On Monday Dave Sifry of Technorati posted
an entry marking the second anniversary of Technorati tags. In it he
announced the launch of tag pages, a
kind of 10×10 of semantic tags
assigned to various blog entries around the web for this hour. Instead of
10×10’s keyword/picture relay, we get a cloud of the tags themselves.
I’m interested in the response to Sifry offered by Matthew Hurst at
Data Mining. Hurst contends that tags, whether assigned by authors or by
third-parties, constitute object data rather than metadata. Because search
engines easily conflate the semantic content of tags for the semantic content of
a blog entry itself, tags are more appropriately identified as object data.
Hurst differentiates textual objects from non-textual objects; for the latter,
semantic tags are less likely to be confused with the object itself, as with an
image, for example.
The questions, then: Are tags metadata? Or are they object data? Are
they both? Do they function or perform differently for textual objects than for
non-textual objects (i.e., iconic, sonic, or filmic objects)? Are tags
always/ever distinct from keywords (a confluence of which appear in the text
itself)? Why might it be significant to distinguish keywords (capta?) from
tags–to hold them apart, if momentarily?
In one manner of thinking, much of this rolls back to just how strict we want
to be with metadata as a concept. Metadata: data about data, yeah?
Or data that re-associates or re-assembles other data and things. Or data that,
in and of itself, interrelates. I don’t have well-formed answers just yet,
but I’m inclined to accept that tags are metadata, particularly when tags
are understood to be those contingent wrappers (as
Vander Wal explains it) that shuttle new media objects into still-developing
relationships. Yet, as a microform, where tags have a 1:1 relationship
with the thing named, they can be understood as object data, too. The
interest in tagging practices, in tags as authored, and in folksonomies,
however, might not be as pronounced if tags were object data alone.
Because tags bear out something like a 1+1:n relationship with the thing
named, to my mind, they do something else, something more, something