Help Prevent Social Tagging Pollution

At the risk of sounding like an elitist, I’ve stumbled on an oddly perturbing corollary. It goes something like this:

As a social service graduates from the early-adopter/niche population to the general population, its collective content gets markedly worse.

This is best clarified by an example. Del.icio.us has been the favored method of tagging and social bookmarking for geeks for years now. Since Yahoo acquired them and especially of late delicious has become more and more popular. And rightly so. it’s a great service.

T6545_ocean_pollution But with popularity comes…how should I say this…pollution. If delicious is aspiring to become the bookmarking site for the masses, then it’s well on its way to pretty much sucking. The less savvy among us will bookmark and tag things that aren’t really worth sharing like:

And so on.

I wonder if this highlights an unwritten rule of social media: the more people you add to the mix, the more polluted the pool. It makes sense. In the name of fair use and democracy, we can’t rightly shun the masses from using a service as tasty as delicious.

So what do we do? How can we elevate certain assets as “better than most”? Plain-vanilla voting isn’t going to work because the same population that is putting up junk is also voting on junk. Maybe we need a class system for people on the Internet. Something akin to a “credit rating.”

Then again, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Maybe we just need to somehow allow the populations of certain circles to elevate and support one another. If I start to collect a lot of Nascar links, then when I ask delicious (or Flickr, or Digg) for interesting stuff, it’ll provide me with results that better fit my tastes. It’s specialization, except organically grown.

The junk that gets in the mix is akin to spam, yet far more subtle. Email spam is inherently impure. Social junk is less about ulterior motives and more about noise (or at least perceived noise). This is partly why certain blogs are so well regarded. They’ve done the cleansing for you in a sense.

Ok, I’m done with my elitist rant. So umm, who is Kim Kardashain again?

3 Comments Help Prevent Social Tagging Pollution

  1. Chris

    Intriguing comments. Might I add another reason for tag pollution would be services like Firefox’s add-on which totally replaces the browser’s internal bookmarking with del.icio.us. It’s all or nothing .. you don’t get to internally bookmark some pages while using delicious for others. So in effect, del.icio.us becomes your own personal bookmarking service. Great for portability but if a lot of people use add-ons like this, it’s not hard to foresee social bookmarking sites just getting crushed underneath the storage and bandwidth burden.
    Then there are the strange tags (what I like to call Martian tags). What are “zzzzzzz”,xtagx, xxtagxx that show up in my tag cloud? And also tags like .xls and .doc that really don’t describe the content, just file format. How many useless tags like this are cluttering up del.icio.us? Could these be coming from these browser bookmarking addons? Or how about tagging bots?
    Another danger is expired links hogging up storage on the site. Does del.icio.us purge broken links? I don’t know this for sure. But I’ve visited a lot of older links by user that are broken.
    The self-policing argument I don’t agree with though. So far, at least, the majority wouldn’t want banal, commonplace links; the interesting ones are what they go to del.icio.us for! A bigger danger than commonplace sites cluttering up things is, as I said, useless or misassigned tags as well as overtaxing of computing resources on the server by add-ons and other types of automated client-type programs.

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  2. John Dowdell

    I suspect sustainable social systems will need specific un-social mechanisms in order to survive… being able to listen to other people is good, but being able to stop listening to particular groups of people keeps the sanity.
    Email worked great when it was restricted to federal research sites. After it opened up to the wider world we started seeing spam. (I wish I knew when telephone coldsales started… bet it had a similar dynamic.)
    jd/adobe

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  3. felix

    how about a PageRank style system for delicous tags? Users who create useful tags create tags with more rank. Defining a useful tag is a little more tricky. Possibly a tag is useful if it matches other peoples tags for the same site, or if it searched for more often.

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