On tagging (3)

Chance encounters often reveal positive results. I came across this November 2006 blog post by Joshua Porter on why scale matters in tagging systems.

A point I want to tag onto (pun intended) is the one about the rights of the individual to tag anything with any tag the individual likes. Joshua illustrates with his comment about the New York Yankees. Some people will say (and tag) that the New York Yankees are the best baseball team in the US and some will disagree, and some (like me) couldn’t care less – test cricket is far superior!

Joshua says: “Even if a few people tag things incorrectly, most people won’t. This doesn’t have to do with the fact that most people are Good, it’s just that if we ask enough people the same question or have them observe the same phenomenon, where their experiences overlap will tend to be the reality of the situation” – the wisdom of crowds phenomenon.

Actually, it is the same argument promoted by the free-market economist Adam Smith with his concept of the invisible hand – each individual acts to maximise self-interest but in aggregate, society benefits. But does this really happen in practice – if the majority of people in rich countries want to continue to pollute the planet, is this a good thing for society or not?

But what has this to do with communication and knowledge management? Well, besides the tagging phenomenon itself, the concern in this aggregation and crowd argument is that opinions and thoughts that lie outside the “consensus” view are too easily ignored.

We also need to listen and hear to what people outside the crowd are saying because all too often, there is something special and innovative there that the pack of individuals in the crowd missed or hadn’t thought of, not to mention the danger of Groupthink!

And knowledge management needs to deal with both the consensus view and the outliers. How we can do this effectively all the time is indeed a challenge.


2 responses to “On tagging (3)

  1. Brad – The interesting thing about tagging is that it allows you to visualise both the “crowd” and the “outliers”. The issue is whether you pay attention to what you see.

    A broader issue is whether tagging systems scale down – i.e. is your crowd big enough?

  2. Matt,

    You’re right about visualisation and the key point is paying attention. Perhaps most of the attention is on the aggregated preferred terms and less attention given to the less popular. Or does popularity count for more?

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