DonnaM » Blog Archive » When tagging doesn’t work – a comparison of two sites

When tagging doesn’t work – a comparison of two sites

As an information architect, I love the idea of tagging (or folksonomies) as much as everyone else. I have had tremendous success using to find information that is difficult to surface with search and love clicking through flickr tags looking at interesting photographs.

But sometimes the concept just doesn’t work, even in domains where we’d think it should.

I’d like to compare two of my favourite podcast sites – Odeo and IT Conversations.

Odeo is a podcast site that contains community-contributed content. Only just out of beta, it would be considered a ‘Web 2.0′ style site. It uses tagging almost exclusively as the organisation method for its podcasts, with tags being contributed by the listeners and contributors. It has no ‘traditional’ organisation methods beyond a couple of ‘new audio’ lists and a top 40.

IT Conversations contains podcasts of primarily tech conferences, plus interviews. It is a more traditional website, with a core team recording material and managing the site. It uses no tagging whatsoever, but has a wide range of more traditional organisation methods. For example, content is organised by event, speaker, topic, series, rating and popularity.

Both sites offer the ability to subscribe to content and download it automatically.

The key difference between them (for me, and this is important as it may be the opposite for you) is in the findability of content. On Odeo, although there are interesting podcasts, they are practically impossible to find. On IT Conversations I have found, and continue to find, masses of interesting content.

Odeo’s tags continue to fail me. Right now, I’d really like to subscribe to some podcasts that are primarily music with a little talk – mostly independent, new music. But I can’t find the blasted things. Sure, I can find all 187 podcasts tagged ‘music’, but I can’t do any better than that. I can’t see what other tags only apply to the music set. I can’t see all the independent music together (as they are tagged indie, independent, alternative, rock etc etc).

IT Conversations’ traditional methods give me more success. I can get all the podcasts from BlogHer or find all on blogging (and I know they will all be in one spot). If I hear someone I like, I can search for more from them. While they could do better (eg by linking all of a particular speaker’s talks together), I’m much more likely to wander in and find something useful.

Now I know that some of it is due to the content domains. Conference talks are inherently more homogeneous, with a narrower list of conferences, speakers and topics. But it would not be hard to find a set of general podcast attributes such as mostly talk/mostly music, music genre, topic (politics, technology); and set up some preferred vocabs for the most popular ones. Yes it would take someone to do this, and it would be some work. But it could be kept flexible and grow as the content grows.

Tagging has potential, but it should not be used as a substitute for effort, thought and management of content. It is only one of many methods of organising content and in most domains should be used in combination with other methods.

5 Responses to “When tagging doesn’t work – a comparison of two sites”

  1. Peter Says:

    You’re totally right. Odeo rocks, but findability wise, nothing. I have the same challenge with findability for videoblogs. It’s though, and the site still needs a LOT of work, even though it is already the best place on the web to find videoblogs.

  2. Jan Korbel Says:

    Good point Donna.
    I use both the Odeo and ITC, like them both, and what you say about findability on Odeo is true. Just to be clear, I think we would agree, that the Odeo navigation is far from being unfuctional but certainly there is room for improvement. And of course the ITC site has the advantage in more homogenous content.

    BTW: some of the channel tips for Odeo
    BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent
    NPR’s Science Friday

  3. Lou Says:

    Yet another example of how the lack of specificity of tagging defeats tagging when it comes to information retrieval by groups. Donna, you might try what some of us have done with find friends who share similar interests, and agree to a shared tag, like we did with “enterprise_IA”.

  4. Bill Harper Says:

    Have you tried searching for podcasts with podscope( It lets you do keyword searches on audio podcats. I’m not sure what podcasts it focuses on (sure it can’t do all umpteen thousand of them), but it might be another way to find a podcast you’d like to listen to.

    (Of course, if you’re after a podcast that’s predominantly music, you might have trouble. “I’m looking for something that goes ‘BOOM TSHK BOOM BOOM TSHK’.”)

  5. vanderwal Says:

    Most tagging does not work, which I why myself and others were so fascinated with and flickr (flickr followed into tagging and did not do as good of a job). Fortunately others have learned what was done well and are moving to adopt the frameworks for good tagging tools (this is happening in on the web and in business and are finding success with their approaches).

    There are a few things that work to make tagging usable. The best approach is for sites or applications to have broad folksonomy tools, which allows for the consumer (with media like a podcast it would help to have the content publisher to add tags so to seed it for others to discover), the object to be distinct, the tags to be distinct from the object, and the tagger to be identified in a manner so to follow him or her. This give three distinct data points to follow and to use to find similar information.

    Another component is to have others like you in the community you are using tagging. Some communities will use vocabulary that is similar to yours or will tag things that are of interest to you. The use of vocabulary and subject matter that is similar are very important. Scaling these elements or scaling services is important. As Peter Morville was foolish for trying to find information in and Google and try to compare apples to apples, when the scales were all wrong (which was the problem Google had early on when I was playing with it in 1998, there was not scale compared to other search engines). We now are seeing much better patterns developing within that were only nascent a year ago, but the vocabulary and community become even more important to success for a person trying to find information or media in a larger system.

    Part of the Podcasting problem is confounded by the relative lack of people listening to podcasts. This is a genre that is still emerging. Tagging systems have their problems if not done well, but when there is a lack of media (compare the number of podcasts available to the media in Amazon) and lack of people tagging it you could get a rather poor showing.

    Most people who consume podcasts voraciously (more than 5 hours a week by my measure) seem to find the most success using word of mouth from their friends and peers. The community they already have is their filter and guide to new podcasts to listen to.