Technorati Tags are a Lousy Kludge

As most bloggers know, it’s becoming increasingly de rigeur to describe each blog entry with Technorati tags. As the site itself explains, “think of a tag as a simple category name. People can categorize their posts, photos, and links with any tag that makes sense.” For example, I might have tagged the previous entry like this:

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , ,

In theory, they’re a means to describe your own content. More practically, though, they’re a way of increasing traffic from tag-savvy visitors. And you know what?

They suck.

Why do I need words to describe the words I’ve already written? Why must I artificially categorize my text content?

I’ll tell you why. Technology has failed us. It’s 2005, and we still don’t have software that can read the previous entry and say something like “This is a short, critical account of two video clips. One is from an independent vlog called Rocketboom, while the other is from CNN. Darren likes them both, admiring the first one’s courage and the second one’s journalistic integrity.” [more]

Instead, we’ve got the Cro-Magnon shotgun of tags. We’ve got nouns trotting across our page like a first-year’s bad found poem. We’ve got a technology wide, wide open to tag spam, and one that rewards the tag-friendly early adopters instead of the insightful, analytical and creative.

So, guys from Technorati (and the rest of you as well), you’re trying to solve the wrong problem with your new blog finder. Go off and teach your computers how to read. Teach them how to understand what I’ve written without my having to get all post-modern.

Tags to describe things that can’t describe themselves–photos, audio, video–that’s understandable, but still a kludge. Let’s get busy teaching our computers how to differentiate this apple and this Apple.

That said, finding topical weblogs is something I’ve complained about before. This blog finder tool might help, but I don’t have much faith.

For example, I just tried to find blogs about travel. Gridskipper, probably the world’s most popular travel blog, isn’t even in the top ten. Yet my blog, which I divide into categories for my and my readers’ convenience, is at #8! Less than 4% of my entries are about travel. Geeky Traveller, my other blog that’s only about travel, isn’t in the top 200. This guy (I picked him at random), has all of four entries on travel, and he’s at #172.

And will the Technorati Blog Finder help me locate funeral industry blog? No joy there, even though at least one exists.

Maybe, instead of rolling out new tag-related features (no doubt in an attempt to direct attention away from their lousy service), we ought to be focusing on the bigger problems. If we solve those in two or three years, everybody’s tagged-up blog entries are going to look pretty goofy.

Technorati Tags: , ,


  1. You do realize there’s ‘beta’ in the section link for Technorati Blogs, right? 😛 At this writing, I’m in the top 10 for listing of weblogs that are about sex, which should be another data point to determine the functionality’s current quality.

    You can actually “tag” words you normally use in the course of writing by linking them to any URL that ends in that tag (and not just as long as you have rel=”tag” in the HTML. Also, it should pick up categories also as long as the URL in question ends with the tag. Well, it makes for a good theory, but the practice is spotty.

    (BTW, the tags you have at the end of the article may not make the article show up in the tag listing, because they don’t appear in the RSS feed, which is evidently what Technorati checks to make that determination. That said, I bet nobody has thought to tag stuff inappropriately so that it can appear on pages that have high search engine ranking. Okay, that last sentence was sarcastic.)

    You say that it’s 2005 and computers still don’t do a good job of automatically classifying information, when we used to have perfectly good humans that did the job. We called those people librarians. Boris recently wrote about tagspaces, and if I read him correctly, tags only work well for individuals who know what they will tag something with. That is, if I need to find a URL or know I linked to something that’s related to something else, then I search for a tag that, based on what I know about myself, I would use to categorize it. Aggregating individuals’ tags to determine what the category something belongs to so far hasn’t delivered on its promise, which is a “wisdom of crowds” of categorization. I trust myself not to spam tags, and trust those I know not to spam tags (and know when someone is spamming tags to make a point, as in the case of this article), but other than for individual use, I don’t really think that tagging is the tool that is going to save us.

  2. Hmm. I can understand your point (although I must admit my ignorance to the definition of ‘kludge’).

    I have to admit though, that for me part of the fun is finding a gem (such as your site) based on nothing but a keyword.

    Hmm.. I just found myself in the top 10 for Vancouver, even though I don’t consider my blog to be the same calibre as others listed. Yet.

  3. > purple monkey dishwasher! HAH! Will anyone get that?

    yeah it’s from the teacher strike episode of the simpsons, spoken my mrs. kerbapple at the end of a planted false statement transmitted by a chain of people. I vaguely recall it.

