Tagging, then and now

Yesterday I visited Tag Camp an impromptu weekend conference on tagging in the spirit of Foo Camp and the Bar Camp I wrote about earlier. User-applied tagging has become all the rage on sites like fickr and del.icio.us. I was pleased when one person at the conference saw my name and said, “hey you started all this.”

Well I didn’t really. Tagging is of course an ancient concept, espcially for personal use. And it’s been done formally by professionals like librarians in card catalogs and online databases.

However, back in 1983, in one of my many forays into fixing USENET’s newsgroup system, I drafted an RFC of sorts around the idea of a tag (or keyword) based USENET. I called it K News, or Keyword based News, and posted the KNews URFC

As today, people were of mixed opinions about tagging. You can see some of the discussion via Google Groups. It never went very far, but a standard “Keywords” header was added to the the USENET standard. Some used it but there was no critical mass. I wrote the newsclip filtering language which was able to filter on the tags. And for 18 years we have been tagging posts in rec.humor.funny with tags ranging from how funny the joke is, to whom it might be offensive to and so on. I don’t know how many people really use the tags to filter the group (it’s low volume) but I used them to build the web site for the newsgroup (which is of course netfunny.com.

Now, as noted tagging is the hot topic in online community and publishing. I lost faith in the concept, deciding users could not self-tag well enough. However, today the net is so big that even though users indeed do not self-tag well, you get enough people who do tag in ways you like to get useful stuff.

Of course, many of the people excited about tagging are in that state because they see it as a means to find even more cool stuff on the web. I’ve been moving to the camp that wants to find less stuff, higher quality stuff. There’s already too much good stuff to read, too much good stuff I have to discard. I can’t even read the blogs of my friends let alone all the truly interesting folks I don’t know. I hope that tags might help us along that path somehow, though it’s not the area of research right now.

But I thought a pointer to the history might be of use.

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His name is Brad Templeton. You figure it out.
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