November 11, 2005

Tagging by Bloggers, a Small Study

Last February, I conducted a series of interviews with 20 bloggers. 10 were using what was then the 'new' Technorati Tag implementation and 10 were not. All were regular users of tags in other systems: or Flickr types of systems where a tag is applied by a user, and then the tags can be 'pivoted' on, or clicked on, to see all the other media that has the same tag. This pivot can occur either at the user level, to see everything that user has applied that tag to, or at a global level, to see everything where the entire community at that site has applied that tag. Additionally, these bloggers were beginning to use the Technorati tag pages to see how bloggers were tagging their posts or media, and how the Flickr or media with the same tags fit together on the Technorati page with those tagged blog posts.

I sent out email to these bloggers, essentially asking how they used tags in their posts, or how they wanted to use them, if they did not and yet wanted to, or if they didn't want to at all, why.

All of these bloggers were people I did not know before the interviews, but were semi-randomly chosen because they blogged with tags, or appeared to be aware of tags because they had links to sites with tags, though they did not tag their posts themselves. These interviews were done in email, and were conducted over a couple of days. I promised those interviewed that I would not pass on identifying information about them, or list them in any way. I also promised to aggregate the information before blogging or passing the survey on to others.

Of the ten who use the new rel="tag" format in their blog posts, most were dissatisfied to one degree or another. Sometimes, the Technorati system did not pick up their tags, even though their posts could be found in the search system in other pages besides tag pages, and they were using the correct format. Some also expressed similar desires to be able to do more with the tags and formats, as the non-tagging bloggers did. All expressed some desire to have more of something.

Those interviewed talked about the following that would help them tag or cause them to want to tag when they were not doing so now:
1. A desire to create tags in their blogging software in similar ways to how they create 'categories' -- meaning they wanted to use a pulldown menu or something with similar ease, to quickly tag a post. This included the desire to have tags be invisible on their blog pages, as some of them have invisible categories in their posts. Some of those with invisible categories at the post level still have category searches visible at the sidebar level of their blogs. They would be interested in showing tags at the sidebar location, if they choose. But all felt these choices of visibility and invisibility at various points in their blog posts and overall blogs should be left to them as it is now with categories, and those choices should not bar them from participating in Technorati's tag program.
2. These bloggers rarely added new categories to their blogs, and saw the value of having large buckets to categorize their posts, and didn't want to add new categories all the time. Partly this was due to how difficult the software make it to add categories, and partly this was due to seeing in practice that there was value to 'large bucket' categories, and 'little context' tags. These small tags were desirable because they could be applied to a post on just one time, but categories would come up at least every few days.
3. These bloggers all understood the meaning of a link in their posts. They knew the value of those links, and thought carefully about where they pointed in posts before doing so. They did not like being forced to put a link to something in their tags, if they were not so inclined. They would prefer to have the choice to make a link or not make a link, depending on the circumstances of the post.
4. If a link was placed in a tag, at their choosing, they wanted more flexibility to choose where the link went, beyond Technorati's tags pages, Flickr or Many did not like that in order to make the tag, they had to place a link, and then because they wanted to make links that 'made sense' to their readers (the links would 'go somewhere'), they felt forced to repeatedly link to these same couple of sites. Some wanted to be able to easily make their 'own tag pages.' Some wanted to be able to link to other places besides tagging sites, that had some meaning to them. And some asked to be able to link somewhere, and tag the link, and have that be understood to their readers and the systems that would pick up those tags.
5. A little less than half of these bloggers asked to be able to tag a specific object in their blog posts. They regularly posted photos, either their own, or brought in some code from another site to repost the photo, with or without text around that photo. They wanted to be able to tag just the photo in their post, but tag the post at the bottom of the post, following Technorati's directions for tagging.
6. A couple of the respondents said they would like to be able to tag comments from readers of their blogs, and they might consider, if they have registered commenters, allowing those commenters to tag posts, objects or other comments as well.
7. All of them liked the idea that tagging would allow them to participate in a community, but they wanted to control that participation themselves, at the publishing level of a post.

Additionally, the ten who were not tagging were asked why. Answers ranged from,
"I can't figure out how to do it using Technorati's directions." (3)
"I don't want to until they change it so I don't have to link."
".. it's too hard."
"I want more choices and flexibility"
"I haven't had the time to figure out the system and it seems hard."
"I hate the link part. I don't want to do that."
"I want my tags to be invisible." (2)
"I don't want to give Technorati more links." (3)

My conclusion at the end of this was that we need more flexibility and better tools for tagging at the blog post level, including creating tags at several points: around an object, at the link level, at the post level, and possibly at the comment level. Additionally, users need easy ways to tag, and set their preferences around how their tags will appear, or be created. And they need flexibility for linking within the tags, as well as some different choices depending on what they were doing, about how the tags will function. It would be great if they had some easy way to make their own tag pages, as they now can do with categories that allow them to build pages of posts that all have a common category.

Note: afterwards, I did let them know that they could link to sites other than Technorati, if they were not aware of this, and I did help those who could not figure out how to do tagging. But it was clear to me that part of solving these issues is communicating to users better and making some simple tools so that users don't have to play around with html code, and wonder if they are getting it right.

Disclosure: I used to work at Technorati (well before this study) and be on their Advisory Board.

Posted by Mary Hodder at November 11, 2005 07:20 AM | TrackBack

Tagging is a difficult issue to deal with. I wish I could have gone to tag camp, but we really need to get togerher and have an open standard specifically just for tags. I think it should be added to the RSS Specification as RSS 2.1 or something.

Posted by: Stefan Constantinescu at November 11, 2005 09:20 AM

Tagging is definitely a difficult "feature" to get right. Flickr and have certainly done a wonderful job of creating models of successful tagging services while others haven't been nearly so well executed. So what's the solution here? Maybe a tagging service that also has plugins into the leading blogging platforms?

In general I can surf tags for hours, can't say the same for any blog tagging service...

Posted by: Gus Spathis at November 13, 2005 05:33 PM

Wordpress has a neat plu-ing for implementing tags in your weblog: A nice side-effect is that the tags are put into your Atom feed and Technorati feeds them.

Posted by: didier at November 14, 2005 09:53 PM