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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Tags, Search Effectiveness, Personal Benefits

A couple of interesting recent posts and my experience in my Collaborative Learning Class has me thinking about the usefulness of Tags both personally and in workgroups.

From Bill Ives - Where Tagging Works and Where Tagging Doesn’t Work – Search Engine Lowdown
I guess I tend to agree with Danny Sulliivan about the tagging and search but that is not the original intention of tagging. If I want to search on a key word, I will still go to Google as the most efficient way. If I have the time to go exploring through multiple links and see the interrelations between key words, I might go to However, if I want to set up a way to store and share links on a particular topic, I will use which I have done already in co-authoring an article.
Interesting, Bill points to a search on Google for "Web 2.0" and he 75,900,000 hits with the famous OÂ’Reilly article at the top of the list - which is a pretty dang good result and makes sense given Google's in-bound link based algorithm. If you do a similar search on, you first realize (as Bill found) that tags cannot have spaces, so you actually need to look for "web2.0" - you can see what you get at:

I definitely don't think the results are nearly as good as what you get in Google. But look on the right side to find "related tags" that are how you can find things that are related.

I completely agree with Bill's assessment, is more useful if you are trying to find related terms to search against, but the quality level of results doesn't seem to be there.

A closely related great series of articles can be found at What are the Personal Benefits of Tagging? -
One thing that the most useful of these reasons all have in common is that
they allow the user to express tags using personal vocabulary.

I personally have found that because I've switched to Yahoo MyWeb that has full-text search across my bookmarked pages, I've come to use tags mostly to represent two things:

  • Actions - I tag items with "blogthis" if I plan to come back an write it up in a blog.
  • Sharing - I tag items that I plan to share with a specific tag so that others in my group can find it.

So for me, it's not quite the folksonomy effect that most people talk about, but based on these articles, I'm starting to think that's what other people are finding as well.


vanderwal said...

Tagging services are not about findability but refindability. Searching for things Google is decent. Finding things you already found and tagged you need MyWeb. Tagging is for one's self, but can also help others. does this well, but MyWeb 2.0 not only uses your corpus, but uses the collective of those you have in your contacts. If you contacts/friends have the same or similar interest and same vocabulary it makes MyWeb 2.0 and Yahoo search the best search engine out there as it searches and returns results based on your interests and your vocabulary.

Steve Eisner said...

Thomas (previous commenter) - I'm inclined to disagree when I hear that tagging is "about refindability", and have written some articles on the topic... including the one that Tony quotes above. Here's another one:

I don't mean to completely dismiss any boost to refindability from tagging and bookmarking. And MyWeb really helps by combining search + bookmarking. But I certainly haven't found that a social/contacts-based search helps me "refind" anything! That's a very personal activity.

Of course, I'd really value any comments you have about my articles, even if we disagree! I'm a fan of your writing on tagging and you've been at it far longer than I have.

Tony - Thanks, you've come up with a great way to tie these concepts together, that I hadn't thought of before. A lot of people (myself included) tend to more or less equate tagging with "". Delicious doesn't search (well), and google doesn't tag. That creates some kind of artificial distinction between "tagging" and "searching".

But when you use a service like MyWeb the two are no longer so separate. That scenario better demonstrates the (IMHO) best uses of bookmarking/tagging: personal collections, easy publishing & syndication, and aggregation/recommendations. Search /benefits/ from these but that is not the intended purpose.

It's really interesting to read about your "tagspace collapse" after switching to MyWeb. I might have to try the same!

Tony Karrer said...

Vanderwal - I'm using MyWeb because it provides full-text search and allows me to limit my sharing so that all my business colleagues don't see my Las Vegas links and my wife isn't subjected to all my Web 2.0 links. Thus, it seems to work better for me which is what I hear you saying

However, because is all public, it does offer some value in terms of providing the ability to "pivot" on particular tags. I still use it for that occasionally.

Tony Karrer said...

Steve - I actually agree with a lot of what you've been saying in your series, especially personal value vs. group value.

However, for me personally, I'm still using tags + search primarily for refindability. I refined stuff I want to blog about because I've tagged it with "blogthis." I search across prior pages to find stuff I know I've seen before.

The exception to refindability (for me) have been when sharing with colleagues/family (via known tags and having them as contacts in particular groups).

I'd be curious to get your take on which parts you are finding yourself most using.

Steve Eisner said...

It might just be that I have a different understanding of "refindability" than others do. So let me know if you think I'm setting up a straw man!

To me, refindability has less to do with "collecting items that I know I'll want soon" and more with "save this /in case/ I want to find it again later" (and the related "where is that article I saw last month?") Subtle distinction, but if your definition is the former then I can see why you consider collecting stuff under "blogthis" a form of refindability.

I see the former instead as step 1 of publishing, and like you, that's my primary (personal) use of delicious. It's successful for me because it's the best possible way to instantly recollect multiple related items - there's no keyword search that could express "everything I've read about the benefits of tagging" even if every page you visit is automatically saved and indexed.

The problem is that there's no way you could set yourself up to be able to answer that question next year - today's vocabulary will have changed or been forgotten, etc. So there's an implied immediacy in this kind of bookmarking that I don't really fits with the typical meaning of "search"/"find".

On the other hand, the second definition is very much like "search"/"find" ... but (in my opinion) is usually better handled by search itself. If you're looking for a single item, or looking for something more than a month after tagging it, etc. then my guess is you'll find it easier with search most of the time. In fact, refindability of this kind is almost free when your desktop search indexes everything you see... There's no way tagging could beat that kind of bang-for-buck.

Anyway, I certainly wouldn't argue about the definition of "refindability" with Thomas Vanderwal, since he's the one that brought it to popularity. :) And I suspect that his definition is more in line with yours, but it's hard to tell since I haven't seen anyone make the same distinction that I do.

A similar conversation happened at:

BTW to (finally) answer your question, at this point I spend about equal time doing the "pivots" you mentioned as I do making collections of related items. I think if more people were visiting my blog I'd do less pivoting, but for now it's the only way I can find my audience :)