I’ve blogged about this in the past, but it took me a long time to come to terms with tagging. Longer than it really should have, given my time maintaining card catalogs, archiving collections of various types, and blogging. But I did finally catch on and realized that tagging, especially when used uniformly across my personal learning environment, is a useful tool because tags can serve as a type of metadata.
Metadata, which can be thought of as “data about data”, is all through our digital life. If you have ever built a website, you know metadata as that information about the site that gets hidden in the site’s code. It’s not meant for human eyes; they’ll get their information about the site from just looking at the site. It’s there to tell robots and search engines information about the site to help determine if a site matches what they’re looking for. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t recall off the top of my head what’s in this site’s metadata. Oops.) In a way, it’s kind of like what you would find in an old library card catalog. It’s a series of key words and identifiers intended to help someone quickly find what they’re looking for.
When you’re using tags to identify aspects of information, you can then use those tags to better organize your information. This isn’t dissimilar from how museums use metadata tagging as they digitize collections. They use the tags to identify the key aspects of the artifact, and then artifacts with the same key identifier are easily identifiable when the collection is searched digitally. Blogs also rely on this style of tagging, allowing posts to be tagged by key aspects so related posts can be found quickly. Broader tags are often represented by a special set of tags called “categories”. (Bet you never thought of categories that way before!) When we talk about Three Click Design and Information Scent in web design, what we’re really talking about is the simplicity and clarity of a site’s organization as indicated by their use of tags and navigational mechanics.
As I said earlier, I didn’t take to tagging quickly. I fought it for a long time. What finally won me over was losing bits and pieces of projects and research across my digital workspace. I started tagging content important to a research project, and found that I spent less time looking for things I knew I had but couldn’t find. Now, I have a set of tags (in a hierarchical structure more often than not because that’s the kind of nerd I am) that I’ve applied across all aspects of my digital workspace. When I want to work on something, I just open that tab in all of the apps I need, and there is my information and my work.
So, there you go. Tagging is a great way to classify and organize your content so you (or your target audience) can find what they need when they need it. When a tagging system is designed well, it can not only increase productivity, but also enable discovery and pattern recognition, allowing future projects to come together.