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Friday, January 28, 2005

Tagging the Internet – New Means To Improve Search

Jeremy Wagstaff writes in WSJ, tagging is the future and once you see it in one place you see it, and its potential,everywhere. Excerpts from a very lucidly written non technical article:

Google is now indexing more than 8 billion Web pages, against 2 billion three years ago and 3 billion two years ago.That's a lot of pages. As David Weinberger of Harvard University's Berkman Center puts it: "We've been struggling for several years with the Internet's size and complexity." So is there a better way of finding stuff?. Google, after all, merely indexes the words it finds on a Web page, and those on pages linked to it. But Google doesn't try to figure out what the words actually mean, or what the pages are about.In short, using Google is like going into a library and hiring a very fast runner, who isn't smart but happens to a be a very fast reader, to sprint around finding all the books that have the word xxxxx in them. It would be better to just wander over to the catalog and look up the subject of searched item. It would, but so far there's no catalog like this. But there's an idea of one. It's called the "semantic Web", and it's simple enough: To categorize information on the Web by adding tags to Web pages. But with billions of pages out there, and thousands more added every day, this is not a task that anyone is volunteering to do. Last year a couple of free Internet services started doing something interesting, entirely independently of each other. Flickris a Web site for storing photographs; del.icio.us lets you store bookmarks to your favorite Web pages. They share two features: Both let users add tags to what they are storing, and by default share that data with any other user.So, say you upload a photo to Flickr, you might add a word or two to categorize it - say, scuba, or marzipan. The same applies if you add a Web page to your del.icio.us bookmarks. But because both of these tools are public, it also means that you can see what other pictures, in the case of Flickr, or Web page links in the case of del.icio.us, have the same tags. Tags are a good way to keep your bookmarks (what Microsoft calls "favorites") in a place you can find them. And there are alternative sites that offer this service like Simpy, Powermarks,and Spurl. All of these solve two basic problems:
- how to keep tabs on your bookmarks if you use more than one browser, or more than one computer, and,
- second, how to find them again easily.
Still, tagging is the future and once you see it in one place you see it, and its potential, everywhere. The beauty of labels, or tags, is that you can assign more than one.

We recently covered Peter Merholz view on building Metadata for the masses, where we noted, many classification systems suffer from an inflexible top-down approach, forcing users to view the world in potentially unfamiliar ways -But what if we could somehow peek inside our users’ thought processes to figure out how they view the world? One way to do that is through ethnoclassification -how people classify and categorize the world around them. Instead of a committee sitting down and deciding on some hierarchical system of categorizing stuff,it was ordinary people adding whatever tags sprang to mind, on the fly. A sort of "egalitarian taxonomy" - which is why some people are calling it "folksonomy", which may or may not catch on Imagine that you're interested in scuba diving. You add a few relevant Web sites to del.icio.us and tag them "scuba." Suddenly, on your del.icio.us bookmark page, you can see not only all your tags, but how many others have tagged the same pages. And you can see what other pages have also been tagged "scuba."You've not only stored your bookmark somewhere you can find later, but you've helped point others to the same page. And, most important, you can then see a whole library of pages others have considered worth bookmarking. Suddenly tagging becomes something simple, social - and useful. This month, Technorati started using tags from Flickr and del.icio.us to categorize the millions of blogs, or online journals, that it indexes. That turns Technorati into a kind of homepage of every conceivable topic you can imagine people writing about: Most important, this social tagging thing, if it takes off, could make finding information much easier. Instead of relying on search engines, we can rely on other surfers submitting interesting sites as they find them. A bit like having some seriously fast, smart speed-readers running around the Internet on our behalf armed with piles of index cards. Jeremy provides a directory of bookmark managers here .

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