Research Forum: Tagging: A Social, Psychological, and Rhetorical Practice
Tagging: A Social, Psychological, and Rhetorical Practice
*This very informal research description is the preliminary work for my dissertation so any and all feedback is much appreciated.*
Tagging is a way of storing bookmarks of sites, locations, people and even photos online with descriptive words that are stored on a website and serve as an indexing term for an online resource. The process of social bookmarking (tagging) is often referred to as folksonomy. Tagging, such as done on http://del.icio.us and other sites, is not just a Web 2.0 phenomenon but a new way to categorize and describe knowledge resources and their uses. Unlike typical categorization schemes that are uniform and constructed by committees (like library card catalogs), tagging is both individual and communal. Taggers create their lists for their own use, as bookmarks to visit in the future, but also for the use of others. These tags donâ€™t just classify sites according to their content; they are also used to editorialize about the quality or tone of a site as well as to comment on the use of a site. Tags such as â€œtoreadâ€? or â€œreaddailyâ€? remind taggers of sites they want to return to. Other tags such as â€œhumorousâ€? or â€œmetaâ€? describe the tone of a site rather than its content.
My preliminary research has been conducted to accomplish these tasks:
1. Provide rationale for studying tagging: Why is it an important rhetorical phenomenon to study?
2. Find ways to categorize tags: can tags be put into categories to study in quantitative and qualitative means?
3. Develop research procedures to best study tagging and tag sets.
As of now my research question is evolving from the following questions:
- Is tagging rhetorical?
- Why is tagging so popular? What makes it â€œworkâ€? for so many users?
- Do tag sets comprise narratives of individual users or sites?
- What is the social importance of tagging? How does tagging restructure knowledge formations?
So far Iâ€™ve learned the following important aspects of tagging:
- Readers/users not just authors get to tag objects: this puts the power of classification, categorization, and description in the hands of users rather than creators
- Tagging is social: taggers create their lists not just for themselves but for others to use as well. There is some kind of reputation involved in having a well-known or well-used tag list.
- Tagging â€œsticks it to the manâ€?: some taggers seem to get a thrill from describing a site for use or content other than what the author intended
- Tagging is always current: tags are fluid and constantly changing for new and old sites alike
- Tagging offers non-linear discovery: tags often offer resources that would not be discovered through traditional search methods
- Tagging is semantic: tags are tightly associated with shifting meaning of words; new words are created as tags
- Tagging is cognitively easier than â€œauthoritative categorization schemes: tagging is associative and more closely related to human thinking processes than are other categorization methods
Iâ€™m considering a three-prong approach to studying tagging.
1. One tag, many sites: A study of how a single tag is used to describe similar and dissimilar sites.
2. One site, many tags: A study of the variance of tags assigned to a single site
3. One user, many tags: A case study of one (or several) taggers and his/her tag set. What does a userâ€™s tag set say about him/her?
What Iâ€™m most excited about right now is the similarity between the categories of tags Iâ€™ve discovered and Kenneth Burkeâ€™s Pentad. This leads me to think that there is definitely something rhetorical about tags. *Please note that Iâ€™m adding attitude to the Pentad as Burke did in some of his later work*
1. Act: tags that describe the function of a site or how it will be used (ex. â€œtoreadâ€? or â€œcostcalculatorâ€?)
2. Agency: tags that describe the ethos of a site (ex. â€œReliableâ€?)
3. Scene: tags that describe where a site comes from or relates to (ex. â€œChicagoâ€? or â€œuniversityâ€?)
4. Agent: tags that describe the author of a site (ex. â€œcartoonistâ€?)
5. Purpose: tags that describe the purpose of a site (ex. â€œnewsâ€?)
6. Attitude: tags that describe the tone of a site (ex. â€œfunnyâ€?)
My hope is that this research will not only provide insight into the act of tagging but also into the type of informational â€œwebbingâ€? that occurs on the internet as well as the ways users attain a sort of power over how online resources are discovered and used.