When you look at the end result of using both tags and hashtags, you see similarities.  You see a collection of postings organized and characterized by subject.  What organizes and characterizes those items works differently for different platforms.  I wonder if the process of categorizing posts reflects on how we look at communication in relation to time, and and how we perceive organization itself.

Schaefer describes the process of tagging effectively in Bastard Culture, “users contribute to the system-wide database where the tags and all other added information (…) is accordingly organized by semantic structuring processes.”  The “meta-information” provided about postings makes a photo (for example) more likely to be found when someone is searching by different subject categories(for example, geographical location, subject tag, or date).  Schaefer says, “The features of implicit participation make particular sense in the area of archiving.”  You don’t need to understand archivist theory or information architecture to upload and tag a picture, or to appreciate positive comments from the public after its found and appreciated.

We had a discussion Thursday in class about the differences between the act of tagging and hashtagging.  I had these images going through my head about how the process of archiving worked versus hashtagging, and the meanings of the final results. The images were in my head for the better part of the day while I was at work on Friday, and I finally got them down on paper in my sketchbook.  It just seemed like the place to organize what I was thinking (I’m sure there’s some sound educational theory out there that supports learning-by-sketching-dumb-pictures). Let me know what you think.  Am I hitting the mark at all?

If I recall correctly, it all started with a tree..

page 1page 2page 3page 4page 5

"TAGGING is the act of ARCHIVING HASTAGGING is the practice of ASSOCIATING"

“TAGGING is the act of ARCHIVING
HASTAGGING is the practice of ASSOCIATING”

Edit: What role does metadata play in Flickr, and does it carry the same weight in Twitter? The more data given about a particular post, the more likely someone will find the post as appropriate for a particular circumstance. Schaefer’s example in Bastard Culture is the most obvious.  “Many photos labeled as “Paris”, or “Eiffel Tower or “night” will form a cluster most likely consisting of night shots of places of interest in Paris.”

While the contributor has control over what tags are appropriated to the post, the information management system organizes the photo based not only on the tags, but other metadata (EXIF data from the camera itself, for example).  The user’s contribution itself aids those searching for statistical information on camera technologies used by the public (again, an example regarding EXIF data).  Or extensive use of tags helps those searching for a particular image to find the one assigned those particular tags. Its a type of “collective labor” provided by the contributors.

For example, take our image of a tree from above.  If its assigned tags for “LANDSCAPE,” “SUNLIGHT,” and “TREE,” its more likely to show in a search for someone searching for sunlight and landscape than someone searching for just landscapes.  The picture would not be able to be found were it not for the appropriate tags being assigned. The searcher finds the desired results due to the labor and diligence of the person posting the picture (which is automatically categorized by its EXIF data), who then makes it easier to find by adding more and more tags. The producer of the post implicitly contributes to corporate efforts to search for technical data on photographers and their tools, and well as to potential community organizers and casual image searchers interested in finding particular subject matter. More tags makes the image more searchable and it is in the poster’s best interest to provide more to make their discovery known.

Twitter relies on an external force to make posts searchable.  A user has to add a hashtag to the body of the message itself.  The means of categorizing lies in the body of the work, and in a search function that is not intrinsic to the architecture of the platform, the same way that the tagging function is for Flickr.  Flickr’s information management system categorizes posts based on the tags (among other things). The search function for Twitter operates by generating a list of posts that share the hashtag.

The poster has to modify a post to accommodate the hashtag (which may involve creatively editing the text to maintain meaning and make it searchable). Is this an explicit use of technology, modifying your own message to maintain its ability to be found?  Some hashtags are based on external factors, like corporate sponsorship or inspired by corporate promotion (@McDonalds #WinAtMcDs), or to promote corporate media properties (such as TV titles like #AgentsofSHIELD, or even simply #Marvel, to indicate something is associated with Marvel Comics). Can one make the argument that if the user is familiar with or aware of the value placed on the hashtag outside the user’s meaning, and intentionally uses it in their message, that the action is explicit participation? Does the user hold control, and does the user appropriate the medium?

Hashtagging was created by the users, and was not an intrinsic part of the platform architecture.  Users have control over how their message is to be searched by associating their message with a code. Its value to a searcher is only made apparent when the particular code is invoked. Something could be said about a particular post’s meaning being even more arcane, because of the space limit on a tweet (limited characters=limited hashtags=particular value based on the interpretation of the hashtag).

With Twitter, a searcher is finding a larger collection of data, based on a single search criteria: the hashtag.  There is no additional metadata used by the platform’s search function; the list generates based on your search.  There are no categories to filter what you may or may not want.  Its a user’s environment.

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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Mike, this is a fantastic post. After what felt like an revelation of sorts in class (“there’s a difference between hashtags and tags?!” “Really?!”), this post was very much needed. First off, I’m jealous of your notes. I think they’re pretty clean and organized. Half the time, I can’t read my class notes. I tend to write very small notes while in class discussion, I practically need a magnifying glass afterwards. The visualization here is great, this is almost something that could be useful on Flickr or Twitter for further explanation of what the difference between these two entities (which, face it, most social media users just lump together). I think what Twitter is trying to do is create almost the ability for users to personally customize their searches and allow them to search for exactly what they’re looking for. Reminds me of how people can customize their own news reports–turning on FOX news to listen to anti-Obama rants or switching over to MSNBC to hear something positive about the White House. So if you’re looking for “proof” that people.. I don’t know, hate trees, you can start a hashtag on Twitter like… #IHateTrees and find those that agree with you and your beliefs…

    Reply
    • Thanks! Those aren’t my class notes, though…I drew those up Friday night/Saturday morning. My class notes look more like the scratching of an HP Lovecraft protagonist.

      Reply
  2. Hi Mike,

    Like Christina, I think this is a wonderfully thought-provoking post, especially because of the way you’re using your sketches to help yourself think through the ideas (you should take Visual Rhetoric next semester, where we do story-boarding and other sketching!!).

    I would, however, like you to go back and think through a few more thinks to make the descriptions a bit more nuanced and see what you come up with. First, as well as using your Passive / Dynamic dyad, I’d like you to try to use Schafer’s Explicit / Implicit dyad and see how that affects your discussion. As part of that, I’d like you to watch where you are placing the onus on what happens in each system. Right now, the software is missing from the Flickr discussion though the are hints of it in the Twitter discussion. Look to the pages surrounding page 112 in the printed version of Bastard Culture for the theories. Consider what the software and the system are affording as well as what the person is doing. For example, is the person doing the archiving or is it the system that is doing it or both—the person does a categorization for themselves, but the system makes it social and publicly available?

    Update your post with your thoughts and tweet when you have a chance. We’ll be continuing this discussion in class on Thursday. (And make sure to add your sketches to your Learning Record!)

    Reply

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About mikewgoodman

I am a renaissance-swordfighting enthusiast and I enjoy historical reenactments (where I focus my attention on Elizabethan culture, historical swordfighting, and the London Masters of Defense). I'm an avid roleplaying gamer, have done some game design, and I write. I share my home with a son who loves games, a wife who loves her garden, and a pack of mercenary cats.

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