You can’t swing a cat at the moment on the web without hitting some form of tagging. From delicious to flickr, tagging is all the rage, but what about tagging the pages on your website?
A company called Wanabo have released a free hosted system that allows your users to tag the pages on your site. It is a system that I am currently trialling here and you can see how it works by scrolling to the yellow box at the bottom of this article.
Web page tagging does offer some interesting benefits. Allowing users to categories pages in affect creates a more organic navigational approach that is much more user centric than the traditional information architecture. It also has the possibility of making the site "stickier" with fewer dead ends. Each page would have associated tags that relate to other pages on the site so continually drawing the user on. User tagging also gives the web site owner a unique perspective into how visitors view the content and even an indication of areas that require improvement. There is also the benefit of linking tags across multiple systems. This would allow, for example, you to automatically associate images from your flickr account with specific pages on your site based on the tags used.
Although I can see the potential in paged based tagging I can also see some serious problems. Probably my biggest concern is the fact that different people have different mental models and so will associate radically different tags to a page. This will lead to situations where obviously related pages may not be linked because one person tagged a page with the keyword "dinner" while another tagged a different page with the keyword "lunch". This situation is further confused with plurals and misspellings.
Of course this makes the massive assumption that users will be bothered to tag a page in the first place. I guess this largely depends on the level of "commitment" they feel towards the site in question. For example, I would expect the number of users to tag pages on boagworld, to be higher than those who will tag their local council website, because users feel more committed to the boagworld community. Wanabo does provide a solution to this problem by allowing you to turn on "auto tagging". This uses the keywords entered into search engines to tag the page. However, this will still suffer from the same "mental model" problem I mentioned earlier.
One solution is to disable the user tagging and tag the entire site manually. The obvious problem with this is that it is a huge undertaking and undermines many of benefits derived from a user based navigational system.
In conclusion, I am not convinced that Wanabo have solved all of the problems yet. They don’t appear to have fully dealt with some of the drawbacks of user tagging and also suffer from some basic customisation issues.
Why add tagging to boagworld?
So why am I trying it out on boagworld.com? In short, to see what happens. By running it on a live site I hope to get a better idea of just how useful it is and what issues exist. In principle I find the idea of user tagging of pages very exciting but believe the area needs further examination and work before a truly innovative solution emerges.
Has anybody come across any other websites that offer a similar service? I would be interested to hear what people think about the idea and what they would want from a service like this?