Are tags user-centric or site-centric? | Ryan Joy (atxryan) Are tags user-centric or site-centric? | Web developer living and playing in Austin, Texas. Microsoft Developer Evangelist.
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Are tags user-centric or site-centric?

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June 25, 2008 by Ryan Joy

I got into a discussion with coworkers last week that reminded me that everyone does not use websites in the same way, even power users and creators of technology. What surprised me most was that their use of the same feature was almost the exact opposite of mine. Our own assumptions informed our bias for or against certain use cases.

The discussion revolved around ‘tagging‘ as it relates to user generated content. I view tags as a predominantly user-centered feature. Whether I’m viewing pics on Flickr or reading someone’s blog, I’m likely to click on an associated tag because I want to see other content that user has tagged similarly. To me, this is first and foremost. Yes, I might want to see other content that other users have tagged with the same terms, but that is almost always a secondary concern. I don’t want to see others’ photos tagged ‘party’, nor do I want to read another person’s post tagged ‘javascript’.

In an informal poll, I found that about 50% of respondents view tags as primarily serving to aggregate similarly tagged content from many users. (Ok… there were really only 6 people involved in this discussion, but it was 3-3.) I.e. they go to Flickr, view all public tags, and browse photos of ‘Europe’ from different users. Or, they read an interesting blog post tagged ‘webdesign’ and want to view what other people have written about the same subject.

I almost never want to view all items tagged similarly by a community. In most cases, I am very much interested in content in the context of that user. I want to see their pictures because I know them or I enjoyed their others. I want to read their writing because I already trust them. The exception to this rule would probably be event context items. I.e. if someone tags something ‘BarCampAustin2008’, I’m likely to want to see the aggregated content from anyone who was at that event. Another exception, of course, would be sites that are themselves aggregators like Technorati.

I’m not saying that either usage is incorrect, but I think it has the potential to affect everything from the UI to the way tag relationships are stored in the database. It boils down to an 80/20 rule and I think the 80 is user-centric.

How do you view tagging? How do you use it when consuming content?


  • alex

    I use it as a zeitergist to judge what’s popular especially for time based information

  • chuy

    Tagging? Joo mean like when me and my homies hit Lowes for some cans and then lay down some logos?

  • I actually use tags in a content-centric mode, because I use them like smarter search keywords. I love Flickr for that reason, and I think it makes the tool so much more useful than Google Image Search, for instance. Of course, standard search rules apply – using multiple tags or proper nouns always works better. On the other hand, I do filter a lot of content by user, I just don’t use tagging as the feature-level way to do it. For me RSS feed selection, Twitter following, etc. all work best when you consider the person who is the source, not necessarily the topic.

  • Tim

    I’m with Doug, but I typically frequent blogs with a small number of writers with pseudo-editorial control over what the tag cloud looks like.

    I wonder if the types of sites a user visits generate a lot of that user’s expectations around how tagging works.

  • User centric for me. Just like the offline world, I use it to get a better understanding of what people i find credible and interesting think. When we were at Forrester this week, I was reminded again that when it comes to all this new stuff, what they say is true: “focus on the relationships not the technology.” When I think about how I use nearly any Web 2 technologies, its just broadens/facilitates what I was already doing offline.

  • Becky

    I use the content-centric approach – using tags to help find more content on that same topic.

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