Another Poke At Tags As Search Savior

I’ve been dubious before about tagging in relation to search, but Steve Rubel’s
Targeting Through Tagvertising article makes me want to poke at them a few more times for a reality
check. He writes:

Type the word "blogs" into Google and it can’t tell if you are searching for information about how to launch a blog, how to read blogs, et cetera.

Sure — and that’s true of every major search engine, an age old problem. They generally solve it by offering query refinement tools, such as the related searches links
that Yahoo offers. Google’s problem is that it among the majors has never offered query refinement and is long overdue to do so.
Google Suggest, if ever rolled out to the main site, will help.

As for query refinement in general, see my Google Ranking Itself Tops For Britney Spears & The Need For
Better Categorization
post for even more background on how this potentially can route searchers in the correct direction.

Steve suggests tagging as a solution to the query refinement problem:

Using you can bookmark this page or subscribe to its RSS feed. Then, everyday you will find
the latest interesting links consumers are finding and sharing about blog marketing.

The page he bookmarked is for blog entries tagged as "blogs marketing." OK, the tagging didn’t help on the query refinement challenge at all here. Go to the home page. Now try to imagine you are someone searching for information on blogs and marketing — an ordinary person, not someone
hip to the mojo of tagging.

Good luck. Unlike a directory such as the ODP, there’s no list of categories to begin with and help you drill down into an interest area.
Blogs is a popular tag, so it does at least show up in the "Most Active" list of the page. Click on that, and you can see all the "blogs" stories out there.

But I wanted blog marketing stories, right? How do I get those? Better understand that you need to join the terms that you are looking for together in the address bar of
your browser with a plus sign, like this:

Yep, that’s intuitive. If you — ordinary person — are savvy enough to do all this, suffice to say you were probably smart enough over on Google to have just typed in
blogs marketing into the search box — and doing so gets you answers on that topic, no
tagging required.

What that doesn’t do is help you keep up with the latest posts on that topic. But again, I can do that with no tags required. Head over to
Google Alerts, and then you can have any changed information for whatever terms you want to monitor across the web or in news
content sent to you via email.

No, Google lamely doesn’t offer this via RSS. But Yahoo does, if you want to do a news search. MSN
does for any type of search it offers. And various blog search services allow this — in all cases, without
tags being required.

So let’s not hand over wonder powers to tagging yet. In fact, how about a closer look at some tag kryptonite? Looking back at the tag/category for
blogs today, I got treated to these fine, relevant entries:

  • A site about restaurants because it’s a "restaurant blog." It has nothing to do with blogging other than being a blog, so the relevancy is pretty pitiful.
  • A site called "extended cake mix," which aside from being a blog, seems to have nothing to do with blogs whatsoever.
  • An entry called New Satellite Image of Space Shuttle "Stack",
    from some odd web site called ResourceShelf. Yep, that’s Gary’s research blog. Like me, he’s dubious about tagging for lacking a
    controlled vocabulary (and also see his further comments about tagging here). And here we see it in action, as his entry about the space shuttle falls into the
    blog category simply because it was seen on a blog.
  • An entry called "Now you can blog about your sex life! Bet my blog is bigger than yours!," which I visited for research purposes. If you were looking for an adult friend,
    then that’s the site for you. If you were looking for information about blogs — as this tagged page ought to provide — sorry, dear reader, you look to have been spammed.

By the way — did you want information on blogs, blog or blogging? Those three are independent tags that will produce different information, since there’s no coordination
going on.

I think tagging can be cool in the right areas. is cool to be because it’s serendipitous. I can see a post on the home page of interest, then click on one of
the tag links to explore new areas that probably will have a lot of relevant stuff on a particular topics. And because a post can have multiple tags, I get a lot more variety
than the somewhat similar category links that a search on Yahoo provides (and that Google used to).

But mark me dubious that tagging will be the great savior for search, which attracts many more people and provides a great incentive for spam. Controlled tagging — in the
form of directory categorization — has already been prone to spamming at places like the Open Directory. Wide-open tagging, where anyone can get their pages to the top of a
list just by labeling it so, is going to be a giant spam magnet.

Related reading

A screenshot of visual search on Pinterest. On the left is a picture of a copper angle-poise lamp, with the words 'Visually similar results' above it. Down the right-hand side are a number of pins showing similar lamps.
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