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Social tagging uncovered

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Social tagging doesn’t appear quite as popular as it once was.  There was a time when the likes of Delicious were at the peak of their powers that advocates would proclaim such systems as the future of the web.  Heck, some even suggested they would eventually topple Google as a more semantic web emerged.

A new paper has recently been published that sets out to explore the state of the social tagging world, and in particular investigate three particular assumptions about the field:

  1. Is a tagging system really social?
  2. The key components of folksonomies – i.e., users, tags and resources – are equally important structural elements of social tagging systems
  3. Popularity in terms of posts equals importance

The paper explores these assumptions via the BibSonomy platform, with several years worth of data crunched to try and spot any trends in usage.

Lets look at each assumption in turn.

Is tagging social?

The assumption is that social tagging is done openly and publicly, therefore enhancing the value and community in doing so.  The researchers found, perhaps not surprisingly, that most users were primarily interested in their own content rather than other peoples.  Nevertheless, there was a degree of social interaction going on to suggest all hope is not lost.

Are users, tags and resources equally important?

The folksonomy of many social tagging systems assigns each of these attributes equal importance, but this wasn’t supported by the research.  Instead, they found that the majority of requests were for individual user pages, despite there being significantly fewer of these than tags or resources.

Is popularity all important?

Most tagging systems display the most popular items in the most prominent way possible, with the underlying assumption that the most popular items are therefore the most valuable.  Unlike the previous two assumptions, this one was born out by the data.  They found that among actively used tags, those that are used more often in posts are also queried more frequently, although the increase isn’t proportional to their popularity.

It’s an interesting paper, and with tagging increasingly used inside the enterprise, it should go some way to better informing its application in the enterprise to help ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved.

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