Just a random thought in a break from revision, provoked probably by spending too much time enjoying surfing the Flickr website for brilliant (and fun) photos...
I've wondered for a while why I've not come across any articles that compare the relatively new phenomenon of tagging things on the internet with the similar - and now largely defunct - concept of using keyword meta tags to categorise web pages. Well, I hadn't read anything until I started writing this, at which point I tryed searching again because I was certain somebody must have compared them at some point. I soon realised that Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineWatch had mentioned it before along with others. There must be some in this long list of related readings that I simply don't have time to read at the moment.
Anyway, I do find it odd that I hadn't come across it before, with most of the things out there being a very positive look at the world of tagging. So far tagging seems to have worked pretty well, though that's how keyword meta tags started out, and look where they are now. I think probably one of the main reasons that tagging is working where meta tags have failed is that tags are in the view of everyone. Meta tags aren't in the public eye, they are hidden away, which meant that web page authors could stuff them with all sorts of irrelevant keywords just to drive up their traffic. If you were to spam the tagspace with irrelevant words, visitors would write the page from the start and find somewhere else.
While Danny Sullivan doesn't see the idea of tags helping searching on the internet, I believe it can and will. For a start, they are the main way of navigating sites like Flickr and del.icio.us, and without tagging these sites would not have grown to the size they are today. They have brought in a new way of navigating the vast amount of information which can soon be generated by a large userbase - but instead of searching, they concentrate on browsing.
Applying tags to the rest of the internet won't work in the same way because it hasn't grown up with these concepts, but I believe they can learn from the information gathered by sites that have employed tags from the start. By learning what tags are relevant to each other (see for example, the related tags list for 'blue' on Flickr: clouds, water, yellow, white, tree, orange, flower, pink, flowers, trees, reflection, window), a search company can start to group sites which are talking about certain subjects. The web page author wouldn't have to do any work at all because the search engines already know what the topic of the page is - this is what search engines specialise in already.
Hmm, conveying that random thought took more of my time than I'd thought, but I should get back to doing some work now. With only one exam down there are two left, but I'm starting to feel a little happier about them now that I've had some of the coursework back from the Easter break and appear to have done quite well.