Technorati Tags: Why Do Bad Ideas Keep Resurfacing?


So I just read an interesting post about Technorati Tags on Shelley Powers’s blog entitled Cheap Eats at the Semantic Web Café. As I read Shelley’s post I kept feeling a strong sense of deja vu which I couldn’t shake. If you were using the Web in the 1990s then the following descriptions of Technorati Tags taken from their homepage should be quite familiar.

What’s a tag?

Think of a tag as a simple category name. People can categorize their posts, photos, and links with any tag that makes sense.

….

The rest of the Technorati Tag pages is made up of blog posts. And those come from you! Anyone with a blog can contribute to Technorati Tag pages. There are two ways to contribute:

  • If your blog software supports categories and RSS/Atom (like Movable Type, WordPress, TypePad, Blogware, Radio), just use the included category system and make sure you’re publishing RSS/Atom and we’ll automatically include your posts! Your categories will be read as tags.
  • If your blog software does not support those things, don’t worry, you can still play. To add your post to a Technorati Tag page, all you have to do is “tag” your post by including a special link. Like so:
    <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/[tagname]" rel="tag">[tagname]</a>

    The [tagname] can be anything, but it should be descriptive. Please only use tags that are relevant to the post. No need to include the brackets. Just make sure to include rel="tag".

    Also, you don’t have to link to Technorati. You can link to any URL that ends in something tag-like. These tag links would also be included on our Tag pages:

    <a href="http://apple.com/ipod" rel="tag">iPod</a>
    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity" rel="tag">Gravity</a>
    <a href="http://flickr.com/photos/tags/chihuahua" rel="tag">Chihuahua</a>

If you weren’t using the Web in the 1990s this may seem new and wonderful to you but the fact is we’ve all seen this before. The so-called Technorati Tags are glorified HTML META tags with all their attendant problems. The reason all the arguments in Shelley’s blog post seemed so familiar is that a number of them are the same ones Cory Doctorow made in his article Metacrap from so many years ago. All the problems with META tags are still valid today most important being the fact that people lie especially spammers and that even well intentioned people tend to categorize things incorrectly or according to their prejudices.

META tags simply couldn’t scale to match the needs of the World Wide Web and are mostly ignored by search engines today. I wonder why people think that if you dress up an old idea with new buzzwords (*cough* folksonomies *cough* social tagging *cough*) that it somehow turns a bad old idea into a good new one?


Comments (9)

  1. Bizarre … Cory Doctorow the adviser to Technorati thinks that hand-coded metadata is "execiting" when it is a Technorati tag, … but Cory Doctorow of "craphound.com" thought it was a pipedream as an HTML META tag.

    I wonder whether the idea of hand-authored metadata has somehow become successful and he just changed his mind? I doubt it … people are still just as dishonest, lazy, stupid, non self-aware, etc. as they ever were, last time I checked.

    I know that eveone (often rightly) flames the "it won’t scale" argument, but folksonomies are going to work better at the beginning when they are driven by a somewhat cohesive community of honest, energetic, intelligent, self-aware people … and will IMHO fall apart why lying spammers, phishers, malware writers, etc. get into the game.

  2. Dave Walker says:

    I don’t really have an opinion on Technorati’s implementation, but I can think of two largish sites (namely flickr and del.icio.us) that are both working way-better-than-fine with user-supplied tags.

  3. Dave,

    On a Web wide scale Flickr and del.ico.us are fairly small (a few hundred thousand users) and more importantly they are closed systems meaning that abusers can be kicked out.

    If either service allowed anyone to post without creating an account AND grew to a few million users a piece I strongly doubt they’d be as useful as they are today.

  4. TDavid says:

    Though I agree with you, Dare, about the usefulness of meta tags for third party search and usage, it can be extremely useful for local searches and categorizing one’s own website.

    I think where it got into trouble is when people started making it a search engine thing instead of a local "make it easier to organize" thing. I once wrote a small local site search engine in PHP with only a few lines of code that was based on meta tags to illustrate how useful a system this could be.

    Haven’t used any Technorati tags yet, but if the principle is to make it easy for users then, when not abused, it’s a good thing, but if the principal use is to make a site more SE-friendly, then it’s bound for trouble. Especially if history is any future indicator.

  5. Kevin Marks says:

    Dare,

    you use categories in your blog. We collate them. eg

    http://www.technorati.com/tag/RSS+bandit

    http://www.technorati.com/tag/spaces

    The url-based tags are for people with less forgiving category systems, or one-off post tags that aren’t really worth the mental load of setting up a whole new category for.

    The difference between meta tags and the rel="tag" based links is that the later are visible to readers, and collated with the posts, so link-stuffing is more obvious to the reader.

    Jonathan, you can call it jumping on a bandwagon, I call it watching what kinds of metadata people are creating, and collating it in a useful form.

    Tags aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but like links and text they are interesting things to collate and correlate to better discover one anothers’ writings.

    And we can kick people out of our index too.

  6. Kevin, that is awesome. I didn’t realize you were using the RSS categories in additional to the ref="tag" anchors.

  7. Seth Russell says:

    The difference is not only that rel="tag"’s are visible to readers; but that there are scant fue software processess that are even sensitive to meta tags. Meta tags have become useless simply because nobody uses them, because nobody can see them. Think about it …

  8. Anonymous says:

    Greg Yardley &raquo; Blog search, tagging, and the new frontier of spam