Tags, Time and Content Creators

You're next!This entry builds on the shoulders of 'The Trouble With Tagging' and 'Navigation in a Multidimensional World of Data'. If you feel like you're missing something, check out those entries.

In previous entries I mentioned the subjectivity of tags as well as the need to have more than one point to navigate from. While some of what I'm writing about has been done, it is masked by a single text box with a search button next to it - be it on this site or a search engine of your choosing.

Tag subjectivity really depends on the author, the time of the writing (what the tag meant at the time of writing) and the site on which the content is published.

The Author

As I mentioned before, there are two extremes of tagging that content creators are somewhere between. Simply put, these extremes are, 'be seen' and 'be accurate'.

We all know content that has been tagged to 'be seen' that isn't accurate. That's a constant battle with search engines against those that game the system to have their content seen, and the motivation for that is typically advertising. It's aggravating at times to type in a search phrase only to be inundated with a bunch of links best described as 'crap'.A photo I posted on Flickr, which I tagged very tongue in cheek, gets views because of the tags I used - and it's safe to say that someone searching for such things is more interested in content of another type. The same is true of this image. While both images are work safe (and very PG), people who search for certain keywords are likely upset with me because of the tagging. Of course, they won't complain, and I get a few chuckles.

Accuracy, on the other hand, is a bit different. Being a bit of a naturalist, I take photos of wildlife and tag them with their scientific names. A great example of this is this image of a young cane toad. Because I tagged it accurately, the image (with my permission) made it's way onto sites related to invasive species in Florida. In fact, images that I have licensed out have been tagged accurately - translating to 'getting paid'.

Getting a little bit ahead: Images that I have had a little fun with the tagging don't really earn. But then, I don't make money off of advertising on Flickr. In fact, Flickr doesn't make money advertising on Flickr.

Content creator subjectivity in tagging can allow for content to get views for the wrong reasons, or it can allow for content to get views for the right reasons. The wrong or right, despite what you may think as a content creator, is not up to the content creator. It's dependent on the audience and it's also dependent on time.


Almost all of my content views do not happen when I publish the content. My experience is that my style typically gets more reads after a few months. We could attribute this to a lot of things such as popularity of the topic and popularity of the content creator. I've never really been interested in being popular - I've been popular for periods - but I've found things that I've written about have been popular and sometimes are cyclically popular.

Some things are timeless. Music, books, movies - even ideas - some of these are timeless. In the grand scheme of things, they represent a very small percentage of what has been created.

Can you name something created on the internet and for the internet that's timeless? There are some things that are, but when it comes to popular content on the Internet, you'll likely not find anything that stands the test of time.

Then we get into what tags mean. For example, prior to February 4th, 2004, the tags 'social media' and 'social network' would not have included Facebook. Prior to July, 2006, Twitter wouldn't have been encapsulated by those tags either. Why? Because they didn't exist prior to those dates. And when it comes to social media and social networking, in a popular sense, how many people even know about or remember Orkut? Relatively few, I imagine.

So what tags mean is dependent on when they were used - and even The Semantic Sphere 1: Computation, Cognition and Information Economy doesn't really speak to that issue. Symbols, words, meanings - they change.

Don't believe me? Look up a random word at

Tags and Searches

There are obviously a lot of issues with tagging content, and while their typical use of what's popular now, over time the tag degrades. It's not hopeless, though.

There are two things that can be done with searches - and tagging content in general - that can be done to assure that content stands the test of time. The content creator and the time of publishing, generally speaking, are methods of searching - and maybe we should be treating them as tags within content management systems. Sure, you can search by person, and on some sites you can even search between specific dates, but those are not the standard and they are not the standard because they were never designed this way. They are treated differently in databases, typically in different database tables altogether.

A few of you might see where I'm going with this...


The Problem of Atomizing a Social Network

Social Media MobI started writing last night about the Facebook solution and wanted to follow up on it in a more technical way. Most geeks will take a look at this and say, "Yeah, I know that", but there might be one or two surprises in here.

On the left, I decided to put my artistic skills1 to work. Behold a small part of the Social Media Mob. There are some things missing from their heads such as videos, checking into places and what-have-you, but the general stuff is in there. These particular stick figures were captured in the wild and released without being harmed - the point being that they do not roam in formation like this.

