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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tags and Web2.0

In a recent post I claimed that tools like social bookmarking and tagging might be making waves among the technoscenti, but they are not high on the nuts-and-bolts priority list of the typical non-profit. I got dissapproving comments by half a dozen readers - typical was a comment from Mike at Mind Valley who says:
I am surprised that you doubt the business value of tagging and social bookmarking.
The fact is, these are powerful tools that are reshaping the way people use the Internet, just as the Search Engine did a few years ago. Eventually, you will be taking this stuff for granted, just like a text search on Google. My point was simply that most of the non-profits I work with have far more crucial technology issues to resolve at this moment. But personally, tagging and social bookmarking are an essential part of how I use the web. So sure, let's talk about tagging. There's a great deal of esoteric talk about tagging to be found out there - but I'd like to take this space to introduce new users to the technology.

Let's begin at the beginning by making sure you've heard of one of most interesting phenomena of web2.0: social bookmarking. The Wikipedia article on it is clean and concise and points to a lot of important sites. Look it up., as the article points out, is the mother of all social bookmarking sites. And if you frequently do research on the web and need to save pointers to a great many sites, you will immediately see its value. At first blush, its usefulness seems to be that you can store your bookmarks on the net, so that they are available from any computer you use. But that is just the beginning.

Tagging is the key to social bookmarking. Instead of putting your bookmarked sites in folders, as your browser does, delicious lets you assign as many tags as you wish to each bookmark. You might tag my recipe for Mahi Mahi Veracruz as Fish, but also as Cuban. Then you can look it up under either. You can just make up the tags on the fly, and do a global replace later as you refine your tagging terms. By clicking on any of your tags, listed in a menu down the side, you can see everything you have tagged that way.

But why do we call it social bookmarking? When you bookmark a site, delicious will tell you how many others have also bookmarked that item. If you click on the reference to those others, it will show you all those citations -- anonymously -- and you can see how each person tagged it. This is where folksonomy, as people are calling it, really kicks in. Suppose you bookmark my blog and tag it nonprofitsoftware. When you look at how others have tagged it, you will see the tag nptech commonly used. So you might go and edit your tag to fall in line with other users.

Now you know that lots of folks tag articles about non-profits and technology as nptech. So you might ask delicious to show you everyone's recent bookmarks on that subject, by going to

Now your're cookin! But wait, there's more. You can use this tagging mechanism as a quick way to publish. Suppose you save a bookmark to a document on your own website and give it some standard easily understandable tags. Then others will find it when they search delicious (or other sites, like Technorati, that aggregate delicious bookmarks). So you can use delicious not only to organize your own book marks, but to put your information into the hands of other tech-savvy users. This sort of internet searching is becoming more and more common: Just an hour ago I got an email from someone who found my blog by looking for nptech tags in delicious.

I don't want to give the impression that tagging is synonymous with delicious. Lots of sites are doing different things with tagging. Tagging is the Wednesday's focus next week at the Techsoup Web 2.0 Online event. Check it out!

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Comments on "Tags and Web2.0"


Blogger Mind Valley said ... (October 19, 2005 at 11:37 PM) : 

I would have to agree with you that social bookmarking is still a few years off and not one of the most pressing technological needs.

However, to become mainstream, I think users not only need to understand tagging, but the tools need to become more user friendly.

For example, tags need to be comma separated. Otherwise, it is like saying that you cannot use phrases to save something. That makes little sense. It is like saying that you can search in Google only one keyword at a time.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (October 27, 2005 at 7:43 AM) : 

Very good points, Michael.

One of the most important values of tagging resources found on the web is that we are providing hints for search engines which will make it easier for other readers to find what we've tagged. In this way, the tech-savvy are leading the way for the rest, but just as publishers and stake holders today use "search engine optimization" tricks to increase their search engine rankings, tagging will become more mainstream over time. One important aspect of the so-called Web 2.0 is active consumption: readers are no longer strictly passive.

Starting with comments on weblogs and growing to include tagging, syndicating, republishing, and remixing, readers have more tools to shape the web. The common model for Web 1.0 is an online version of a printed newspaper or catalog, enhanced with easier navigation and search. I'm not sure that I fully understand it yet, but I think Web 2.0 is different, and tagging is a key part of it.


Blogger Faiyaz said ... (June 26, 2007 at 5:39 PM) : 

can we tag ? :)


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