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Tagging for Knowledge Management

Tagging is a mechanism that has become wildly popular in recent Web 2.0 apps - partly in response to the difficulty of discovering highly relevant results using traditional search engines. provides a simple example of tagging in action.

The buzzword Web 2.0 ("web-two-oh") evokes, for some, a list of languages and tools: Ajax, Ruby, Rails, DiggFlickr.  This, in fact, puts the cart before the horse: Web 2.0 is widely considered to indicate a second generation of services available on the World Wide Web to allow people to collaborate and share information online.  These new languages and tools have emerged in response to this shift in the philosophy of internet computing.  Web 2.0 is democratic, social and participant-based - seemingly a perfect match for teams working in an Agile paradigm.

Although the term was coined in 2004, Web 2.0 applications often use a combination of techniques devised in the late 1990s, including public web service APIs (dating from 1998), Ajax (1998), and web syndication (1997).  The term includes "social software" such as blogs (~1997) and wikis (1995). In fact, some Agile teams have been using wiki servers to collaborate for a decade already.

So, back to tags. They let users to generate a "folksonomy", a collaboratively generated, open-ended labeling system that allows users to categorize content through the browser. Technically, this mechanism applies equally well to enterprise intranet applications as to the internet.  Like the searchable Wiki, tagging can allow information to coalesce and emerge over time.  Proponents claim that the freely chosen tags improve search effectiveness because content is categorized using a familiar, accessible, and shared vocabulary.  The "2.0" label certainly does apply to this mechanism - what a significant shift, allowing categories to emerge in this unplanned manner!

Web 2.0 detractors cite concerns over security, reliability and lack of control.  This shift of control from organization to individuals seems to be part of the problem with enterprise acceptance.  SAP's Kagermann dismisses blogs and wikis as "too unstructured to do 'real' office work".  Many proponents of Extreme Programming and Scrum will smile, finding this sentiment familiar (and, in their own realm, disproven).

Can our organizations tolerate the temporary chaos required to make these emergent processes work? And if so, could tagging enhance knowledge sharing and mining in our businesses?  One notable proponent suggests that Web 2.0 technologies can help alleviate some of the current knowledge mining woes:
No matter how technologically elegant their design, knowledge management "platforms" and "repositories" tend to quickly collapse under the weight of their own complexity. Using them turns out to be more trouble than it's worth - particularly for those employees who have the most valuable knowledge - and the platforms and repositories fall into disuse...
On his Controlled Agility blog, Geoffrey Hewson, Chief Knowledge Officer at the Software Productivity Center, has looked at problems and opportunities in his entry on Tagging and Enterprise Knowledge Management.  He has written on and included links about combining the bottom up tagging approach with a top-down ontological view; about inductive algorithms, tag quality and findability.  Hewson maintains that tagging brings to an enterprise a valid bottom-up mechanism of harnessing intelligence in their human network.

But after reading Hewson's post, the nagging question still remains: is tagging ready for prime time? Hewson does not address this.

Web 2.0 is not monolithic - it is a collection of rapidly maturing practices, attitudes and technologies - and some are sure to be more "enterprise ready" than others at any given point. The debate continues - interactively, on the web, of course :-)

While on the subject of collaboration, social software and wiki: Ward Cunningham, father ot fhe wiki, was interviewed earlier this year on In that podcast he talked about social software, organizing for collaborative development and the future of software, among other subjects. (via

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  • No matter what tagging could bring

    by Jerome Jia,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I've decided to use tagging for our new website that is currently being designed. I guess tagging could help building a more considerate system based on recent tagging actions a user has done.

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