A study released in January by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 28% of Internet users have used tagging. Described as the process of creating labels for online content, tagging is a more sophisticated and collab

orative form of bookmarking which evolved as a way to make sense of the exploding number of sites, photos and videos. Let’s take some examples. Launched in 2003 and now part of Yahoo, Del.icio.us is a social bookmarking site which allows users to store and share their favorite sites or pages directly on the Web. Del.icio.us also encourages users to tag their bookmarks. It defines tags as “one-word descriptors…a little bit like keywords but non-hierarchical” and it promises that “tagging can be a lot easier and more flexible than fitting your information into preconceived categories or folders. » At the core of tagging is the goal of retrieving information you once found useful or interesting by letting you chose evocative words that work for you. After saving a bookmark, Del.icio.us users are prompted to enter as many tags as they wish. The site even suggests some popular and recommended tags, but the user is by no means limited to those choices. Flickr, another Yahoo property, is also big on tags. Digital cameras tend to make most of us trigger-happy, but wading through the digital equivalent of dozens of shoeboxes full of photos quickly becomes unwieldy. Flickr thinks that tags are the solution because they are searchable. Among the suggested types of tags that can prompt memories: place, name of the people in the photo, genre (portrait, landscape or group) and subject.   The most popular tags ever (click to enlarge) On Flickr, tagging becomes a collaborative effort since authorized family and friends are allowed to add their own tags to photos they are looking at. Amazon too has latched on to tagging as a new way for readers to share recommendations with each other. One last example is Gmail. Google’s webmail lets users tag their messages in order to better be able to get back to them later. The study released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project last January found that on a typical day online, 7% of Internet users declared they had tagged or categorized online content. For sure, taggers are still a group of online trailblazers. Not surprisingly, the study found that taggers were more likely to be under 40, have higher levels of education and income as well as broadband connections at home. Men and women are equally likely to tag. The study pointed to an interesting micro-trend. “There are even reports that some Web users now have made tagging sites their home page, making these sites at least nominal competitors to big media companies that hope users will start their online experiences on their main page.” As a part of the study, the director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project interviewed David Weinberger, the author of the soon-to-be-released Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder about the future of tagging. “We’ll undoubtedly figure out how to intersect tags with social networks, so that the tags created by people we know and respect have more “weight” when we search for tagged items.” Whether it is Web pages, photos, videos or email messages, tagging is exploding as evidenced by the growing traffic to sites such as Flickr and Del.icio.us. But tagging is not for those in search of a quick fix. It does require some pondering and a serious time investment. The question is whether tagging is time well spent. The only measure of success is the pleasure of being able to go right back to the precise pearl in our exploding digital treasure chest.   Isabelle Boucq for Atelier