Marc Canter says we're moaning which I really didn't think we were. However my old guvnor, Mike, described my post as a whinge so I so I guess it must be true :-)
Marc then goes on to lambast Technorati somewhat. I think del.icio.us and Technorati are to be commended for doing what we could not, i.e. make tagging commonplace. I'd rather have unsophisticated tagging than no tagging at all. As Paolo notes, when we did the first K-Collector demo at Blogtalk we got significant push-back to say that people wouldn't tag things themselves.
Among those who gave us food for thought was David Weinberger who also mentions in his neatly titled Tagging like it was 2002 Paolo's efforts with N??va100 (which, although based on K-Collector, I was not involved in).
Feedback from people like David was valuable because it pushed us to work harder on making tagging a simple process with recommended tags, auto-discovery, smart UI shortcuts, integration with blogging platforms, and so on. I think we did a good job given our resources. But, ultimately, we felt we had little widespread impact.
These days everyone tags and the idea that the bulk of people won't seems faintly ridiculous. That was pretty hard to predict back in 2002/3.
Phil Pearson, who I never met but did talk to from time to time, reflects that tagging is alive and well in services like Flickr. However I would argue that the impact of tagging on such services is narrow and that innovation has been largely absent. More importantly Phil remembers that the genesis of both K-Collector and his own Topic Exchange service lay in the role of tags (and in particular tag sets) as channels.
There was a lot more to do with the channel metaphor that Paolo and I had talked about but never got around to implementing. In particular the role of expertise and reputation in creating personalized channels.
Thomas Vander Wal whom, alas, I also have never met also reflects on stale tagging. Although he aludes to more innovation going on in the enterprise space I can't say I found his examples terribly compelling. I mean, we had tag-stemming, faceted classifcation, related tags, and tag sets all working in K-Collector in 2003.
It seems to me that the last four years have largely been about re-inventing and re-implementing the UI for adding tags to things. Ajax has helped but making it easier to tag has lead to new problems.
As David Sifry notes Technorati has done a marvellous job in making tags uber-prevalent. However I was glad that Stephen Downes relinked to his talk about community blogging from Northern Voice in 2005:
Now one way, a very popular way, of trying to fix meaning to a blog post, is through tagging. Tagging has been the rage. I'm also anti-tagging. Why am I anti-tagging? Well, take a post, any post, and ask yourself, what would a graph of all the possible tags for this post look like? You are going to get a power law. So you have a post - somebody's written something about the Prime Minister - and so, you know, you have 'Martin', very popular, that would be a very commonly used tag, 'tax break', that might be a commonly used tag, 'my goldfish', maybe once, by somebody who didn't get the concept of 'prime minister'. You're going to get a power law curve of tags.
But the thing is, if you do it that way, then the meaning of the post becomes whatever tags are sitting there in the big spike. Right? So the post becomes, it means, that tag. But that tag contains only a part of the meaning of the post. It's a very narrow, one-dimensional look at something that might be a lot more complex.
Stephen is yet another guy who I've had some interesting discussions with but never met. I think he highlights one of the root problems. As tags have become more popular the spikes he describes have gotten spikier but the tools to extract meaning from the totality of tag information and relations just hasn't improved. That's the trough of disillusionment right there.
What is lacking is tools to get at the meaning. The genesis of my work in tagging first in liveTopics (oh so many years ago now) and then in K-Collector was in my reflections on David Snowdens work on complexity and sense-making. To me tagging was a necessary step on the way to building tools to help us make sense of our world.
I saw tools like K-Collector as being the first rungs of a ladder leading towards more sophisticated sense-making tools that have just never materialized. It's as if the lesson was that tagging, in and of itself, was important and not what tagging enables you to do.
So I stand by my original post. I prefer to think of it less as a whine about the state of tagging and more of a sense of puzzlement coupled with excitement that there are so many opportunities remaining to do good things in this space!