Joan Beaudoin’s “Flickr Image Tagging: Patterns Made Visible” got me thinking about some trends that I’ve noticed in social media image tagging. I’ll go ahead and make an honest mention here that I personally don’t participate much in this practice nor do I regularly post images or my own photos on social media, so maybe my observations don’t hold much weight, but as always I am curious to hear what others think!
This importance of contextual knowledge that Beaudoin refers to is to me the most critical aspect when it comes to tagging. More and more it feels like whenever I see a hashtag in one of my feeds it’s followed by an inside joke or words strung together in a clever way that don’t really mean much without the image association (and sometimes even then the meaning is lost on me). While often these are topical phrases or slogans that one can use to easily contextualize (e.g. #RollTide, etc.), much of the time these kinds of tags strike me as one-offs that only serve to make a joke and I don’t believe are meant to be a future searchable category. I suppose this is a reason why some information specialists dislike tagging? (Or maybe I need to spend more time on social media?)
On the other hand, another trend I’ve seen that I find easier to get behind is how users tag certain images with their own word, quote, or phrase that then becomes like a personal handle for the different kinds of images they post. I feel like this practice might be one unexpected consequence of an infrastructure that supports social tagging. Not only can you search by user, you can also search by that user’s unique hashtag. This trend and the one mentioned above lead me to wonder what effect this type of tag-coding will have in the long run. It’s like you’ll need to be fluent in a language that’s specific to a small group of people or even just one person in order to retrieve anything.