Some people are a little confused by this latest trend, wondering what all the fuss is about and why it's becoming the next best thing since sliced bread… or hyperlinks. So I'll do my best to explain it.
With Web 1.0 if you find a website that you like, you added it to your bookmarks. You may have filed it under any type of bookmark folder categorisation, including news, personal, entertainment, etc etc. From that point on, it required you to remember what the site was about, and to manually go back to it whenever you thought of it.
Tags, however, can be used to specify properties of a link or a website that are not obvious from the link or website themselves. They can then be used to find links or websites with some desired set of properties, or to organize them. Social bookmarking websites use these features to allow for the storing of such tagged links or sites, and allow them to be organised by the tags.
Tags may not necessarily define exactly what the link or site is about, but are often used to relate the concepts which are associated with the link or site. For example, when I've finished writing this article, I'll be submitting it to blinklist with the tags: Web 2.0, social networking, tips. For me, the tags define the concepts of what this article is about. Those that use tags do so for the same reasons.
Social bookmarking sites like blinklist, technorati and del.icio.us allow the bookmarking of links according to the tags associated with these links. You can use these to save more links than you probably would using your browser's Bookmarks folder, and you can save them according to the concepts associated with whatever it is you're saving.
Many people use tagging to create a categorisation list of the content of their site. This way, whenever they tag a page on their site, that page is automatically updated and accessible from within the relevent tags. In this way, using tagging only for the pages of your site, you can create a form of categorisation that will allow visitors to your site to see all the pages that are associated with whatever tags they're interested in.
Tag clouds, as you can see to the right, are the next step beyond hierchical classification. A lot of people don't like them, but then a lot of people do. They allow a cloud of tags to be shown, with the 'heavier' tags, the ones with the most content, being larger and standing out more from the rest of the tags. Tag clouds also form clouds of associated tags. What this means is that when you click on a tag, another smaller cloud will form, showing all the tags that have also been associated with the one you've just clicked on.
Let me show you an example. If you look at the tag cloud to the right there, you'll see the entire cloud. Now, if we clicked on, for example, politics, then you'll see another cloud like the one below.
As you can see, the cloud shows all those other tags that have been associated with the content that's tagged 'politics', thus allowing you to explore the associated content.
Associations such as this, with tagging, allow all kinds of concept-related categorisation and exploring, instead of the old, standard hierarchical lists that allow for difficult searching.
I hope this has explained what tags, tagging and tag clouds are, and how they can be used for your personal bookmarking, or even for website categorisation.
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