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Aug 25, 2005: Social Tools as Shared Interest Syndicators

Found myself in a Brooklyn cafe this morning with Michael Angeles. I love talking with Michael, one of the quiet heroes of the IA community, and I always come away from our conversations inspired.

This time, we were discussing ideas around connecting people who share common interests, like art or sports. Certainly it's becoming easier to do; just look at how successful Flickr is at connecting people who enjoy similar photos.

Michael and I started wondering about what could be done with the data that future folksonomy-driven services will inevitably capture about users. For example, a sports memorabilia site might allow users to tag items for sale. As might a music related site, or heck, even eBay. Once we have genre-specific data on users' shared interests, we could to some pretty cool stuff.

For example, imagine such a service licensing and syndicating its information on shared music interests to a dating site. Now you have a dating site that has a competitive advantage, going beyond the fairly mundane data that most dating sites capture to match romantic hopefuls and relying on, for example, common love of a particular Fats Waller song.

Or we can take a page from Google (no, not Larry) and consider developing application-appropriate hybrid matching algorithms. Only here we're matching people to each other, rather than queries to web content. So a dating site might weight music commonalities and art commonalities highly in its matching algorithm, while a service that matches potential business contacts might treat these as having minimal importance, and might weigh them quite low.

This is a long way of wondering if services like Flickr might syndicate what they know about shared interests to other sites some day. Naturally, there will be a raft of privacy and technical issues to overcome, but it doesn't seem impossible.

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Comment: Prentiss Riddle (Aug 25, 2005)

You may have seen Consumating ( http://www.consumating.com/ ), the dating site in which potential partners tag themselves and each other. That's a slightly different application of folksonomy to romance than the one you had in mind but it does turn up some interesting issues surrounding the reductionist nature of tags. Consumating's UI lets people enter tags to describe their interests, themselves, and the characteristics they'd like to see in potential partners, but then puts them all into a single pot of tag soup. As a result when you see someone tagged (say) "asian" you don't know whether they are Asian, want to meet Asian people, or just like Asian cooking.

Meanwhile, the main cross-platform aggregator of tags that I know of, Technorati, is raising questions in my mind about the interoperability of tags. When I browse around Technorati it seems to me that the items from Flickr and del.icio.us using a given tag are often on entirely different topics. And the tags taken from blogs, as revealed in Technorati's tag clouds, are mostly the very broad ones wired into the blog software's category system. (Among the most common tags in Technorati are "general", "général", "generale", "geral", "allgemeen", "allgemein", "allgemeines", "その他", etc. in each language for which blogs have been localized.) The lesson from Technorati is that the context in which the tagging occurred makes a big difference.

This is something we're thinking about in my present gig at Shadows ( http://shadows.com ) where we may soon be doing some tag syndication of our own.

Comment: Andrew (Aug 25, 2005)

Consummating seemd gamed to me from the start. The tag list is already absurdly, preposterously huge, and it's been like that since the launch:
http://www.consumating.com/tags/

I think Consumating is a big joke on folksonomists, really.

But here's a thought: people keep clamoring for del.icio.us and flickr to add thesaurus-like synonym suggestions, so that when I type "movie" it might suggest the official term "film" as an option. The thought is obviously to normalize the tag space.

But that's really interesing only to nerdy IAs behind the scenes, for exactly the reasons Lou suggests: a comprehensible tag-space can let us personalize things for users. End users, myself included, want to be able to tag things with crazy personal terms like "yesterdaysdinner" or "whyiliveinaustin".

But normalizing tags on the backend would be quite valuable. From a marketing/personalization standpoint, it's probably fine to assume that my "movie"="film"="cinema".

Comment: rasshmi (Aug 25, 2005)

*Or we can take a page from Google (no, not Larry) and consider developing application-appropriate hybrid matching algorithms. Only here we're matching people to each other, rather than queries to web content.*

SOunds like you are describing collaborative filtering algorithms - which match people to each other. One idea for a collaborative filtering system was "Yenta" (was a MIT media lab project I think - don't think it ever took off), to match people to each other based on such matching.

I think there is a very natural fit between collaborative filtering and tagging, though I have not seen any good examples of such a system yet.

Comment: vanderwal (Aug 26, 2005)

Ding, ding Rashmi gets a prize.

Yahoo is playing around with this in their MyWeb and layering it up on top of their search results. You have a community in Yahoo, through their 360 community tools, that defines those whose tagging in their very del.icio.us-like tool in MyWeb 2.

Once one's community starts growing (I have kept mine to about 40 or so) and your corpus of bookmarks grows (I have 1,500 as of today because it sucked my del.icio.us bookmards and tags in) you keep and those of your friends the results in Yahoo Search really start making a difference. You can tune the recommendations to just your friends or one, two, three, everybody degrees of separation in your preferences. I have my community set to my friends and their friends for search results and Yahoo search is getting me what I want and need better than Google at this point for most things.

The value of folksonomy really starts to pay off as it keeps the three data points that *must* be kept distinct in the folksonomy: the tag, object being tagged, and the person tagging. This starts building a foundation for filtering and other tools to extract meaning from the data. As people have different vocabularies and definitions of terms in their vocabularies it makes tools like Flickr more difficult to extract the pure data and play with it. But, in MyWeb 2 Yahoo is getting it right and it is making a difference. The communities at large in MyWeb are rather different from the more technical and geek oriented del.icio.us community at large and therefore the results of what can be found just in the tool it self is quite different. MyWeb is also where del.icio.us was a 18 to 24 months ago, if not longer, but it is getting larger rather quickly.

Comment: rashmi (Aug 30, 2005)

Thomas, thats really interesting - to hear of the way that My Web 2.0 is developing. I have been meaning to try it out. But there are only so many services one can subscribe to.

I am not sure I understand your sentence above: *As people have different vocabularies and definitions of terms in their vocabularies it makes tools like Flickr more difficult to extract the pure data and play with it. But, in MyWeb 2 Yahoo is getting it right and it is making a difference."

Why does MyWeb2.0 not face the problems of difference in vocabularies that FLickr etc. do?

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