Living in the long tail and the emergence of tagging

I have been meaning to blog about Stephen Downes' community blogging presentation for quite some time now. I've already touched on the Long tail stuf through the blog and recently in the Why I still listen to Dave Slusher's podcast entry. And Stephen's presentation was the spark for me adding more metadata to my RDF RSS feed. Anyhow here's some great quotes which should spur you to listen or read the presentation.

in Canada we have socialists and socialists always say, “We represent the working class” and that's kind of like the socio-economic way of saying “We represent the long tail.” And they come out with these platforms and these policies that identify with the working people. Ask any of the working people, they don't want to be working people. And so, they're more likely to choose policies that support the rich people, because they all want to be rich, and when they're rich, they don't want to be pushed back into that long tail again. So I don't see a virtue in the long tail.

Because the meaning of a post is not simply contained in the post. And this is where we have lots of trouble with meaning, because we all speak a language and we all understand words and sentences and paragraphs, and we think we've got a pretty good handle on how to say something about something else, and we have a pretty good handle on how to determine the meaning of a word. What does the word 'Paris' mean? Oh, no problem, right? 'Capital of France.' Right? But, you know, it might also be, 'Where I went last summer.' Or it might also be, 'Where they speak French.'

When we push what we think of as the meaning of a word, the concepts, the understanding that we have, falls apart pretty quickly. And the meaning of the word, or the meaning of a post, is not inherent in the word, or in the post, but is distributed.

We can't just blast four million blogs, eight quadrillion blog posts, out there, and hope Technorati will do the job, because Technorati won't do the job, because Technorati represents the whole four million things and I'm not interested in three million nine hundred and ninety-nine of those. What has to happen is this mass of posts has to self-organize in some way. Which means there has to be a process of filtering. But filtering that is not just random. And filtering that isn't like spam blocking. Filtering has to be a mechanism of determining what it is we want, because it's a lot easier to determine what we want than what we don't want.

So how do we do this? We create a representation of the connections between people and the connections between resources. The first pass at this I described in a paper a couple of years ago called “The Semantic Social Network” and the idea, very simply, is we actually attach author information to RSS about blog posts. It kills me that this hasn't happened. Because this is a huge source of information. And all you need to do is, in the 'item', in, say, the 'dc:creator' tag, put a link to a FOAF file. And all of a sudden we've connected people with resources, people with each other and therefore, resources with each other. And that gives me a mechanism for finding resources that is not based on taxonomies, is not based on existing knowledge and existing patterns, but is based on my placement within a community of like-minded individuals.

Great stuff, well worth reading and theres tons of links to learn more from in the page. Very cool presentation, even though I dont totally agree with everything said. The emergence of tagging is something well worth considering into the future. Even Miles has talked at great length about community driven tagging with aggregation playing a role in bring sense or even meaning to resources. Honestly we're not that far off the semantic web in my eyes.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser. Can be found at, and