Most of us don’t know how to catalog information… and even when we do, our personal sense of categories doesn’t generally encompass a wide enough range. If I create a photo blog and label a picture “Paris,” will someone searching for “France” find my photo? Probably not.
Tags have been around for years… but, said Chris Heuer during the BlogWorld & New Media Expo this week, the social media community has never quite figured out how to take advantage of them. “They are still in front of us,” he said, “Still ‘potential.'”
Yet, pointed out Marshall Kirkpatrick during the same panel discussion, if you compare the number of tags for a given photo on Flickr, it becomes obvious that the more tags an image has, the more likely it is to be popular. (Curiously, he noted in passing, few tags are multilingual.)
For myself, I certainly use tag clouds to find information that’s popular on a given site or blog (at least as a measure of “what’s hot”). One theme at this conference is the rising importance of online video and audio. In fact, the same speakers suggested that “headphones are the new UI.” If I worry about tagging this blog entry, at least I can reassure myself that search engines will chow down on the text on the page; you might find this post anyway. Photos, video, and audio — whether as podcasts or Youtube videos or anything else — rely on the individual ability to categorize the information we enter. This is not a native skill, and it certainly isn’t one that most IT departments (or even the marketing departments responsible for corporate image) have developed.
As a result, I’m not sure about the future of tags; on the one hand, they’re certainly the best way to label information, but are they a good way to find it?