Organizing Chaos -- Tag It!

By Bert Sandie posted 05-03-2010 12:27


One of the most powerful means of filtering, sorting and searching information that has emerged as part of social computing is the use of “tags” to classify content of all types. Associating tags with content creates a set of metadata that is used to find content. This metadata provides a new paradigm for finding content which compliments the traditional search mechanisms that users are familiar with.

Why do we want to make our enterprise data easier to find? Research published in 2009 by IDC, estimates that information workers average 8.8 hours a week looking for information, with a cost of $14,209 a year. Imagine if we could reduce this cost by as little as 10% then we would save employees almost one hour each week in their ability to find information. Tagging content in our enterprises appropriately will help employees find the “right” information more efficiently.

Let’s start with setting some context on two different methods for classifying information in our enterprises.

  • Taxonomy is defined as a system of classification that is based on a structured and controlled method to annotate and categorize content.
  • Folksonomyis defined as a system of classification derived from the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content.

Perhaps the table shown below will help better delineate the differences between the two classifications systems.













To better understand the value of tagging, let’s have a quick look at one of the early adopters of tags was the photo-sharing site Flickr. Flickr used tagging to help classify and categorize the millions of images that users were adding to their site. Their tagging system is extremely robust, easy to use, is used as part of their search algorithm, and the tag clouds show different view of the content available

Tag clouds have gained growing popularity in the past five years as a means to bolster our ability to find information efficiently and effectively. You will now see tags and tag clouds used for a wide variety of content types including images, videos, and documents.

A common discussion topic with regards to tags is the use of taxonomy vs. folksonomy. My own experiences and knowledge with using tags has led to the realization that a blended approach may lead to the best results for the users of the system.

Here are some best practices that will lead to a blended approach tagging system that provides a great user experience:

  • Allow tags to be easily added to content: During creation of the content allow the tags to be added easily, intuitively, and quickly; and allow tags to be added to existing content (i.e., by clicking on an ‘edit tag icon’ that pops up a dialog to edit)
  • Provide Type-ahead for tags: When adding tags use a type-head system that shows the users the available choices based on what they are typing and displays how many times the tags have been used (i.e., think about how Outlook works with names).
  • Allow new tags to be added by everyone: When adding a tag, if it does not already exist then the user will automatically create it. The next time any user chooses to use this tag it will automatically appear as available for selection.
  • Pre-load common tags: Have content managers, managers, and experienced users tag new content based on some a pre-defined set of taxonomy.
  • Show a tag cloud on key content pages: The tag cloud reinforces to the users the importance of tagging their content and provides a navigation method to popular content.
  • Use tag data as part of the enterprise search algorithm/solution.
  • Educate users on best tagging practices: Provide a cheat sheet and/or short tutorial video that demonstrate the best practices for tagging content.

Some additional best practices for the different types and uses of Tag Clouds are explained in this article by Vitaly Friedman.

I leave with a simple call to action – “Just Tag It!”

#folksonomy #Taxonomy #Search #classification #tags #content