Explaining del.icio.us to the uninitiated

The topic of tags came up yesterday and I could tell from the listener’s expression that I was treading into “so-what?” territory. I admit, whenever the dreaded taxonomy word comes up in conversation, I go MEGO (My Eye Glaze Over), a throwback from participating in an effort at a global management strategy firm to taxonomize its knowledge management system, a process that redefined Soviet Process, like none other I’ve ever seen*.

Taxonomy? The craft of stuffing dead animals? Tags? The things you cut off of new clothing? How to explain to someone the important of tagged content?:

The Analogy Approach: this one is fun. Make an analogy that won’t make the listener feel like a toddler, but at the same time won’t plunge them into semantics: A tagging system is like the Dewey Decimal system. It makes things easier to find.

Tags are categories, bins, slots, silos ….

The Outcome Approach: if you do a good job tagging then your stuff is easier to find, and the easier your stuff is to find, the more people will buy it or read it.

This appeals to the boss. Especially when you’re proposing to spend the company’s money developing a tagging/taxonomy project.

The Linneaus Approach: orders, families, genera, phyla … snore.

Pedantic. Wear a bowtie and horn-rimmed spectacles when adopting this approach.

The Metaphor Approach: the Man says that the object is a canine, specifically a dog, more specifically a terrier, most specifically a Yorkshire terrier. A user might call it a “Yappy Dog” or “Cute Dog.”

Once you get someone onboard the syllogism — tagging makes stuff easier to find, and easier to build relationshops between, and finding stuff means more people will buy or read it — then you need to introduce the dreaded del.icio.us effect.

Here’s my confession. I tag everything with del.icio.us and I still can’t find a reason to introduce it an noviate. Okay, folksonomies. It ain’t a Yorkshire Terrier, it’s a Yappy Dog, and if you call it a Yappy Dog, someone else looking for Yappy Dogs will find your del.icio.us tag and be directed to the right spot. Sort of like walking into the Modern Museum of Art, avoiding the docent, and asking any random museum goer where the “weird pictures” are.

I’m looking for help here in making the case that a tag-driven content management process — not the tool like Interwoven or Vignette — but the act of tagging, the discipline, the opening of content to be tagged by del.icio.us, the promotion of tag sharing, is a good and beneficial thing worth investing in. I know it, I sense it, I use it, and I live it, but in the end, like the question of when RSS will go mainstream, or the world adopt Firefox, or (insert your favorite improbable lost cause here) will win the World Series, how do you make the case that tags are fundamentally at the heart of a search-driven Internet?

I’ve tried handing out David Weinberger’s excellent issue of Release 1.0 (which informed most of my thinking), I pore through Matt McAllister’s blog (he is my personal patron saint of tag driven strategy), but I have yet to come up with the concise “aha!” elevator pitch to get the uninformed onto the bandwagon.

What’s the desired outcome? How to turn someone from an old-world browser into a new world tagger. I predict there will be a tagging breakthrough — but it will come from the browser, not from a service such as del.icio.us.

For a great screencast demo of del.icio.us, visit Jon Udell’s excellent screencast on the subject.

* Process, to quote the long forgotten columnist in The Industry Standard, is for people who step out of the shower to piss.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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