For the past several weeks I have been thinking a lot about tagspaces and have organized these thoughts at TagSpaces.org as an open proposal as a new way to think about tagging that does not require the rel tag, new technologies or drastic changes in human behaviour (though it still requires us to evangelize tagging of course). In my view, tagspaces are the glue between people identifying something and those seeking it out – the tag agreed upon by a particular community of users for how to desribe something, provide it context and perhaps even include the ID/reputation of the tagger.
In a sense, it is a human powered, open subsidy for search technology as well as tagging technology – but that is not important, what is important is that we can collectively improve search with a very minor modification to our current behaviour. I actually first blogged about this last week in regards to how I was going to use tagspaces for BrainJams so people with different levels of interest regarding the event, the planning and the content could follow what was important to them more easily (i.e. BrainJams:Planning, BrainJams:BayArea)
Some other examples of tagspaces might be:
The beauty of this is people can use it now without any code deployment on the part of anyone and existing search technologies can understand it to produce better results today. All people need to do is start using the format and try to figure out what works best for them. All I am asking of you my dear friend, is to consider the idea, contribute your thoughts to the process via our Wiki and if it feels good to you, start using this loose format for tagging posts, photos, podcasts or whatever else – then share with us which tags you are using and under what conditions and we will probably figure this out together pretty easily. After all the tags are simple, readable, understandable AND parseable by machine.
Or we could form a steering committee, talk about it for a few months, argue with each other, fight over our egos, hold on to the old way of things and do nothing that advances our cause while investing our energy in mental gymnastics. As the world of Web 2.0 has shown us – get it out there in the hands of the users and see what they do with it – engage with real people to understand their needs and adjust your solution to meet them. But we, the creators, need to let go of the idea of total control over users in an open wooly environment created by folksonomies rather than top down taxonomies.
Another benefit to this approach is that it need not exist as a rel link on the page so people need not give Google Juice to technorati or anyone else – it can just be a string of text inside of your post, or in the keyword field, or in the rel tag area – almost like SMS shorthand (CUL8R), but for tags. The pattern reads as seemingly normal text so I think a lot of people will get it, but that is what I want to find out. It need not work, it need not be called TagSpaces in the end, what is important is that we started the conversation with people who use tags to figure it out together.
Identity could be a part of it, but it does not have to be. It also does not need to rely on people to have an iName. While they wont get the persistent identity benefits of a registered digital ID which I do think they would benefit from, an email address is plenty of identity for many people in the world and has been for over a decade. For some people their email address is the equivalent of a URL pointing to them so why not accept it and stop trying to force change on people who don’t want, or need to change. We should just embrace the chaos and accept that some people will tag things properly, some won’t, some will make typos, others will simply have another way of referencing the same thing.
So let’s not only teach people how to tag, let’s teach them how to search – this is the power of TagSpaces as I envision it.
If we plant a seed of intention, in the form of examples spread across the entire ‘tagging universe’ other people (even our grandparents) will be able to understand it and perhaps, start using it. What I want to do with tagspaces.org is create a place where people can talk about which tagspaces they use, how they use them, identify synonyms and create relationships between tags. A sort of wiktionary for tagging based around some commonly agreed upon principles. But, please do understand this is not about me, it is about doing it right and coming together to refine it as we conduct an open alpha release to better understand how to do it best.
In conclusion, the approach I am suggesting requires no technical changes to any of the current technologies. There are problems with it, but they do not make this idea any less useful considering the current tagging landscape. But in all actuality, this is just the recognition of an emergent pattern within tags and a desire to help seed the idea towards a better solution – the downside is no worse than where we are today…