Tagging: Not Just a Social Media Fad

- January 12, 2009

One organization system that I have grown accustomed to on the Web is folders. This system, which can also be considered a navigation system, has been time-tested to prove its effectiveness in organizing of many types of information. By now, practically all computer users understand this organization model. When presented with a site for the first time that uses some variation of hierarchical folders, they would not have to think about how to use the system. We have recently seen a new navigation and organization system emerge out of the “Web 2.0” era: tagging. Is tagging a better model that the folder model? I think it depends on the situation. In some cases, they can be used to support each other.
To be honest, there were times that I found myself staying away from tagging, say, someone’s blog post or my own bookmarks because I didn’t feel like learning a new organization system or because I thought the content was already organized well and categorized in a place where I could remember how to get to it. Then I realized that there must be some reason to have a tagging system.
Here’s how I see it: organizing information using tags as opposed to filing in folders and subfolders is faster and takes less thought. This is an important feature in light of the fact that the amount of information is always increasing. So if you want a fast, efficient, though possibly not as precise organization system, using tagging. So we see that tagging isn’t merely a social media fad, but a social media tool.
Another benefit to tagging is that it can help you and others record what the popular or colloquial term for something is. This can help with your keyword research. This is a very simple and obvious example, but it helps to describe what I mean. If you write a blog post about Coca Cola, but a visitor comes along and adds “pop” to the list of tags, you can now source from the list of user-generated tags to support your keyword research. Some web applications (ecommerce and blogging) I’ve worked with even give the administrator the option to automatically include the tags as part of the meta keyword tag.
Even though tagging is a good social media tool, be aware that it’s also seen as a fad. Also, be leery about adding tagging or any fad “widget” to your site for the sole reason of wanting to match your competitor’s web site’s features or wanting to appear “with it.” Add these widgets after you have done some user experience research of your own and when you can give a good reason to add them to your site. Simplicity is key.

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