What glues these stick figures together are social networks. Things like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, JoeMama, etc. And all of these 'social networks' are services - they manage specific data that the user chooses to have managed. For sharing information, back in the days before these social networks (and a little after Orkut as I recall), RSS feeds sprang into being. Trackbacks were around for blogs and blogs were becoming simple enough that even people with nothing to write had blogs.

Atomizing Facebook Into Blogs

Social networks came along and aggregated a lot of this content under singular sites and pulled data in from other sites as well. Facebook did it so well that it went public for more than it was worth. Everyone but the investors were happy so Facebook decided to share the investor unhappiness with everyone else.

It is something that has bugged me for some time. When you look at Facebook, it's not all that complicated - at least on the surface. There's a lot of data involved which makes even simple database operations time and processor intensive - and intensive is an understatement. Still, in the broad strokes it isn't difficult to see that it's all streaming data that, depending on settings, can be seen or shared - hopefully in the way that the member of the social media mob wants. On Facebook, everyone basically gets their own site that feeds a datastream to those that they are connected to. The equivalent of multiple RSS feeds stream together to form a river. That, in and of itself, is not hard to do with blog software and content management systems. So that part is easy.

Deciding whose streams are shown is also easy. It's a matter of subscribing to RSS feeds. A 'friendship' on Facebook is basically a two-way RSS subscription. Facebook later allowed people to subscribe to such a feed without requiring one to show one's own RSS feed.

Sharing content is not hard. The tough part comes with privacy and what I call the matrix of intimacy.

Matrix of Intimacy

Some people say that there are degrees or levels of intimacy. This implies that there is some form of hierarchy- yet what people are intimate about varies. A matrix doesn't have that hierarchy. In fact, if we consider the matrix to have truth values for various things we share (Fuzzy logic) it becomes a lot easier to understand. For example, I might want everyone to read this blog entry but I might only want certain friends to read another. In the Real World, people might gather a group of specific friends for the latter. In business, they call a meeting that only involves the 'right' people. It's a matrix, not a hierarchy. To their credit, Google did do better at that with Google+ but the result was unwieldy.

There are some interesting ways a matrix of intimacy could be implemented. It could be according to tags as used on blog posts - where you might only want certain people to read things you write with the politics tag, as an example. Or the guysonly or girlsonly tags that may exist somewhere. Or even age ratings. Once you associate people with those tags, they get to subscribe to what you'll allow - and they may choose not to subscribe to all that you make available, so they would be able to choose from those tags as well. Suddenly, there's a better control over who sees what.

If you subscribe to someone who constantly posts about politics but every now and then posts something cool and interesting about technology, you can omit their posts about politics without losing their good posts on technology. This even gives someone better feedback on what their connections are interested in: if someone's blathering about politics and no one is reading it, they might consider refocusing their energies.

Of course, this implementation would need to be refined and it could very well be.

The Problem With Implementing The Matrix of Intimacy

Such implementations would require a handshake between multiple sites. With open source, it means that someone out there could break it and do bad things.

Months ago I had the idea for the Hedgehog Project, and the basis for that was privacy and the issue of intimacy, where there are varying levels of privacy dependent on the relationship. The idea was to use PGP and allow different sites to swap keys so that only the people intended to read something could. Unfortunately, beyond the obvious processing issues (encoding and decoding content on the fly at the server), there are a whole slew of legal issues related to PGP. Therefore, despite the increased ability of processors and cloud computing, the legalities make this dangerous ground.

Another way to handle this would be verifying the validity of the receiving software - but this would have to be done every time and would be problematic as well because it wouldn't be difficult to either hack some code around that or to simply intercept the communication.

Full Circle

Because of these issues related to privacy and the matrix of intimacy, it's not yet worthwhile to consider atomizing social networks in this way because, simply put, the systems can't be trusted. Yet. Maybe someone has some other solutions to the Matrix of Intimacy Implementation. Until then, social networks will be dependent on the companies that run them.

1Now you know why I prefer using a camera. My stick figures are awesome, of course, but I've learned that stick figures only get you so far. I failed Art in High School.

The Necessary Death of Open Source CMS Fanboyz

It seems everything is getting polarized these days and the open source CMS arena is not much different. "Dear Drupal: Season's Greetings. Love, Smashing Wordpress" communicated a message that should be important between open source projects ("Hey! We're on the same side!") but didn't get as much traction as it probably should have. When we're in our code caves we have a tendency to go with what we know.