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Tagging as Social Expression June 29, 2007

Posted by matthewweber in appropriation, co-opt, language.
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When the Internet first exploded into households and office, bookmarks provided a convenient way to save favorite Web pages without memorizing URLs. No more than a decade later, the combined evolution of Web 2.0 and the growth of online tagging systems brings us a new concept: tagging as social expression. As UCLA researcher Alla Zoellers writes in a paper she presented at the WWW07 workshop in Banff, Canada, users have appropriated tagging as a forum for social conversations, political debates and collective action. Amazon.com’s new tagging system provides a good illustration; Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope listing on Amazon is tagged with both “hope and redemption” and “check his voting record,” among other less-flattering comments. Of the 138 tags, most represent two sides of the polarized debate surrounding the 2008 elections.

While an interesting forum for debate, this also represents what I consider to be a “viral” course of appropriation. Bookmarks were first used as an organizational tool, but as more and more consumers have come online it became a venue for passing references back and forth. Bookmarks evolved to include tagging capabilities, allowing individuals to categorized and comment on saved items. But tagging was rapidly appropriated by the blog community as a term for social commentary. Hence today we have tagging as social expression. Sites such as del.icio.us provide forums for sharing your online “identity” through the digital trace of sites you’ve visited and the associated tags.

Looking forward, online and mobile social networks offer an interesting forum for trading ideas, evolving concepts and collectively discovering new uses for existing technology, much like an everyman’s USENET group.

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