Putting the “Social” in the ‘Net and Tagging it all

December 11, 2005

Web 2.0 is here. or so they tell us.

‘Social’ is the new buzz word, being pinned onto words that define the current internet… we now have Social-Bookmarking (del.icio.us), Social-Browsing (Flock), even Social-Picture Sharing (Flickr). Another buzz word is ‘Tags’, and the key feature of ‘Social’ services is ‘Tags’. Tagging is far more useful than the now-defunct ‘Categories’, since using multiple tags allows to more fully (and accurately) define something. Trying to fit most ideas and objects under singular definitions is inevitably inaccurate (or at the least, incomplete); tags then, help us use a more functional and personalized system to make sense of any information (be they pictures, books, or blog entries) and is thus easier to search and find what you want.

A simple example showing the usefulness of this can be seen in how i organize my pictures in Flickr. Where once a picture of me and a bunch of my friends out at a local club would have been Categorized as ‘Montreal’ or ‘Partying’ (lame, I know), now includes a number of different Tags. ‘Montreal’ and ‘Partying’ could certainly be two of them, but it could also include ‘Newtown’ as the club where we go pretty often, and ‘Summer 2005’ for the time of year; ‘Mahima’ for the describing people in the picture, and ‘Nate’s Visit’ for pointing out that a friend from out of town was there. Because of the number of dimensions used to describe a single picture, finding specific information becomes drastically easier. Choosing the ‘Mahima’ tag, all pictures with her in it can be brought up in a second. This may not sound like much, but when a vast amount of information is required to be sifted through, one begins to see the possibilities.

This is still an example for the individual level; Web 2.0 is all about the ‘social’ dimensions of the internet, and so the same situation is meant to be applied on a far larger scale. When the ‘montreal’ tag is expanded to all of the pictures in Flickr, the number of results increases exponentially. The aim at the end is to be able to find at will, a picture of a ‘montreal’ ‘sunset’ during the ‘summer’ of ‘2005’, taken at the ‘waterfront’ during the ‘F1 weekend’ at the restaurant ‘Jardin Neslon’.

Of course it seems to me that tagging is merely the use of multiple categories, and others seem to agree with this definition. Yet this small tweak, coupled with the personalized and social factors of Web 2.0 products, creates a level of functionality that nigh eliminates the difficulties of accommodating thepreconceived notions of website/software creators, and the frustration that inevitably comes along with it. This helps mimic the ‘mental map’ within people’s minds, and allows information to be organized more ‘organically’ (the underlying principle of all such ‘Social’ tools). TheInternet has forever had too-much information rather than too-little. Without ways of easily accessing that information, its functionality is greatly reduced.

It is these small changes that ultimately usher in the next level of evolution for products and innovations. The coming together of a number of incremental improvements suddenly appears to provide us with a complete, well rounded product. Humans, for example, existed for many millennia before bursting out into their current level of productivity and inventiveness; the raw material of the human brain lay unused and untapped, while homo sapiens lived as little more than groups of semi-intelligent chimpanzees. And then, almost out of nowhere, a small shift in the vocal chords, coupled with an almost equally small shift in the language centers of the brain, allowed for the communication of ideas and coordination of human efforts on a scale never before encountered. And presto, in the blink of an eye, an insignificant mammal, ill-adapted (physically) for his environment, came to envelop the globe.

Hmm… seem to have drifted off the point a little here… (inspired in part by this). But still, it remains true that no single thing stands alone in this world, and without the support from other related products or services, its usefulness to us remains limited. Web 2.0, and the future of the web, relies on this very truth, and so we foresee a convergence of the such activities as they are integrated into our normal, every-day lives. The old ways of enforced compartmentalization are done, and a new way of perceiving the ‘net (and the world) are emerging.

The future, then, is Social. And Tagged.


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