Tagging as a communication device: Every tag cloud has a silver lining



The panel will bring together an intentional variety of perspectives on the process and outcomes of tagging, within and without social networking. In particular, how the context is apparent in the vocabulary, language or classifications used in communication. At the individual or conceptual level, tags are seen as a means to avoid some of the issues associated within more formal frameworks, such as fossilized terms of meanings, but at the context, language or ontology level a concept must be expressed via a relatively impoverished vocabulary of jointly shared terms and ideas. One such misunderstanding, one that drives much of the debate on tagging, is the widespread definition of ontology as “a hierarchical structure to describe conceptual structures that are closed, inflexible and restrictive”. However, a lexicon of tags – terms – can be tailored to improve and optimize communication accuracy. The panel will attempt to show how tagging is applied to indicate or derive an appropriate semantics, given the user's understanding of the information's context. Then discussing how this process fits with established theory in knowledge management, KM, linguistics and classification research amongst others, and investigate wider implications.

Topic Areas

  • Ontology ical Architecture of Tags: Are tags, as they are widely described, a superset overlaying an underlying ontology? Or are ontologies and tags applied in a similar way?
  • Metadata use: Where do the symbols come from? What sort of a group/community uses terminology stably? What are the preconditions for that to occur?
  • Tag Clouds: If there's so much variation, then what's the point of the tag cloud? Is the first use made of a tag similar to any more widespread application of the term? Is this how the tag was meant to be used?
  • Tags as Communication Device: Is tagging an activity to integrate an individual's past, present and (anticipated) future experience?

Questions that will be discussed among panelists and with the audience will focus on looking at tags as a way of communicating information between users. Within a group of users, are the most popular terms the tags that would be used, and why do we assume that the most popular terms were most useful? More questions below.

Each Panelist's Contribution

@toread and Cool: Subjective, Affective and Associative Factors in Tagging (Margaret E. I. Kipp)

The idea behind social bookmarking tools is to harness the power of the network effect on the web to create a more useful search system by combining the efforts of users in the assignment of labels (tags) to a bookmarked item. However, many users of del.icio.us, citeulike and connotea appear to want to store more than just the subject of the documents they are bookmarking. Tags such as @toread, tobuy, todo, fun and cool suggest that users see their relationship to these documents in different ways. While the latter tags express an emotional connection to the document, the former show evidence of a desire to attach personal information management information to documents. This desire to combine personal information management and document classification echoes findings in document use research which users categorized items in order to better understand their relationship to other items and to tasks the users wished to perform (Sellen & Harper 2002; Kwasnik 1991; Malone 1984). The use of such non subject tags, tags which are deliberately excluded from traditional classification systems due to their potentially temporary or task specific nature, shows that users may see classification as a holistic process closely tied to themselves, their work and their groups.

Patterns of collaborative tagging in a large organization (David R. Millen)

Few empirical studies of social bookmarking within a corporate environment have been reported and relatively little is known about the patterns of actual use. In this presentation, highlights of a field study of social bookmarking and collaborative tagging will be shared from three perspectives (Millen, Feinberg & Kerr, 2006; Millen et al., 2007; Rivadeneira et al., 2007; Pan & Millen, 2008; Thom-Santelli, Muller & Millen, 2008). First, personal (or private) tagging will be compared to public (enterprise-wide) tag collections. Second, differences in social tagging among organizational entities within the enterprise will be explored. And finally, tag use, reuse and influence among articulated (friend) communities will be examined.

Integrating tagging (Mark R. Lindner)

Defending particular theories and epistemologies is important, and if they have no practical implications then they are of no consequence (Hjørland 2007). One must argue against a discipline's theoretical and methodological principles if one has issues with them (Hjørland 1997). Roy Harris (Harris, 1998) has been doing just that with orthodox linguistics for over 30 years. Harris is the founder of Integrationism, a radical view of communication and language. What do the orthodox view of linguistics and Integrationism each offer in explaining tagging behavior, or even simply the meaning of tagging as communication? How would an Integrationist view tagging for the individual and for the community? How would they view it diachronically and synchronically?

Mapping Concept to Word The many roles of terminology in a collaborative work environment (Emma Tonkin)

Humans have been asking themselves about the origin and development of language for as long as there has been a mechanism for asking the question. Languages are studied both in idealized forms and in use, in a variety of social contexts and over time. In the classification domain, things are little different. This presentation will look at link information about social context, society and subject areas that allow features of the evolution of negotiated terms to be studied (Tonkin, 2007). The role of terminology within a community can be examined – that is, the motivators behind language acquisition as a socialization process. Message formation is related to intended audience as to the process of negotiating identity. Connecting sociolinguistics and classification explicitly in active study of identifiable communities online is a step towards quantitative examination of complex phenomena of variation in language use. Whilst there exists an extensive body of theory and observation dealing with linguistic development and shift, many challenges remain. Community formation and structure are active research topics (Firth, Lawrence & Clouse, 2006), as are methods of modeling propagation of both concepts and representations (Yves-Oudeyer & Kaplan, 2007).

Tagging as Metadata: Ontological Architecture of Tags (Heather D. Pfeiffer)

Within a community, knowledge is communicated to the individuals through language, and semantics of this language can be seen conceptually as ontological (Pfeiffer & Pfeiffer, 2007). The concepts within the ontology can be represented in a hierarchical structure, and both this representation and concept are socially defined by the community building the ontology. Guarino (Guarino, 1994) saw this ontological level as metadata for the language being represented. Tags placed on a document by a user community give a context for the document. These tags are the “jargon” or keywords within the community's social network, and are metadata relating this document to other documents with the same context. In this way, the metadata can be seen as conceptual tags helping to define the context. The architecture of the ontology or its hierarchical links is then built from these tags. However, the ontology can be modified by other users within the domain community (Tonkin, 2008).

Moderator's Questions for Panelists

  • Is it possible to decide whether to interpret a tag within the context of the document or just treat it as a primary key or keyword?
  • To what extent is terminology, whether from a natural language, classification or ontology, emergent from a community context? That is, to what extent is it acquired in a top-down process and to what extent is it contributed or developed in a bottom-up process?
  • Do we see a difference in the integration of tags within a community that are used a single point in time (synchronic) or across time (diachronic)?
  • Are tags just symbols (signs) or are they visual representations of meaning (reference concepts)?