1. I think the answer to whether the tag is metadata or object data or both depends on the activity within and the purpose for which it is being used. It may sound simplistic, but tags only “shuttle new media objects into still-developing relationships” when they’re being used to do that. From the perspective of someone searching Google for information about, say, genre, or podcasts (ewm tags), they may perform an entirely different function, like leading someone to one–but not the whole constellation–of your so-tagged blog entries.

    In this view, tags’ uses and functions are malleable, dynamic, rendering them open to appropriation by and within very different systems of activty.

  2. I’m with you on the both/and, Lance. Tags can function as object data and as metadata. Why not? But I’m less settled on the degree to which intentionality has much to do with tipping that function in one direction or the other. But you seem to be applying intentionality to the search: what am I looking for? I can imagine a scenario in which using the searcher’s sense of purpose would become too teleological–constrained by the end. In their function as metadata, tags, I think, potentially circumvent that purpose-driven model and instead hold it open to still-developing relationships, to associations which have not yet been traced and may never be. They’re latent and potentially relevant.

  3. Good point, Derek. The network logic that tags-as-metadata both reflect and sustain may index a massive, more or less self-organized system (the blogosphere, e.g.) that’as an autopoietic process–might as easily be said to ‘use’ us by getting us to create and maintain it as much as we use it to serve our needs. In this sense, the system could be considered operationally closed, in which case people’s reasons for using it (or for following a tag where it leads) aren’t very important, if at all. It would also be latent, as you say, since the system/network would not be defined by any static structural qualities but, rather, simply by the production and maintenance of relationships and distinctions, irrespective of the form they take (I’m sort of channeling Luhmann here).

    But by the same token, it is the purposive use of an artifact like a tag (it is an artifact in the sense that, despite its being ‘virtual,’ it must always be materially mediated) that both reflects and sustains other immeasurably complex, nested, and interrelated activity systems ranging in scale from, say, an individual classroom to the whole enterprise of American higher education. And precisely which system is being sustained by the use depends utterly on the perceived purpose for which it is being used. In that sense, then, what tags ‘are’ depends on how they’re purposed–after all, the Riverside Shakespeare is a great read, but it is an equally great doorstop and a not-half-bad portable writing surface.

    Maybe it just depends on what angle you come at the question from.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  4. Re: the angle. Yep, I think so too. It changes significantly depending on whether we frame tags as artifacts or as agents (or both). Just how visceral can a tag be? And still all the various species of tags swim in the more or less similar code-brine of digitized sociability.

    I’m not sure I follow your last example about the Riverside Shakespeare. It seems like the use-value of a tag is shifting into the domain of affordances. I mean that the book-as-doorstop or book-as-writing-surface is more like an affordance than a purpose generated through tagging, right? Guess I should think on just how it is that tags repurpose objects and thereby involve them in the (discrete? closed?) systems you mention.

    Oh, and no concerns about the long comment. I appreciate the chance to work/play through this stuff.

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