Wednesday, February 21, 2007

When tagging works...

From the Thingology Blog comes this extensive comparison of why tagging has worked for the LibraryThing and has fallen short for Amazon. Where there are probably a lot of reasons for the differences I think the following is the key:
Tagging works well when people tag "their" stuff, but it fails when they're asked to do it to "someone else's" stuff. You can't get your customers to organize your products, unless you give them a very good incentive. We all make our beds, but nobody volunteers to fluff pillows at the local Sheraton.
There was also a nice list of essentials for making it work (NOTE - I changed this to a numbered list for the sake of discussion):
  1. Tags work best when they're about memory, so tagging makes the most sense when you have a lot of something to remember. On LibraryThing, members with under 50 books seldom tag, but users with 200 or more usually do. When you get right down to it, few of us need to remember 200 books on Amazon. For most of us, the "wishlist" feature is good enough. We don't need to sub-segment out the "anthropology" books.
  2. When you tag on LibraryThing, you're putting your library in order. The pleasure and use is not unlike reshelving your books the way you want them, except that tags can draw together books that must otherwise reside separately on the shelves. And tagging on LibraryThing is connected to a social system—tag something "anthropology" and you're connected to all the other anthropology buffs out there.
  3. Amazon is a store, not a personal library or even a club. Organizing its data is as fun as straightening items at the supermarket. It's not your stuff and it's not your job.
  4. Amazon underplays the social. Tagging really kicks into high gear when the personal blooms into the social, when organizing your web pages or your books turns into an hours-long exploration of others' web pages and books. But Amazon doesn't want you to hang out—they want you to buy! Tags on book pages do not list their taggers. You need to click around a lot before the tags turn into people. (The failure is particularly surprising in light of Amazon's clear grasp of social software. Amazon got "social" years before it was trendy. What are reviews and Listmania but social sharing and user-generated content?)
  5. Users don't "own" their tags. There is no way to export them. Considering how central APIs are to Amazon—and to it's success—this comes as a surprise. (I'm guessing they'll add this eventually.)
Are there other items that absolutely have to be on the list in order to make tagging work? I think items #1, 2, and 4 are must haves. I'm guessing that #3, and #5, where interesting, are not essential to success.

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