Earlier this week, we focused on using tags to classify and organize material. At the end of the post, I suggested tagging can also support discovery and pattern recognition activities. So, I thought we’d take a look at that today.
Continuing our metaphors from the other post, let’s start with using tags to promote cross-reference. Depending on your age, you may or may not remember doing this with a card catalog in school. You’d go to look up something, and one of the cards you found would say: See also [list of related keywords]. Desperately hoping you’d find more information on whatever obscure topic you were supposed to be researching, you’d make a note of those keywords and look them up, too…only to realize hours later that you had in fact found several interesting things, none of which related to your research. If you were lucky, though, chasing those other keywords could open doors for you. You might have found an interesting direction to take your research paper, because one of those keywords was something you never would have thought of. That’s the beauty of cross-referencing. It might verify what you’re looking up. It might disprove what you’re looking up. It might send you down a different vein of thought, as you get a better look at how other topics relate to your current research. Bookmarking and notetaking apps utilize this type of tagging because they’re kind of designed for it.
For bloggers, bookmarkers, and notetakers, tags can also help identify related material, enabling visitors and users to delve more deeply into a topic. What makes it interesting on blogs and social bookmarking sites is that we choose to show the tagging structure we’ve implemented to keep our content connected. Why is this interesting? Because seeing how someone else has grouped together content tells us a lot about the person and how they perceive the content, and can in turn jog how we think about the topic. It’s a way to be inspired by and learn from each other.
The last type of tagging we’re going to cover here is familiar to most social media users – the hashtag. Hashtags have been in use informally for over a decade, but have only been a formal part of the social media scene for about five years or so. Where other types of tagging are used to organize, identify, and connect content, the hashtag is really more of a communication and networking tool. When used correctly, a hashtag can help social media users discussing the same topic or event find each other, thereby facilitating the conversation. It can help users interested in the same topics and events find each other in realspace. It’s a great way to provide a centralized hub on a global platform. When used incorrectly…well…I know I’m not the only one to use them to make sarcastic or self-deprecating comments on an earlier part of a post. 😉
Regardless of why you’re tagging, remember that your tags must be useful to your intended audience. Consistency and diligence are keys to a successful tagging system.