Pattern Pulp

Social Media: Tag, you’re it!

Ahh, the good ol’ school days where slapping someone on the back during recess gave them the opportunity to slap someone else. Well, tagging these days has matured from playgrounds to the web-interface, but it has maintained it’s most fundamental element: its social counsel.

What, you may ask? How did a semi-violent, super competitive child’s play transform into the Web 2.0 system of classification system? Truth be told, it didn’t; yet, the game of tag identifies someone as a leader of a social context (even if you were super fast in Pre-K and immediately purged yourself of being ‘it’) and tags today identify information as important through a social media context.

Tagging, which we have all come to know, love and ubiquitously use, is a Web 2.0 (or semantic web) ontological system of classification system. Yikes, that sounds scientific jargon heavy.  Basically, remember the ancient days of clunky Netscape and the Internet Bubble Burst of 2001? Well, after many dot com-ers saw their dreams being crushed, some intrepid programmers, who weren’t ready to give up, revolutionized the Web platform. More specifically, a man who is still a preeminent web innovator today named Tim Berners-Lee created an interface system that incorporates artificial intelligence to make humans and computers understand the same language (hence the semantic part).  For Web 2.0 to work seamlessly, bits of information have to be classified by a controlled set of vocabulary that humans determine and computers understand; these are known as ontologies.  And for those of us who suffered through freshman-year Philosophy of the Mind, ontology should ring a bell as the study of existence.

The geek in you cares about web 2.0 because it is the reason why we have smart phones, cloud computing, Google and Facebook. Web 2.0 allowed thousands of us to make web pages, start blogs and create social networking spaces (raise your hand if you were on Friendster!); the onslaught of content on the Web made its organization rather difficult to keep orderly and well, necessity is the mother of all invention, right? Say hello to the Tag. They started as bookmarks on del.ici.ous and spread like wildfire with the emergence social software sites, such as Flickr, YouTube, blogs and now, Twitter.  The reason? For the people, by the people.  Tags are user-generated, community-driven classification labels that do not rely on traditional methods of taxonomy or The-Man telling you what’s important.

Tags are written in the speech of the community it reflects and promotes information that the community deems as necessary, essential or just plain freakin’ funny.  Don’t take it from me; entire IT university departments have conducted research on this very particular topic and have repeatedly demonstrated that tags are the voice of the people.  But, tags actually go deeper than that, I say.  In fact, keywords chosen for tags offer a personal reflection and analysis of the presented information— no, not some Freudian deconstruction of the matter at hand, but rather a counsel or phenomenon deeply embedded in to our culture.

Many of us when we tag our blogs, Flickr or Tweets have been known to just slap on a tag like ‘art’ or ‘pretty things’ or ‘funny’ but even those tags reflect values of our culture.  As our lives become more and more enmeshed in the Web interface (just look at the prevalence of social media as business mechanism or the fact that Obama tweets…), tags refer to staple cultural proverbs, anecdotes and other defining phenomenon.  The ones from the days before the Internets– the values of our culture that no semantic ontology can recognize, even if it can ‘understand’ the words.  My M.A. writing professor always said, “information dies on the page” (although, I’m sure he stole that from cultural theorist Walter Benjamin), but tags are a parting memento, a stamp of our values in the web-o-sphere. It’s as if tags are storytellers or the new oral tradition a la Homer or the wandering Minstrel.

Now, this may sound entirely loony, there has been a prominent trend, one hard to ignore. If you don’t believe me, here are few examples:

We live in an information-rich, real-time mentality these days; most of us toting a Blackberry or an iPhone, constructing the future as our own and quick to forget the past. So, while no computer or code-program can ever understand what “kids these days means” or “you can run…”, they will enable the permanent storage of those sayings.  Tags can always draw us back to the lessons and values (even wives-tales!) instilled in us during childhood, the very ones we probably overheard while playing tag.

Coverage by: Julie Baumgardner

Tracking Repetitive + Awesome.
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