TAG ME IF YOU CAN
(New updates below)
Take a picture of a Cherry Blossom tree, upload it to your Flickr account, put a tag on it that says "cherry blossom", post, and voila...you've now contributed something to the web, and it was fairly easy.
Now along comes a user who during a morning run through the park is inspired by cherry blossoms along the way. He/she comes home, or on a rest break using a wireless phone/PDA, enters "cherry blossom" on Flickr, and voila, there are pictures of over 2930 cherry blossoms (mostly), contributed by users like you all over the world.
That works! It shows what tags are all about...and shows it viscerally through pictures, which of course as everyone knows, are worth at least a thousand words each.
So I go to another tagging service, but this one uses words instead of pictures. In this case I go to de.licio.us (for ease of typing, I'll call it Delicious for the rest of this post), which is one of the more popular, pure tagging pioneers.
I eagerly look for a box to put in a search for "cherry blossom" tags, AND THERE ISN'T EVEN A SEARCH BOX ON THE FRONT PAGE TO ENTER A SEARCH!
There is a jarring disconnect for mainstream audiences when it comes to text-based tags.
And it's a common one, judging from my anecdotal conversations with friends and family, whenever I bring up the subject of using tags, either as bookmarks to help you find stuff that you've surfed to before, or in terms of tagging content you see on web-sites and would like to add your own two-cent tags to.
VC Fred Wilson had a good post a few days ago describing how tagging was as important to the new web experience as writing and reading blogs is (or posting and subscribing as Fred describes it.
He likes tagging so much, he invested in Delicious.
He uses tagging technology in a bleeding edge manner for all sorts of things ranging from finding new music on the web to new investable companies. And he talks all the time about new ways to use tags on his site. And all of this really contributes to the quality of his site, content, and importantly user participation in terms of comments and conversations across the web.
There's no question tags can be very useful, but two things have to happen first for them to be truly mainstream:
- Users have to clearly "get" it...that is, have an "aha" moment that says "of course, that's how I can use this stuff both as a web user and a blogger".
- It has to be Flickr-like simple to use, both in terms of tags on web-sites everywhere, and on your own blog.
The first is not so hard...people do get tags once they think about it and see a couple of examples...almost.
It's the second part that is MUCH harder. Fred was able to use tags in so many creative ways because he's passionate about learning new technologies, and curious about them both from a technology and business perspective. And as an investor in the company, he also has access to founder of Delicious, Joshua Schachter, and his resources at the company.
Tom is an accomplished entrepreneur, technologist, blogger, and soon to be author of an Internet murder mystery. I'd recommend making his blog one of your regular reads especially if you're interested in how technology and business intersect.
Tom, like most bloggers, wants to make his blog more user-friendly and useful for his audience. So in recent days, he's been adding tags to his blog in an effort to make commenting on various posts a more fruitful experience for his users and has had four (count them, one, two, three, four) posts on his efforts to make this stuff work.
In post one above, he states:
There was no post yesterday because I reverted to my original career as a nerd from my fourth career as an author.
So far, so good. Now Tom, is a full-fledged programmer, who's been coding since the earliest days of mainframe computing (thanks for the correction, Tom!). And he did have some help in his recent efforts, as he states in a disclaimer in post four above.
Most of the real thinking that went into these changes came from Colleen and Laura at TypePad who have been very patient with my requests for help filed as trouble tickets and from Joshua at del.icio.us.
That I assume is Joshua, the founder of del.icio.us.
And what was Tom trying to do? As he describes it in the fourth post,
A number of you have requested that I open-source the changes I made to my TypePad templates to add a Tag with del.icio.us link to the bottom of each post and to insert that along with comment and trackback links into the feeds of each post so that they show up in feedreaders.
And then he goes through a very detailed, technical 8-step process in how he added the "Tag with del.icio.us" link to the bottom of every post on his blog. To Tom's credit, his post (number four above), IS titled "For Blogger Nerds Only" as a warning to the un-initiated.
Note that the complexity has to do as much with the nuances of one's blogging software and hosting system, as it has to do with the tagging technology employed. The technical minutiae of both systems have to be understood, and carefully tweaked to make this stuff works.
And for a lot of bloggers, this represents "fixing something that isn't broken", or at the very least, running a risk that you could break something else on your blog by trying some of this, that is then even more difficult to fix.
For most mainstream users, the process described is almost as appealing as getting a root canal next week.
And what did Tom invest in making these very commendable, and helpful changes?
In his words:
Now, this is Tom Evslin, who as his bio states:
Tom Evslin was cofounder (with wife Mary), Chairman and CEO of ITXC Corp. The NASDAQ-listed company grew from startup in 1997 to the world’s leading provider of wholesale VoIP and one of largest carriers of international voice minutes of any kind by 2004 when it was acquired by Teleglobe.
Evslin conceived, launched, and ran AT&T’s first ISP, AT&T WorldNet Service. WorldNet popularized all-you-can-eat flatrate monthly pricing for Internet access and forced the rest of the industry, including AOL and MSN, to follow suit. Evslin has been blamed and praised for this ever since. He is unrepentant.
At Microsoft, Evslin was responsible for the server products now in Microsoft BackOffice including Microsoft Exchange and for Exchange’s predecessor Microsoft Mail. Evslin was the General Manager for Connectivity Products (email) at Microsoft responsible for overcoming the lead Lotus then had with cc:mail and Lotus Notes.
