On making tags work

February 24th, 2007

tag cloudLibraryThing has an interesting post on when tags work and when they don’t. LibraryThing is an social software service that lets its users catalog, tag, review, and rate books they have read and share the information with other users. The books that you read and what you think about them seems like a good way to induce a social system. There is a finite and relatively small universe of books in print at any given time and people often feel passionate about them.

Both LibraryThing and Amazon allow users to tag books. But with a tiny fraction of Amazon’s traffic, LibraryThing appears to have accumulated *ten times* as many book tags as Amazon—13 million tags on LibraryThing to about 1.3 million on Amazon.

A simple study was done comparing how the two communities tagged books. his conclusion, while not profound, is good to keep in mind when thinking about adding a tagging feature to your system.

“There are a couple of lessons, but the most important is this: Tagging works well when people tag “their” stuff, but it fails when they’re asked to do it to “someone else’s” stuff. You can’t get your customers to organize your products, unless you give them a very good incentive. We all make our beds, but nobody volunteers to fluff pillows at the local Sheraton.”

They offer some specific suggestions for how to make tagging work in an ecommerce environment. I like this one: “Keep tagging social. Stop selling and start connecting. If you connect people up right, the selling will follow. Think Tupperware!”.