Why Is Tagging So Hard?

Michael Parekh has a post up today called "On Why Is Tagging So Frickin’ Hard?"

It is a really good post and anyone who is interested in this subject of tagging should go read it.

Michael was inspired to write the post after reading Tom Evslin’s post on how he integrated tagging, comments, and trackbacks into his Typepad blog.

Michael has a good sense of humor and he goes on to say:

And what did Tom invest in making these very commendable, and helpful changes?
In his words:

For the last thirty-six hours I have been writing code to make my blog more useful (with help from both TypePad and del.icio.us).

Now, this is Tom Evslin, who as his bio states:

Tom Evslin was cofounder (with wife Mary), Chairman and CEO of ITXC
Corp. …

Evslin conceived, launched, and ran AT&T’s first ISP, AT&T
WorldNet Service. …

At Microsoft, Evslin was responsible for the server products now in
Microsoft BackOffice including Microsoft Exchange and for Exchange’s
predecessor Microsoft Mail. …..

Evslin is an inventor on five granted US patents.

Whew, now I know what it takes to implement tags on my web site.

Now, I know Tom pretty well and he is truly a top notch technologist. 

But you honestly don’t need to be an inventor on five granted US patents to use tagging services like del.icio.us.

Tagging isn’t as intuitive as it needs to be and it does take some work to figure out how to use some of this stuff.

But Tom’s specific issues were related to making his RSS feed work like his blog posts, with links built in for tagging with del.icio.us, commenting, and trackbacking.

That’s hard stuff and I haven’t even begun to tackle that problem, although Tom has now shared his work with all of us so I plan to do it soon.

The problem is that TypePad, Blogger, and other blogging platforms haven’t integrated this stuff that we all want to use into their systems.  So we are forced to write HTML to make it happen.  That’s not going work as blogging goes mainstream.

Over a year ago, I wrote a post called Blogging Tools Suck. It was a pretty popular post at the time with over 10 trackbacks and 20 comments.

Go read it and you’ll see that very few of the things that I asked for have been delivered by TypePad.  And my list is a lot longer now.  I want del.icio.us integration, I want better Flickr integration, I want better Technorati integration, etc, etc.

I don’t really fault TypePad for this.  The people who run TypePad are doing a good job keeping up with the rate of growth and keeping the service moving in the right direction.

Their problem is a fundamental issue with Web 2.0.

In a Web 2.0 world, apps are built on top of apps, using open APIs, allowing users to mix and match to create the best experience for their needs. 

If you are a nerd, like Tom Evslin or me, that’s pretty cool.

If you are The Gotham Gal, that’s not going to work one bit.

In a Web 1.0 world, a company like TypePad would build everything themself.

But in Web 2.0, other services, like Flickr, Technorati, del.icio.us, AdSense, Google Maps, Bloglet, SiteMeter, Feedburner, etc that have gained significant user traction, need to be supported.

That’s a major headache and it will be interesting to see how TypePad and other blogging platforms deal with it.

It’s almost an advertisement for an open source platform like WordPress where the users can actually add this kind of stuff into the platform.

So TypePad is faced with the fact that many of their users want Web 2.0 style integration and they need to build it themself.  That’s a lot of work without much benefit to them.  But I see no other choice for them over the long haul other than to deliver that kind of integration.

But back to tagging before I wrap up this long rambling post.

I believe that tagging is hard to get for many first time users because in "open tagging services" like del.icio.us, furl, simpy, etc, you don’t tag in the service. You tag somewhere else.

That’s a disconnnect that many first time users don’t understand.

The best way to solve this is to do what Tom has done, and what many others (including me) have done, which is to put links to whatever "open tagging service" you like right in your blog and your RSS feed.

That makes tagging happen where users want to tag, not in the service itself.

Over time, I believe these tagging links will appear all over the web and tagging will become a lot easier. 

I also think that the services like del.icio.us can solve these first time user issues with other user interface solutions.

But for now, tagging is "so frickin’ hard". 

Recognizing that is the first step to making it easier.