Evslin came to Microsoft when key assets of Solutions, Inc. (a software company he founded and he and Mary ran) were sold to Microsoft. In the 1970s Solutions developed the first commercial EFT software for banks. In the 1980s Solutions was the first developer of commercial communications software for the Macintosh. Award-winning products from Solutions included Desktop Express published by Dow Jones Software, Glue (a predecessor of Adobe Acrobat), SmartScrap & The Clipper, and backFax.
Evslin is an inventor on five granted US patents.
Whew, now I know what it takes to implement tags on my web site.
I'm jazzed about tags, and am especially glad that Fred and Tom are making the investments in it to show what and how can be achieved if you put your mind to it. And it shows in the quality of their blogs, both of which I'm a big fan.
But in terms of implementing it myself, I think I'll wait a bit, until they figure out how to make Joshua scale and/or squeeze him into a "click and go" software installation wizard.
Attaching tags to posts has got be easier than inventing "sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads".
Fred Wilson has a thoughful response to the above post where he makes some important observations:
- The problem is that TypePad, Blogger, and other blogging platforms haven't integrated this stuff that we all want to use into their systems. So we are forced to write HTML to make it happen. That's not going work as blogging goes mainstream.
- Don't really fault TypePad for this. The people who run TypePad are
doing a good job keeping up with the rate of growth and keeping the
service moving in the right direction.
Their problem is a fundamental issue with Web 2.0.
In a Web 2.0 world, apps are built on top of apps, using open APIs, allowing users to mix and match to create the best experience for their needs.
- TypePad is faced with the fact that many of their users want Web 2.0 style integration and they need to build it themself. That's a lot of work without much benefit to them. But I see no other choice for them over the long haul other than to deliver that kind of integration.
The last point hits the nail on the head, in that it addresses some of the business model issues that have some economic consequences. I'd recommend reading his entire post.
Additionally, tagging is just one of many new services that need to get more easily integrated into these platforms.
To give Typepad some credit, they do seem to be fairly responsive to new technologies that need to be integrated, but it still takes time. As an example, look at Fred Wilson's post from June 22 last year titled "Blogging Tools Suck". A number of Fred's technical wishlist of what he'd have liked Typepad add has been done so far this year. Especially his number one wish to see an advertising technology like Google Adsense be integrated into the service, something that Typepad rolled out with Kanoodle a few weeks ago.
But web technologies keep changing and the list for new things keeps growing. For more on these new issues, see my posts titled "On Blog Platform Directions" and "On the need for an Outlook for Blogs" from June of this year.
At the same time, these blogging platforms and services do have a short-term advantage in that a lot of existing users won't likely bolt as easily for a Wordpress or other newer "open source" platform that makes it easier to do these other things.
This is due to user inertia...i.e., the opportunity costs of moving one's platform are so high and it's hard to do from a technical perspective as well.
So existing bloggers on today's blogging platforms are like flies on flypaper for a while. However, the blogging companies need to address the frickin' hard technical and business model issues before either the new companies and/or third parties make it frickin' easy for users to move to more flexible platforms.
Heather Green over at Businessweek's Blogspotting continues the discussion on the trials of tagging with some interesting links to Jeff Jarvis and Om Malik's experience with tagging.
Anil Dash, VP at Six Apart, that provides Typepad, Movable Type and LiveJournal software and services, had a noteworthy response to the follow-up post by Fred Wilson continuing the discussion on tag complexity.
Anil explains the many steps Six Apart is taking in its various platforms, to accommodate tagging, and the complex issues, decision trees, and questions that need to be answered before there are clearer options.
For reader convenience, I'm posting his comment from Fred's blog here:
"I think there's a couple of interesting points raised here, and maybe I can give some perspective from our side of things in making platforms like TypePad and Movable Type and LiveJournal.
First, large-scale tagging is pretty doable on current platforms; LiveJournal has put tags in front of millions of users, and I believe over a million tags were assigned to entries there in just the first few weeks tags were available. For Movable Type, we have the Tags plugin available, and on both Movable Type and TypePad, catgories used in posts are recognized as tags automatically by Technorati.
So, in a very real sense, we've got tagging ability in front of 10 million+ bloggers on our platforms today.
But the problem gets a lot more complicated when you dive further into it. Do you want "me" tags or "we" tags? (Are tags for you to recall your own posts, or for others to describe your posts?) Should there be both kinds of tags, and if so, should both or one or neither be syndicated? What about display options for tags? Do we really want to inflict another tag cloud on people? And archiving... there's a ton of stuff that can be done here, just like our existing category archives, but should we support tag intersections? (/tags/foo+bar works in a URL on LiveJournal, but doesn't work with tags on Technorati. Which is right?)
I think the goal here is to first enable common scenarios, like participating in Technorati's tags, by having it be automatic in the tools. That's present today in TypePad. The next milestone will be to afford all of the interactions described above, with complete customizability and flexiblity and personalization, without having the options be overwhelming. And we're working on that now. Honestly, that's a problem that almost nobody's solved, because other tools that use tags right now are designed for information that defaults to being public, but the need for things like LiveJournal's built-in support for private/non-public tags isn't widely understood or discussed even amidst all the hype about tags.
Oh, and good news about including other services in your TypePad site: As Mena announced at BlogHer, we'll be offering the ability to publish any XML feed on your TypePad sidebar shortly. And there's already programmatic access for third parties to be able to add their links and content to your sidebar using the TypePad API, as services like MyBlogLog are doing already.
Posted by: Anil | August 8, 2005 12:34 AM"
Thanks Anil, for the response.