March 02, 2006

The Subtext of Tagging

I finally understand tagging, although I'm not sure I'm doing it right. For a couple of years now (or is it a couple of months--you know, internet time) I've read the taxonomy geeks talking about and using tags to classify what they are writing. And I kept trying to figure out how to do that, and why was it necessary if search engines would pick up my meanderings anyway?

Then I started noticing these "tag clouds" everywhere I looked, and I thought, WOW, that's a really cool way to find out -- visually -- what a site or page is about, at a wide glance, and to read about certain topics I'm interested in (marketing, parenting, tuna fish) and avoid those I'm not interested in (snowboarding, hunting, liver).

But since I've started using tags in Qumana, I find myself unable to ignore the urge to somehow subvert the intent of these tag things. I want to make people laugh, to surprise them, and so I like to tag posts so that they'll show up in a way that makes the "finder's" experience richer not in the usual way, but in the way that makes them go WTF?

Most of the time, I use tags to add context to what I've written. Not to classify it. Not to organize it. Not to plug it in among the topics that others are writing about. Tags have a place beyond taxonomies and classifications and categorization. They are a beautiful, wide-open opportunity to add subtext to your writing. To sew meaning into the fabric of someone else's reading experience.

I like to tag based on emotion, inference, subtleties, in a way that make tags PART of my post, not an afterthought way to plug them into Technorati and what everyone else is talking about. I want you to get to the bottom and look at my tags and laugh, or wonder, or say Ah HA! That's what she's pissed at, or that's what happened, or, I wonder what other people have written about those "rough-edged stones" that get caught in my tires.

Because that's really how we find each other--the each others that we can make meaning with going forward. We find each other in our humanness, not in our ability to mimic machines. We don't need to re-create search engine technology. We need to get real.

We find each other inside subtexts, not categories.

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