Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Tagging Matters for Writers Who Blog

These are the labels or tags
used for this post.
As writers use blogging as a platform for developing and publishing their ideas, they should not omit using tags (also known as "labels" or "hashtags") with each of their posts. Why bother?

There is a practical angle for tagging: the instructor can find and sort student posts more easily. But tags play a greater role. Tagging has to do with ways of thinking and finding that go along with online writing. Bottom line: tagging helps both to automate and to socialize online content. And for writers perfecting their ideas, tagging helps you reflect on and focus your writing.

But first, what are these things? You can see the images I've inserted that show where labels are added when composing a post in Blogger, and how these appear at the bottom of a post.

Labels or tags appear below a post
(and sometimes via a widget on the side of a blog)
Tags are Metadata
Metadata is data about data. It is critical to helping machines sort and prioritize information. Whenever someone tags something, the computers give more emphasis to those words in search results. Tags get you found by machines, and by humans who have learned how to search for tags and to find content and users that are associated with tags. Interestingly, their usefulness isn't related closely to their formality. They actually work best when they are a casual part of posting content.

Tags are Informal
The success of tagging is related to their ease of use, and even to their playfulness or entertainment value. Unlike formal metadata (such as official library subject headings in a catalog), tags are not a "controlled vocabulary." They are another variety of user-generated content (and so not controlled at all). They form what is called a "folksonomy" as opposed to the more formal metadata used by librarians and other data workers which is called a "taxonomy." We need both in the wilds of information to make order of our world.

As many people tag their content informally, certain tags will rise to the surface and will then become important means to filter and find content. Any tag that you assign could end up being meaningful (to you or to others, and sometimes in surprising ways). It's not always clear that a tag will end up being a fulcrum around which content turns online, but you never know.

Setting Common Tags
Within a group that has some kind of cohesive identity that motivates cooperation (such as a college class or an interest group), members or leaders of that group can propose or set a common set of tags, a controlled vocabulary. This jump starts the utility of the tags.

For this class, I will ask my students to use the following tagging conventions. Obviously many of these tags can be used in combination, and you are not limited just to these tags. Ignore quotation marks:

  • "posted by [student first name]" Use this on every post that you author.
  • "[title of literary work]" If you are analyzing one or more literary works, give their titles
  • "[author of literary work]" As with the title, include the author.
  • "interaction" Use this for any post focused primarily on social interactions with others.
  • "process" Use this on posts that are drafts of part of a paper, reports on research activities, or posts analyzing primary or secondary sources. Use this post for bibliographies, lists, or any research-related or writing-process related posts (outlines, rough drafts, etc.)
  • "version for feedback" Use this to tag posts that are what I've called a "build" -- a brief, usually condensed, working version of your ultimate paper project that is packaged for circulating to others to obtain feedback / social proof.
  • "social proof" This tag may accompany any of your "interaction" posts. Use it whenever you are referring to feedback from others that confirms or shapes your ideas
Tagging Improves Writing
A final reason for tagging has to do with the way that it helps your writing and thinking. Every time you post online content, if you are in the habit of creating keywords or tags to label your content, you are having to confront your topics and ask yourself "Is this really what I want to be talking about?" Tagging is a simple, frequent reflective activity that can improve one's writing / thinking process 

So tag away!

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