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Trend Takes to Keyword Tagging

Pew Internet Reports 28 percent of people tag.

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February 1, 2007 – Do you bookmark news stories? Add labels to blogs? Organize your online photos with metadata? You are not alone. Over a quarter of Americans tag online content, including photos, new stories, and blogs, according to a study released yesterday by the nonprofit Pew Internet and American Life Project.

In a sample of 2373 adults, age 18 and over, 28 percent of those surveyed said they had tagged a picture, article, or blog online during the month of December 2006. Seven percent of them said they tag on a typical day.

The online trend of tagging, applying a type of metadata to web items, allows users to organize content with labels or bookmarks. Implemented in websites like Flickr, YouTube, Google, and Amazon, users can track what they view. Tagging is a unique Internet phenomenon characteristic of the Web 2.0 population, stated the report.

Identified as "classic early adopters of technology," according to the report, taggers were more likely to be under the age of 40 with broadband connection, college-level education, and higher incomes. Ethnic minorities, including African-Americans and Hispanics, tended to tag more than Caucasian users. Male to female taggers were almost equal in number.

"Forget Dewey and his decimals; Internet users are revolutionizing the way we classify information – and make sense of it," stated the title of report, comparing the traditional library system to web organization.

Like the old model of the Dewey Decimal system, tagging has a classification purpose, according to David Weinberger, fellow at Harvard Law School Berkman Center for Internet and Society and author of Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, a book launching in May.

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"In the digital world, anything can be worth tagging," said Weinberger in an interview with

Web users can better navigate through the Internet and organize their online photos more effectively.  Instead of labeling a folder "trips 2006," users can name the album with labels such as "Italy" and "anniversary," according to the report. Tagging can even be applied to portions of video.

Along with the categorization value, tagging adds a social dimension, connecting people who speak about the world in similar ways, according to Weinberger. Unlike keywords, that is restricted to software programs, tags are ascribed by the user or viewer and not by the author of the content. "One of the reasons people tag things is a sense that they are contributing to a stream of knowledge," he said.  Tagging does have some disadvantages. One of the drawbacks is that the system is not all-inclusive, according to the report. One user may label an online landscape photo as "sunset" while another user may label the picture "clouds."

The other downside is the potential for tag spamming. A spammer could attempt to improve search ranking by applying popular words like "sex" or "brittany," assuming they are popular tags, according to Weinberger. Tag spamming does not seem to be a problem yet, according to the Harvard Law fellow.

With tens of millions of tags in existence on the Web, perhaps one of the overall benefits of tagging is the arena in which it takes place. "Tagging is public so that everyone can see it," said Weinberger. "It has a large-scale effect," he said.

Interested readers can find the full survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project at

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