(continued from previous page)
It is for reasons like this that John Battelle, author of "The Search," believes that tagging systems will eventually be subsumed by traditional search engines. "Anything that makes search better is going to be voraciously swallowed up by the larger search players," he said. "It's one of a number of reasons why Yahoo bought Flickr. It's one of a small number of reasons why people are investing in Delicious and Technorati, and it will make search better."
And because many corporations are beginning to implement tags internally, the question is whether the technology can in and of itself be the basis of a business plan. Kevin Marks, a principal engineer at Technorati, said that probably won't happen anytime soon, adding that "it's not so much a product as a feature and a mindset."
To that end, tags will undoubtedly prove valuable in giving companies new ways to get a handle on the immense amount of information they have to coordinate.
"In a corporate environment, the interests are narrower than all the human interests on the Web and the vocabulary becomes narrower," said Dave Weinberger, a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center. "If it's a plastics company, and someone uses the term 'mold,' there's a much greater chance they're talking about injectable mold, so the ambiguity problem gets easier too."
Sifry used the example of an automobile company trying to merge German and American divisions and the attendant problems of information sharing it could cause. By implementing a tagging system which encourages employees to assign multiple tags to documents, the company could begin to build a bridge between documents in German and English that might never be crossed otherwise, he said.
"It makes a linkage between two disparate systems," Sifry said.
Thomas Vander Wal, the information architect credited with coining the term "folksonomy" noted that he'd heard about a consortium of museums looking to create a tagging project for works of art. He explained the idea would be to give museum patrons the power to assign tags to art and thus to provide more context, through the use of multiple tags, for people trying to understand certain works.
"It's essentially to figure out the vocabulary that regular people use, or just a cross-section of people would use, to describe art works," Vander Wal said.
The philosophical concepts behind tagging are even manifesting themselves out of the online world and into the realm of the physical.
Jane McGonigal, who works for 4orty2wo Entertainment, a so-called experience marketing firm, recently undertook a project called the Ministry of Reshelving. She explained that the idea was to challenge the common categorization of the George Orwell classic, "1984."
Participants across the United States were encouraged to go to bookstores and move copies of "1984" from their traditional "fiction" or "literature" placement to new sections. McGonigal suggested "current events," "politics," "history," "true crime" or even "new nonfiction."
In each case, those who moved a copy of the book were told to leave behind a leaflet explaining that "1984" had been reshelved and that the Ministry of Reshelving was "dedicated to the proper classification of fiction and nonfiction texts."
"We called it folksonomy mobs," McGonigal said, "coordinated acts of re-tagging or reclassification in public spaces."
McGonigal is also a fan of tagging online and said that on sites like Flickr, tags on photographs are a way for people to show they are interested in the work of others.
"When I go to Flickr and I tag people's photos, it's to show them that I care," she said. "It's like a hug."
Tomorrow: Mapping monster 'mashups'