January 8, 2005

From Tags to the Future

Merlin hit on something in his I Want a Pony: Snapshots of a Dream Productivity App where he discusses:

Tags - People have strong feelings about metadata and the smart money is usually against letting The User apply his or her own tags and titles for important shared data ("They do it wrong or not at all," the burghers moan). But things are changing for personal users. Two examples? iTunes and del.icio.us. Nobody cares what "metadata" means, but they for damn sure know they want their mp3s tagged correctly. Ditto for del.icio.us, where Master Joshua has shown the world that people will tag stuff that’s important in their world. Don't like someone else's homebrewed taxonomy? Doesn't matter, because you don't need to like it. If I have a repeatable system for tagging the information on just my Mac and it's working for me, that's really all that matters. I would definitley love that tagging ability for the most atomic piece of any work and personal information I touch.

This crossed my radar the same time as I read Jeff Hawkins' discussion about how he came up with Graffiti for Palm devices. He noticed people did not find touch typing intuitive, but they saw the benefit of it and it worked. Conversely in the early 90s people were interacting with handwriting interpreters that often did not understand one's own handwriting. Jeff came up with something that would give good results with a little bit of effort put in. Palm and Graffiti took off. (Personally, I was lucky when I got my first Palm, in that I was on the west coast and waking on east coast time, which gave me two or three hours of time to learn Graffiti before anybody else was awake. It only took two or three days to have it down perfectly).

Merlin's observation fits within these parameters. Where people have not cared at all about metadata they have learned to understand the value of good tags and often do so in a short period of time. iTunes really drives the value of proper tagging home to many (Napster and other shared music environments brought to light tagging to large segments of the population). In a sense folksonomies of del.icio.us and Flickr are decedents of the shared music environments. People could see that tagged objects, whose tags to be edited and leveraged had value in one's ability to find what one is looking for based on those tags.

As the web grew up on deep linking and open environments to find and share information. So to will tagging become that mantra for the masses. All objects, both digital and physical, will be tagged to provide immediacy of information access so to gain knowledge. Learning to search, parse, filter, and leverage predictive tools (ones that understand the person's desires, context, situation, and frame of reference so to quickly (if not instantly) gather, interpret, and make aware the information around the person). Should the person be late for a meeting their predictive filters are going to limit all be the required information, possibly a traffic jam on their normal route as well as their option A route. A person that has some free time may turn up the serendipity impact and get exposed to information they may normally have filtered out of their attention. The key will be understanding tags have value and just as metadata for other objects, like e-mail subject lines, can be erroneous and indicators of spam, our life filters will need the same or similar. We will want to attract information to us that we desire and will need to make smart and informed choices and tags are just one of the means to this end.


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