February 1, 2007

Pew Research on Tagging

Lee Ranie of the Pew Internet and American Life Project announced the release of Pew Internet Project Report on Tagging in America. The report also includes an extensive interview with David Weinberger on the subject of tagging. The most interesting parts of this report at the percentages of people in America who tag (includes those who add categories). Based on their survey, which randomly selected and spoke to 2,373 adults, 28% of Americans online have added tags or categories. The survey found 7% of the respondents tag/categorize daily.

I am really happy with the report as it looks at the numbers from a use perspective. Up to this point I have been using tagging service provider numbers (few are made public) along with Alexa hit reports across many services and took that total and divided by the Neilsen report number of total people on the web (approximately 750 million people). This approach provided about .85% of all the people on the web are tagging (does not include tagging on blogs as that is more ad hoc categories, but that is a long post to explain or done over a beer or two).

The difference between the percentages in the Pew report and the numbers I backed into is the Pew is just an American view and mine was looking at things globally. Pew looks at tags and categories and many systems have categories. I am really comfortable with the daily number of 7% on the web are tagging/categorizing and I will likely use that number in future presentations. The 28% number is really surprising, but for one time use it is accurate. This represents a much larger user base than I thought, but is also includes categories with tagging.

Separating Tagging and Categories

The Pew Report on Tagging combines categories and tagging. While optimally it would be great to separate the two out, explaining the difference between the two to a regular person (non-geek) in America will be difficult. Asking if somebody has used certain functionality on a service or one of the 130 or so social bookmarking tools or the many hundreds of products that include tagging will negatively impact the results. The terms tagging and categories combined for a research question make for a question that is more easily answered yes or no.

The Pew Report provides a starting place for future research, hopefully delving into the subject with a little more clarity, where tagging and categories are separated.

Tagging and Race

If one looks at tagging as a means to refind information and looks at tagging as adding context by adding a person's own vocabulary and social terminology as one of the tools of tagging then looking at various social groups is a simple way to start to validate this (a much better approach is to ascertain why somebody is adding a tag). One simple way to look at different social structures is race. The inclusion of the break down of who tags by race can provide a good argument that people who tag are adding missing language terms, if the assumption is made that the content is missing metadata or is provided by somebody not of that race.

The Pew Report indicates the following tagging breakdown by race:

  • 26% of White, non-Hispanics
  • 36% of Black, non-Hispanic
  • 33% of English-speaking Hispanic

These higher numbers of people tagging who are not white seems to support the idea that those whose vocabulary and terminology is not represented will tag to ease their refinding the information. When things are in familiar terms they are easier to find and having the ability to tag from one's own context eases refindability. The Report does not dive into this and it is a really good subject for future research.

[I initially posted this at Personal InfoCloud :: Pew Research on Tagging, which has comments open

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