Tagging of your blog posts is not a necessary step in publishing your post. However it does make a significant contribution to the blogging community. Selecting tags has been described as:
“… the most important social contribution an individual can make.”
I have seen one post in particular here on WordPress recently and a few others around the place generally that seem to have a lot of tags in their posts. By that I am talking excessive, really excessive. To the point where the actual post was significantly shorter than the tags that followed. I am talking hundreds of tags here and most totally irrelevant to the post. The lack of a link is not an oversight.
This got me thinking. There are no rules as such for tagging posts:
“Tags are usually chosen informally and personally by the author/creator of the item — i.e. not usually as part of some formally defined classification scheme.”
– Wikipedia: Tag (metadata)
There are however accepted norms or conventions that bloggers have come to expect fellow bloggers to follow. Although these conventions may vary within different networks or communities. Finding a definition for tagging is actually not as simple as it might seem. However to be more specific tagging is a folksonomy, which is defined by Wikipedia as:
“… an Internet-based information retrieval methodology consisting of collaboratively generated, open-ended labels that categorize content such as Web pages, on-line photographs, and Web links.”
A community relies on such tagging in order to make content searchable to relevant topics within a specific tag. So in searching a the tag “audio” you would expect to find articles related to all things audio. But not if someone has tagged a post about “The Emergence of Green Tea in Western Culture” with the tag “audio”. This is why relevent tags benefit the blogosphere and the WordPress community. Relevance is very important to tagging. Rather than relevance, tagging should be thought of as words that attach meaning to resources. You could conclude from that then, if your tags are irrelevant then the resource to which they are attached is equally meaningless. When thought of in relation to the association with tagging.
The study into tagging, folksonomy and nomenclature in general is quite complicated and involved. The fact that it has got a lot to do with the development of the symantic web has got a lot of developers interested in it’s evolution. This very fact is why the indiscriminate tagging of posts with unrelated words, terms and concepts is counter productive both technological development and the communities that rely on appropriate tagging.
The local community here on WordPress relies on an author’s ability to choose appropriate tags for their posts, within the realm of personal significance. Without that then “Tag Surfing” (This is an option within the WordPress “dashboard” available to members) would be useless and a waste of time. Indiscriminate tagging affects the wider blogging community in different ways. People expect that a tag will relate to a topic or context. If you have placed a tag that has nothing to do with your post then you have wasted the visitor’s time and your own in writing it and adding it. Plus you just lost a potential reader of your blog. You may have also lost some creditability.
Spam blogs or Splogs use this technique of unrelated prolific tagging to drive traffic, I call it “Tag Dragging”. They get hits on a particular page not because of content but because of the tags that have been used. In this instance you would consider the tags that were used as misleading and deceitful to the visitor. There is no difference between a Splog doing it and a legitimate blog, it is spam. It is misleading to the community and makes your contributions to that community less useful and meaningful than they otherwise could be. In addition to the possible assumptions that you may well be Tag Dragging for hits and not on letting your content do that for you. Good content drives traffic and tags help place that content in context. Mix those two up and you will loose you creditability and respect in the blogosphere and your work will repulse readers because of it’s lack of relevance to them.
I see one of the drawbacks to tagging is the fact that different words mean different things to different people. However the association can usually be made between the words used in tags with a bit of thought from the reader. It may not have been a connection that the reader had made but one that can be seen and associated with the post by the reader. Sure occasionally an abstract term will pop up in a post. However, due to the abstract nature of the tag and the frequency of use; the tag becomes irrelevant to the wider community and is more relevant to the author. Excessive and frequent indiscriminate unrelated tagging is far worse than the odd strange association or concept.
For example; the prevelance of specific tags or tag used inappropreatly could cause the WordPress Tag Cloud to be skewed in a deceptive manner that was not representative of the posts that were being made in this community. This would result in the relevance and usefulness of said cloud to diminish and potentially become useless as members of this community loose trust in the relevance it might have to them. Although this is unlikely as this outcome would rely on a good majority of this community using inappropriate tags, the same ones and multiple times on different posts.
In an article that I read as a part of my research I found an excellent guide as to what makes a good tag. There were some interesting points raised in relation to tagging for a community and maintaining tag relevance to that community. The most glaringly obvious one to me was:
Observe the norms of the network. Pay attention to tagging conventions followed by other members of the network, and if they make sense to you, adopt them. Lots of good ideas can come from observing the tagging practices of others.
– Ideant: Tag Literacy
Do as they do in other words. So that got me thinking as to what is the “norm” here at WordPress or in your own blogging community. I believe that as individual bloggers we have the responsibility to tag appropriately for the posts that we write. This is of benefit to this community and the blogosphere at large. I know that the opinion of some might be that “I can tag any way I like, it is my blog and I do not care how it affects this or any other community”. If that is the case then we are worse off for your opinion and we will be plagued by your pestilence of useless, irrelevant tags. Not to mention stall development of the symantic web and technological advance in addition to promoting the cultural relevance and acceptance of blogs as a “source” within the digital media revolution.
The community drives the relevance of the tags that it generates. We as a community determine how useful our tags are to us. However, we should also remember that the tags are viewable by non-WordPress users. I don’t know about you but I would rather make WordPress a place that visitors can come to as a source of relevant content. We can do that by thinking about how we as a community are representing ourselves in the tags that we choose. That is if you have any concern about what people think collectively of “bloggers at WordPress” then think about the contextual relevance of your tagging practices. Call it our collective public presence.
The aim of this post was not an in-depth study of tagging. Rather some thoughts and some encouragement for you as a blogger to think about how you tag your posts and how such a step affects this community. Both the perceptions of this community and you as a blogger. I know that I am looking at tagging in a very different way than I did before tapping out this post. If you would like to read more then I would suggest the following resources as a place to start:
Within the theme of this post, this tag cloud is of this post and generated by TagCrowd: