writing about it will make me feel better and maybe even help me make a point or two about product development.

As those of us in the eLearning space continue to flesh out our training ecosystems, we’re going to need to be able to concisely advocate things like tags that are going to help our users kick ass.

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