Tagging content online is something that doesn't seem to have taken off the way some people expected it to.
Is it too complicated for widespread adoption? Is it too arbitrary to have the impact that formal taxonomies offer? Is it just too much work while you're zipping around the web? Who knows - what's important is that tagging web pages can still be very useful!
I stopped using social bookmarking tools for a big part of 2007 because saving things for my own future reference wasn't enough motivation to invest the time required. In the latter half of the year, though, I've seen what some other people are doing to make it worthwhile again. Here's five and a half ways you can fall in love with tagging URLs again.
1. Re-enforce your learning at the end of year
The inspiration for this post came from social media aficionado Tim Bonnemann's practice of tagging all the words he looks up online with the tag "dictionary." At the end of the year, he posted the full list of links to his blog. What a great way to deepen recall of the things you've learned!
2. Build a collaborative tag stream for a community of practice
One of the best things about tagging URLs is that all kinds of RSS feeds become available. One community of practice, a loose group of nonprofit technologists, uses the tag "nptech" to mark items of interest in del.icio.us, ma.gnolia, flickr, youtube and elsewhere. The feeds for nptech items in all of these services are then combined into one NPtech metafeed.
That makes a good community news feed, but it can be taken even further. At one point as many as 2000 people were using the tag nptech - that can be a lot of information. Consultant Beth Kanter now publishes a summary of each week's highlights from the Nptech feed over at NetSquared.
3. Create a shared items feed and put it on your web page
Many of our readers probably use the shared items feature in Google Reader. That service continues to grow more sophisticated - last week it added any shared items feeds from your Gmail contacts to your list of subscribed feeds, for example.
While that's pretty hot - there's something to be said for baking your own, too. If you tag items something like "toshare" in a service like del.icio.us or Ma.gnolia then you can share URLs that you find outside of Google Reader and you can switch feed readers/tagging services without loosing all your shared items subscribers.
This winter I switched from Del.icio.us to Ma.gnolia for my social bookmarking and it was easy to replace the Del.icoi.us feed in FeedDigest with the Ma.gnolia feed. Nothing changed as far as Feedburner was concerned, it was still getting the same spliced feed URL - so all my subscribers are still getting my links.
If you're curious, by the way, the reasons I switched to Ma.gnolia include: OpenID login, a very active development team, engagement with the newest data standards like oAuth and APML, live customer support chat by Pibb IM (also with OpenID, RSS) and a couple of other very cool features. The user community there is quite impressive, too.
4. Tag into a mobile reader
In addition to tagging things "toshare" I've also taken recently to tagging items "toread" and pulling that feed into Netvibes. Netvibes has a great that's good for checking a small number of feeds in between full-reader sessions.
Adding my toread tag to Netvibes has made it easy for me to catch up on things I want to read while traveling around town. Sometimes I'll just read the most widely popular items from my toread feed, by running that feed through AideRSS and getting a new feed of the 20% of those items that were most tagged, Dugg, commented on and linked to. AideRSS can be applied on top of all of the methods on this list.
It's another way that I'm incentivized to open up that tagging interface more than I would be if I was only saving things for posterity. Now a searchable archive of key pages is available as a secondary consequence of tagging things toread and toshare.
5. Tag your microblog posts
If you think opening up del.icio.us to save something is more trouble than it's often worth, then I'm sure you'll agree that it can feel really overwhelming to compose an entire blog post! (I wrote about this once and got linked to by the BBC, whereupon I was promptly called a loser by snarky British readers for even bringing up the dilemma. "Blogging," one said, "is like wearing a coat that says I am Billy No Mates." That's the funniest insult I think I've ever received.)
ANYWAY, I know I'm not alone in finding it much easier to share information over Twitter than by blogging or tagging in a social bookmarking app. Enter Hashtags. Like tagging for Twitter, hashtags are terms you put after a # in a post. Hashtags.org then aggregates all the tweets using a given tag and publishes an RSS feed. Reading a feed of short messages sent from the #sandiegofires was very interesting, for example.
Though you can certainly just subscribe to a search feed through a service like Terraminds - Hashtags let you do all the things in microblogging that you can do using the methods described in numbers 1 through 4 above. See also Dave Sifry's new project Hoosgot - a service he calls the Lazyweb for the age of Twitter.
5 1/2 The future
In a future that leverage our Attention Data, we'll be able to tag things in order to influence our Attention Profiles. What does that mean? It means that once you've exposed your Ma.gnolia APML (Attention Profile Markup Language) to your Bloglines RSS reader - then you'll be able to influence the feeds that Bloglines recommends to you by tagging certain things in Ma.gnolia.
Perhaps you discover that you love reading African photoblogs but you don't know much about the field. Tag a few that you discover in Ma.gnolia and the next time you open up Bloglines it will notice that you've expressed a new interest and recommend some of the top African photoblogs in its giant feed database.
That future isn't terribly far off, in fact. Ma.gnolia already publishes a rudimentary APML file for each user and Bloglines has announced that it will support APML soon.
So tagging hasn't taken off like early fans thought it would - but it's still really useful. If we explore ways that it can provide tangible, short-term, personal value then we can score the long term, aggregate value as a result. I wish it weren't that way - but that's how I've found value in the practice myself.
So let's tag some terms we have to look up the definitions for this year! Please let readers here know about any other super cool tagging practices you've experimented with.