Tags Suck

I’ve been thinking about tags & tagging a lot lately. In particular, I’m trying to figure out why I don’t like them.

I think it’s because I can never remember how I tagged something. If I find a recipe for hard-boiled eggs on the web I’ll put it in del.icio.us, but when I go to find it again I can’t. What tags did I use? Did I use “food” or “recipe” or “eggs” or “hardboiledeggs” — I have things filed under all three categories. By the time I get done looking in all three places for it I could have just searched for and found it again in Google.

Of course, then there’s the “tagging beta” that Slashdot did. They had some of the dumbest tags ever. Tags like “duh” and “obvious” aren’t useful to anybody. Meander through del.icio.us and Flickr, though, and the tags are usually very meaningful, at least to the person posting it. The difference, I think, is that Slashdot is already incredibly organized with categories, whereas del.icio.us and Flickr are not. Users understand the benefit of the tags — they are metadata to help organize — when the storage format is flat. In contrast, sites that have organization & classification systems already, like Slashdot, seem to have fairly meaningless tags. The users just can’t think of more things to add, but they try like hell. The results of those efforts are tags like “duh.”

I think the craze to add tags to web sites needs more thought. Last.fm has the ability to tag songs. I thought that was pretty pointless until I started using their “Last.fm player” to listen to streams of “recommended” music. Their player lets you tag music on the fly, and I’ve started using it to note bands I want to check out some other time. Beyond that the tagging function is pointless, and if you look at the most popular tags for a song it shows. Music already has some organization: genre, band name, song name, album. So why in hell do people add “Sugarcult” as a tag for a song by Sugarcult? It’s because tags don’t make sense in this application, but they feel like they should tag the song with something.

Why do I hate tags? Because everybody wants to cram them in their application without thinking whether they are appropriate, that’s why. At the best they are an awesome organizational method, but the majority of times they just expose the lack of creativity, or downright stupidity, of the rest of the human race.

And as my final example, Fountains of Wayne’s “Leave the Biker” has the following popular tags: “rock”, “indie”, “alternative”, “pop”, “power pop”, “punk”, “dance”, and “hard rock.” Yeah, real useful. 🙂

1 thought on “Tags Suck”

  1. For me, the real value of tags is not in remembering what tags were used when you originally saved something, but in viewing a tag cloud or list that covers the entire tagged space. You can see in a pretty straightforward way what topics that space covers, even if the tags aren’t the ones you would have used.

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