Tags, Wiki and Folksonomy

Last edited by HackArt
Fri, 08 Feb 2008 05:12 UTC [diff]

What is tagging

I'd like to share with you some thoughts on the possibility of integrating a tagging system into WikkaWiki.

Tagging is a simple way of labelling nodes and building a basic category system.

Tagging (aka Folksonomy or Social bookmarking) is becoming one of the most pervasive practices in the field of social software. Tags allow users to categorize content: categories emerge from single users' labelling of URLs. Tags offer also a smart (distributed) ranking system: URLs that receive more times the same tag are likely to emerge as the most relevant and authoritative sources for the topic associated to the tag (an idea similar to the PR strategy adopted by Google). Web services building categories out of users' tags include del.icio.us (the first service which introduced social tagging), Technorati, Simpy, Jots, Flickr (tagging applied to photographs), CiteULike (tagging applied to scientific literature).

An example of folksonomy web-service

Look at this example of technorati's page for the tag: wiki or just choose one of these tags.

Why tagging

The interest of tagging is twofold.

  1. On the one hand, tags can be used internally as an alternative to categories: they help organize content by topic in a simple and intuitive way.
  1. On the other hand, tags can be used to post labelled content to external web services.

The second aspect deserves some attention. It is quite common for bloggers to tag their posts, so that web services like technorati can categorize them by topic. It might be interesting to add such a feature to wikis as well.

Tagging: From Blogs to Wikis

Addressing JavaWoman's concern (see below), why should a Wiki need a tagging system, I see two main reasons:

First, Wikis -- at least those dedicated to the general public -- are often structured as collections of nodes dealing with single topics; the Wikipedia is probably the most known example. A WikiPage is often a thematic page that is linked from a hub or category page. Given this one-topic/one-page nature of most Wikis it seems natural to consider tagging as an interesting way of describing wiki content. Internally, hubs can be built automatically by grouping pages that use the same tag. But, most important, tagged pages can be published on external web services (see below). JavaWoman argues that such services are tailored to blogs, not to wikis. Only partially true: blikis - see below - can already be used to broadcast content to such web services. Moreover, the fact that wiki-centered services to aggregate content (like recentchanges) are not common is not a good argument not to invent them :)

Second, Wiki engines can actually be used to power Blogs and the two technologies are likely to merge in the future. Here's a nice quote on the hybrid nature of Wikis with respect to blogs:

The more I think about it, the clearer it is to me that Blogs and Wikis are really instances of the same meta-level idea. They should be unified into a single system. Blogs organize information temporally along a single thread. Wikis organize information spatially around a set of nodes representing ideas. Blogs have no concept of space. Wikis have no concept of time. What we really need is a single framework that enables information to be organized freely in space and time. You can create Nodes that represent ideas and link them to one another just like you do in a Wiki. You can post articles to any Node (or set of Nodes), just like you do in a Blog and they appear sequentially by time. When writing any article you can enter Wiki commands to quickly link to, or create new, Nodes. This is the best of both worlds. You can then filter it by Node name, Time, or both. (From: Integrating Blogs and Wikis -- A Higher Unifying Framework)

There are already many wiki engines that offer blog functionality (Blikis), thus combining the advantages of the two kinds of tool.
A nice example is Rui Carmo's The Tao of Mac, a seamless integration of a wiki engine with blog functionality.
More information about Blikis is available on Wikipedia.

How to broadcast tagged content

Publishing tags requires just a simple modification of the RSS generation script, to add the following lines:


Another way to tag pages consists in adding a rel="tag" attribute to a link. For instance:

 <a href="http://apple.com/ipod" rel="tag">iPod</a>
 <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity" rel="tag">Gravity</a>
 <a href="http://flickr.com/photos/tags/chihuahua" rel="tag">Chihuahua</a>

Once links or RSS contain tag information, you can easily publish them by pinging (automatically or manually) web services like technorati. The tagged URL will then show up in the corresponding tag page.

Integrating tags in a wiki


This is something the "well-designed metadata" crowd has never understood — just because it's better to have well-designed metadata along one axis does not mean that it is better along all axes, and the axis of cost, in particular, will trump any other advantage as it grows larger. And the cost of tagging large systems rigorously is crippling, so fantasies of using controlled metadata in environments like Flickr are really fantasies of users suddenly deciding to become disciples of information architecture.

    1. What do you gain by tagging that search engines don't already provide? This is an important one. If you talk about "emerging ontologies" you are (also) talking about "emerging metadata". And while (most) search engines have stopped collecting them as coded from the documents they index, the index they build is itself a set of meta data. I agree that "there is a huge difference (a cognitive one ;)) between search engines and ontologies" - as long as we are talking about formal ontologies; but when we are talking about emerging ontologies the difference isn't all that big. Just why, to what end, would you use a "tagging" service to find something and would it really work better than using a search engine to find that information? It's easy to say that tagging "works" or is "practical". It may be so in creating informal ontologies - but is the result any more practical than a search engine? And I just found I'm not alone having these misgivings.
    1. Just which services are you going to ping? The only that I've found is "pingable" (i.e. will listen to what you, yourself, state are the tags that apply to your own content, as opposed to what others say about it) is Technorati - which does not only use this information but also gathers it from other services where people add "tags" to others' content, and which is exclusively for blogs. Even if pinging Technorati from a Wiki would work, the question remains: what other services are there that can be pinged to publicize "tags" about your own content? If they exist, I haven't found them. If Technorati is the only one, your own tags may well get drowned in other people's tags because self-publicized tags aren't the only source that's used. (Back to question 1: how much better will the result be than what a normal search engine is already doing? After all, it's actually pretty hard to write about something without actually using teh word for that something - so a search engine will pick up on it anyway.)

More on the Folksonomy-Wiki connection

Flat categories vs. taxonomies vs. faceted systems

More on tags (pro / contra / neutral)

Wikis and metadata

CategoryDevelopmentDiscussion CategoryDevelopmentSyndication
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