Since Friday at UK Museums and the Web 2007 I keep being asked about my scepticism over explicit tagging in museums. “Why do I think that users don’t really have much natural incentive to tag our collections or content?”
Over at Bokardo there is a post dating back to 2006 which looks at why Del.icio.us has been succesful titled the The Del.icio.us Lesson.
The one major idea behind the Del.icio.us Lesson is that personal value precedes network value. What this means is that if we are to build networks of value, then each person on the network needs to find value for themselves before they can contribute value to the network. In the case of Del.icio.us, people find value saving their personal bookmarks first and foremost. All other usage is secondary.
As people use Del.icio.us more, and in order to gain more personal value, they use tags to be able to find their bookmarks later. Tagging isn’t even the primary function of Del.icio.us. Most of the tagging done on Del.icio.us is done secondarily, and for personal use.
The social value of tags on Del.icio.us is only a happy side-effect. Even though most of the ink spilled about Del.icio.us is about the social value, it’s really not the reason why people use it.
Now this is again a case of strategy first, technology second – those who attended my recent workshops will know clearly what I mean. If Forresters is correct and about 15% of US internet users have tagged something in the preceding month then we need to be careful to not make the leap to this being the same as 15% tag frequently let alone tag on all sites that offer tagging. Situational relevance and motivation also play a big part in the choice of which services people use.
If tagging is about engaging users and “bridging the semantic gap” then what other strategies might achieve the same end result?
We cannot give the same user incentives as the tagger who tags their images in Flickr nor the tagger who tags their bookmarks in Delicious. We can target our committed volunteers and amateur and affilated societies however but the user needs and UI design may be very different for those communities.