In today’s column (subscription required) for WSJ.com and The Asian Wall Street Journal‘s Personal Journal section I write about tags — the kind found on del.icio.us and Flickr. I spoke — or at least IMed — with some interesting people to research the story, and thought I’d post excerpts from some of the chats, with the permission of the source, in case anyone is interested in reading more.
Here’s the first one, from Japanese American Tokyo resident Gen Kanai who was very good at walking me through some of the ideas about tagging. He declined to let me identify his own current involvement, but it sounds interesting indeed. Hopefully we can talk more about that later.
JW: i was playing around with delicious and started reading stuff, including your posts on it, and was trying to see where it’s all going…
Gen Kanai: Its definitely been the hot topic of the past few weeks.
JW: from what i’ve read this is all about metadata, and making it so it’s not just personal categories, but sharing… is that anywhere near?
Gen Kanai: yes, the key is the sharing aspect.
Gen Kanai: as we all know, people are lazy,
Gen Kanai: so a little bit of investment up-front in tagging (photos, a url, etc.) means you can find a lot more related information afterwards
Gen Kanai: especially when web services start sharing that data
JW: what’s in it for web services to share this stuff?
Gen Kanai: good question
Gen Kanai: More readership, a greater audience
JW: could you give an example?
Gen Kanai: sure.
Gen Kanai: if delicious was merely a bookmark saving service, it wouldnt be interesting.
Gen Kanai: delicious is compelling because the users save the bookmark but also associate metadata in the form of tags with each URL.
Gen Kanai: that “tag” is then automatically associated with other “tags” and so one can find other URLs related to “ferrari”
JW: how would that work exactly? if someone gave a tag ‘car’ and another ‘roadhog’ would they be matched? or lost?
Gen Kanai: or whatever keyword or phrase.
Gen Kanai: The other important part
Gen Kanai: is that both Flickr and Delicious have APIs for sharing.
Gen Kanai: Application programming interfaces.
Gen Kanai: a simple way for the data (Photos or URLs) to be shared on other websites.
Gen Kanai: Amazon also has an API for their system
JW: for sharing book lists etc?
Gen Kanai: its one important way Amazon is more successful than other Ecommerce sites
Gen Kanai: yes.
Gen Kanai: on sites OTHER than amazon.
Gen Kanai: but getting back to tags
JW: ok, i’m with you. still not sure how the tags work if they are just keywords assigned by individuals. how do they get matched up?
Gen Kanai: its all very serendipitous and chaotic
Gen Kanai: at the same time.
Gen Kanai: librarians would have a fit.
Gen Kanai: anyway, the other key is that “tags” are user generated.
Gen Kanai: it doesnt sound like a big deal, but it is.
Gen Kanai: because in the past, with XML, for instance
Gen Kanai: there was a need to make agreements across industries to standardize
Gen Kanai: and that’s all thrown out the window with tags
Gen Kanai: basically its a way to find other similar information
Gen Kanai: the user does a bit more work tagging, but it results in a wealth of information once the tagged information is cataloged and associated with other data that has the same tag.
Gen Kanai: I would say, however, that this is all VERY new, and no one is really sure what this means in the long run.
Gen Kanai: Whether it will scale.
Gen Kanai: etc.
JW: ok. i’m still a bit clueless how the serendipitous tagging works: if my idea of tagging and yours don’t gel, won’t that be duplicated effort?
Gen Kanai: that:s ok
Gen Kanai: it doesnt have to gel
Gen Kanai: it not a perfect system
Gen Kanai: but so far, when used, it works well enough that people are excited and more and more sites are implementing tags as a feature
Gen Kanai: the best sites have APIs so they can share that information with other sites…
Thanks, Gen, for walking me through it. I’ll post some more chats soon.