I have been going over some old threads in which I have participated and tagging them. I've also been reviewing the new threads to see how others have been tagging threads. My preliminary conclusion: your tags suck
Now, to be fair, not all
of your tags suck -- just a significant portion of them. And admittedly, we're all still getting the hang of riding this new bicycle. Right now, tags are mostly useful as bookmarks, so anything will do. I'm sure that, once all of the refinements are in place, the tags-as-bookmarks paradigm will shift to more of a tags-as-user-created-forums model, and navigating through the site with tags will be second-nature to even the most recalcitrant of veteran members. Still, I think we can agree that, even now, when it comes to tags, some people just aren't getting it
A really useful tag should be more than just a personal bookmark, a sort of a cyber "Kilroy was here" written on the side of a thread. It should serve as both an accurate label of the thread's content and a link to other threads which also share that theme. The challenge in tagging threads, however, is in anticipating how others might tag their
threads. Since there is no authoritative guide to tagging, each user must not only come up with their own tags, but also figure out if others will settle on the same tags. It's a bit like building a bridge from one river bank without being able to see the other side. Sometimes the bridge goes nowhere
, and sometimes it's surprising what one finds on the other side.
Social scientists would call this "cooperation under conditions of anarchy." Thomas Schelling, in his book Strategy of Conflict
, used the example of a husband and wife who go their separate ways in a department store after agreeing to meet again in an hour. They neglect, however, to agree on a place at which they will meet. So where do they end up? Each spouse needs to anticipate the other spouse's decision, as well as the other spouse's anticipation of their own decisions. Despite that level of complexity, most spouses (when tested by researchers) usually were able to find each other without much problem.
In the same way, tagging requires not only a sense of what tags are appropriate for a particular thread, but also how that tag will link to other threads that are being tagged by other members. And it all has to be accomplished without anyone telling you what to do or how to do it. It's not always easy, but then it shouldn't be brain surgery
either. And bearing in mind that your tags suck
, let me offer just a few suggestions for better living through tagging:
1. FULL NAMES: I know that "Obama"
are probably two of the most popular tags being placed on threads these days, but what if the thread is about Michelle Obama or Cindy McCain? Which Clinton is the "Clinton"
tag referring to? How useful would a "Kennedy"
tag be? In order to avoid confusion, I always use first and last names. I think you should too.
2. AVOID AMBIGUITY: In conjunction with the above, try to avoid ambiguous tags that can lead in two or more directions at once. "Viruses"
, for instance, can refer to both computer viruses and the kinds of viruses that infect people. When you're searching for one, you probably aren't interested in the other.
3. USELESS TAGS: In going over my old threads, I have deleted the "news" tag from any thread that had originally appeared in the "General News" forum. With the elimination of the forums, "news" as a tag no longer conveys any meaning ("international news" isn't much better). It's like the coccyx: a vestigial reminder of something that once was useful but now is totally useless. Get rid of it.
4. RULES OF THUMB As a rule, a tag that describes a general category
is better than one that is too specific
. Likewise, more formal beats less formal. For example, "children"
is a better tag than "kids"
. And tags that are used just to score points against the author of the thread tend not to be very useful at all, although there are exceptions