Here’s an idea: what if when I wrote weblog entries about General Motors, I included a special tag, a keyword tag, that let everyone who wanted to read blog entries about General Motors read my weblog article, without otherwise having to subscribe to my blog? Makes sense. Now, should it be “gm” or “GM” or “generalmotors” or “general motors” or “General Motors” or “GM Corporation” or … ?
Therein lies the fundamental problem with Technorati Tags, as promoted by the popular weblog search system and utilized by a small percentage of bloggers.
Librarians are very familiar with this problem, though at a library it shows up as the “keyword problem”: having keywords assigned to a particular book can be very helpful as long as you agree on the subset of all words that comprise the entire keyword dictionary. Stultifying though the standards may seem, having a “use the formal company name that appears on their annual SEC filings” or “search the tags database before creating a new tag” rules do alleviate some of this trouble. But not all of it.
Instead, Technorati advertises that they’re now tracking 466,951 different tags, which is pretty darn impressive when you consider that a typical dictionary has around 75,000 entries (caveat: I’m relying on memory here, so I might be way off on this number).
Perhaps I don’t get it. Perhaps the Technorati tags are actually working better than I think because they’re traveling as “memes”: if I use and clearly cite a specific tag in my weblog articles, then you’ll use the same one so our articles are linked.
But, surprise, that doesn’t work either because you end up with subcommunities who are standardized, but against a different de facto standard than other subcommunities. In that situation, does one group then change their tags retroactively, or does the person surfing for tagged articles have to know about both? Or three different tags? Or a hundred?
With almost a half-million tags and with an online community that loves to engage in keyword and key phrase pollution to be more “search engine friendly”, I posit that the Technorati tags are a failed experiment and are just going to become increasingly irrelevant as the namespace continues to grow without bounds.
But I could be completely wrong. Neville Hobson is clearly supportive, Technorati’s CEO Dave Sifry is clearly a fan of tags, and even lawyer J. Matthew Buchanan is a fan.
What’s wrong with this picture? What don’t I get here? What do you think?