  4. I have to respectfully disagree with you about this, because I use a plugin that uses Yahoo term extraction to link a set of Technorati tags on the end of each post I make on the blog, dynamically. Check out this post on singly linked lists and then take a look at the tags:

    sll, null, reference, linked list, linked lists, head, datastructure, containers, element, imagine, and memory

    Those are (mostly) decent tags for this post, especially things like “sll,” “linked list.” and “datastructure.”

  5. I think tags and folksonomies have their place, but I think they are more powerful and meaningful when you own the tag – not a third party like Technorati.

    What I mean by that, is tagging specifically for Technorati is stupid. I realized this a while ago and implemented my own tagging system on my blog. All Technorati should do is support the rel=”tag” microcontent format, which they do. The problem is that most bloggers link directly to Technorati.

    The other powerful thing about tags is that when used correctly, they can aggregate data from other sources, like pictures, or video, etc. Linking just to Technorati doesn’t really do that. You’re at the mercy of whatever Technorati wants to put on that page. Even if someone solves the problem of a computer understanding what you’ve written, you then need to have the computer understand what’s in the picture, audio file, video, etc, in order to be able to say “this picture is somehow related to this blog post.” Tagging, imperfect as it may be, provides us that capability right now.

  6. “All Technorati should do is support the rel=”tag” microcontent format, which they do. The problem is that most bloggers link directly to Technorati.”

    You have the option to ‘own’ the tag, as Technorati lets you link to any URL that ends with the tag. So in other words, you can have your category URLs end with the tag and link to the category page, and as long as you put rel=”tag” in the link, Technorati should pick it up (emphpasis on “should”, since it doesn’t always seem to work out that way).

  7. The main message here is that Technorati’s approach sucks for indexing fast-changing blog content. And I agree. I see better results from PubSub, IceRocket, Feedster, Bloglines, and other services, and I don’t need to tag artificially for them.

  8. If Technorati or other similar sites did the job correctly it wouldn’t be up to bloggers to do the leg work for them. Furthermore, you can add tags or manipulate the system to get attention but if you’re offering crap content no indexing site or trick is going to keep your readers for you.

    Technorati is a real-time search engine that keeps track of what is going on in the blogosphere

  9. The disappointing reality, one that everyone here missed, including Darren in his original post as well as the commenters that followed, is that the technology cannot fail where it cannot ever be expected to succeed.

    The fault here lies not in the failings of technology, but rather in the unresolvable inconsistencies of written languages. Consider English, a language so filled with overloaded words, obscure grammatical rules, etc., with usage so warped that actual humans can’t be relied upon to interpret it properly, and here we have people like Darren suggesting that computers be instructed to understand something that even now humans do not. The computer is a machine, one that can only follow the instructions it is provided, and given the complexities of encoding such instructions into the computer, even the implementation and application of explicit instructions can be an immensely complicated process.

    On the other hand, we cannot expect all of the contributors on the internet to become librarians. Formal classification systems work in narrow problem domains such as the library organization of books (yes, it is a narrow domain: don’t kid yourself, Dewey doesn’t classify information, it classifies papery things tied up with bits of string) only because the domain is narrow, the classification system well-established, and the users classifying content limited in number relative to the users of the resulting classified materials. On the internet, virtually everyone is a creator of content, the problem domains are unlimited, and new content is being added at a rate that in many cases likely exceeds the rate of consumption of that very content. So, to suggest that everyone becomes a librarian would be essentially as untenable as to suggest that computers be taught to do something that even humans cannot.

    So, while creators and users of formal classification systems go off and work to improve the value that can be provided by bringing their systems to bear on an ever-widening range of problem domains (and trust me, they are working very hard on this – just as the RDFers the effect this kind of activity has had on their Standard) and while automated classification systems are continually improved by their developers, we still need a solution that has a chance of working for the problem at hand.

    Enter tagging. Folksonomies. Whatever you want to call them. However, whatever you want to call them, remember this: They are not temporary. They are not a kludge. They are the only known tractable solution to this problem. Formal classification systems can’t be applied to this space, and the automated ones have a hard enough time understanding _code_ let alone the rules of human languages that would have to somehow be embodied in code.

    Tools may be created to help us evolve and manage these “folksonomies”, but they are most definitely not going away, and you’d be doing yourself, your readers, and fellow netizens a dis-service by discounting the very system that has been applied so dramatically succesfully. The only known system that can.

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