How much thought do you put into the tags you assign to your posts?
If you’re like me, the answer is probably not much. I reach the end of the post and then come up with four or five keywords which relate to my post and add a couple of WordPress category tags and that’s about it. Occasionally I might add a trending keyword or two to try to tap into popular culture, but search engine optimisation or SEO comes very much a distant second to my creative process.
That said, I do however find the whole world of SEO and tagging quite fascinating. There is a rhythm to it, once you take the time to observe the patterns and get your head into the technology (which I don’t claim to have done, but I do read a fair bit about the theory). In the rich world of the continually woven Web tapestry, the tie that binds our individual creativity is metadata. Metadata is essentially the tool that gives us information about information or knowledge about knowledge and its principal forms for the Web are tags and links. These are the signposts that lead others to our work, our entry to the Web directory.
One thing I never considered until now is that by tagging and linking we all shape the look and feel of the Web directory. This ability is like a wonderful gift. At school you probably learned about several formal classification systems, such as the Dewey Decimal System for books or the animal taxonomy system in biology. Remember how you had to learn the rules, imposed by others in these formal systems and sometimes the results lead you down a path you thought illogical? Ordered but rigid and reflecting the value systems and judgements of others.
Contrast this to the system operating for the Web, a system so vast and rapidly changing that the human and financial resources required to maintain a formal classification system for its content would be greater than a small nation. Instead we have an informal, ever changing and continually evolving non hierarchical classification system composed of links and tags to which we all contribute. This is known as a folksonomy. Unlike a taxonomy it functions on few formal rules, is produced out of self-interest, is valuable because of its aggregation and continues to function even when data is incomplete. Sounds like a recipe for chaos, right? But it works.
Which takes me back to when I first started using the Web. I remember logging onto a page and thinking how do I know I have started at the very beginning (which according to the Sound of Music is a very good place to start) and not missed something. It felt very foreign and quite ad hoc and not very systematic or logical. Up until that point my sole point of reference for finding information was the library, this was a whole new world. Now it has become second nature to just start somewhere on the Web and see where it leads. Rather than knowing its the end because you have reached the last classification point, it’s now the end when it feels like the end.
The other interesting thing about tagging is that it can give you instant feedback in relation to your work. Most posts start out by the producers allocating their own tags. However as the work is disseminated, others may tag the same work differently, bringing their own perspectives to it. Have you ever tagged something as “humour” only to find that it is tagged as something quite serious by your readers? Tagging also creates its own language and social norms throughout the communities that use them. “Freshly Pressed” is an example of this in the WordPress community. What to some might connote a laundry service, to this community it means the best of the best, posts judged as quality by WordPress and worthy of promotion and a prize to be achieved. And we contribute to this evolution, every one of us by the tags we create and by the value we assign to tags created by others.
Tagging should therefore be a considered and deliberate choice for creators. It is the modern day equivalent to the shingle and deserves to be more than just an afterthought. We are judged by the metadata we send out and we should create it with as much zeal as we do the main body of our content.
The final word about tagging must go to Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon. So you think the use of hash tags on Twitter, Instagram and now Facebook is pervasive? You’re not alone as this fun YouTube clip shows:
We could all take a leaf out of Jimmy Fallon’s book about the power of tagging. He shows us nightly how to harness the comedic creativity of his audience through the use of hash tags.
Do you put much thought into your tags? Do you use hash tags in your social media? Do you find them annoying?
- Tagging in WordPress: An overview (itproportal.com)