James Governor's Monkchips

On The Emergence of Professional Tag Gardeners

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I have been meaning to post something about tag gardening for a while. So lets just throw the idea out there rather than fiddling around until someone else nails it.
I am looking forward to seeing professional tag gardeners come to the fore this year.
05 was the year that lots of people started getting paid to blog, or supported their businesses using their blogs. 06 will likely be about helping semantics emerge through tags and someone getting paid for it.
Like plants or animals, tags evolve in an emergent fashion, open to hybridisation. Stewardship can help grow and put roots down. Helping the darwinian process is tag gardening.
Tag gardening is about taking tags in the wild and tending to them, or identifying a wild tag that will do well in your south facing IT garden. I am talking about domestication here.

Just like there are professional bloggers i am pretty sure some parties will emerge that get paid for their abilities.

Like Seth Godin talking about “myware” rather than “spyware”. then he has a community to help nail the concept and distribute it. Talking of Seth, he is also putting forward an architecture useful for tag-gardening called Squidoo. People can be tags and tagged too.

I have a concept I am playing with called Declarative Living. Here are associated items in del.icio.us which should allow for ostensive definition. These tagged items are examples of what I call declarative living, which share a family resemblance. I am not worried about defining the “essence” of declarative living. Here is a squidoo lens about same.

Squidoo evidently has some utility in tag gardening. Danny Ayers is a hardcore RDF guy, and I have dinged him in the past. So I was chuffed when I came across this… the declarative living tag is putting down some threadlike roots. Now I need to keep tending the tag.

It may be that Danny just came across the term on Alex Barnetts’ blog. Alex is helping to define the future of preference sharing through his manic focus on OPML and SSE (he is seriously prolific). I wish I could persuade Alex to start using declarative living though.

But anyway, back to the subject in hand, which I tag, unsurprisingly, as tag_gardening.

Are industry analysts tag gardeners? Tag gardening is certainly a role Gartner plays. Enterprise IT vendors pay Gartner to use its tags, and to show how well they fit the way Gartner uses these tags.

A key platform for tag gardening is Yahoo, which has recently acquired pretty many of the key players in declarative living – delicious, flickr, WebJay. Yahoo is buying communities of taggers, some of whom are tag gardeners. A great example are communities on flickr, which coalesce around tags and create communities in the process. Yahoo now offers a number of platforms for tagging, and therefore tag management, or tag gardening.

The thing about communities is that they can be turned into money.

Talking about communities and money I would argue “Web 2.0” and “AJAX” are probably last years most important and obvious tags.

Yes they are “just tags”. But tags create behaviours. I am not going into the Web 2.0 means nothing discussion because it self-evidently does mean something, otherwise tens of thousands of people wouldnt be using the term.

And they can be turned into money. Tim O’Reilly is Web 2.0’s head tag gardener, and makes money running conferences about it, while Jesse James Garrett is now one of the industry’s hottest tickets, at least partly because he found a simple compelling way to describe a new design pattern-namely AJAX.

The real groundwork for this slightly left-field post comes from the people that actually came up with stuff. David Weinberger is the obvious touchstone here. What is the value of tags? How else can I go and find “gay art“? That is not exactly a Gartner taxonomy now, is it? Clay Shirky also fights the good fight. Of course Jon Udell has some relevant thoughts.

So far the tag gardening revolution has been in kind. We don’t pay delicious for its service, but it doesn’t pay us for tagging the world either. Who will be the stars of delicious? Maybe people like the slacker manager. Here is Steve Rubel on technorati, another tag aggregation and subscription service.

Hiearchies continue to break down. Amateurs become professionals and professionals become amateur. Tags become more and more useful. Somebody is going to get paid. That somebody will be a professional tag gardener. Tag gardeners are experts in aggregation, and have a great ear for language.

Finally I should say a few words about tag gardening and the industry analyst business. When we set up RedMonk we were determined to not be in the business of creating terms for stuff that nobody would ever use. We figured Gartner was the acronym company and we would look for industry standard language use in our analysis. Compliance Oriented Architecture was an opportunistic example, an exception to the rule. Some examples of terms we don’t like and therefore avoid  – “applistructure” is a weed I would happily rip out of the ground.

I have increasingly realised that none of us can opt out of language and tag creation, or emergent semantics. We’re taking part in a conversation here, finding ways to describe problems and fixes. Language drives behaviour.

Tag gardening is going to be used to improve the process of filing a patent in the US.That’s potentially a big step forward in 2006.

If you are one of those engineer types that thinks in binary and doesn’t like the idea that language shapes the world, that argue speciously that only marketers come up with new langauge so be it, you probably haven’t got this far into a long riff anyway. “But Web 2.0 doesn’t mean anything”. Where do you think new most language comes from, though? Science. Please read this if you don’t agree. Take a “quantum leap” and think about it. No marketer would come up with the term attenuation.

You can’t have a shift in how people live and work without language changes and concepts rarely map one to one to things in a one to one relationship. That is why we need tag gardeners… And that is why RedMonk will adopt some terms, encourage others, and just occasionally, see if one of our own picks up some snow and starts rolling downhill. That is how language, culture and technology evolve.


  1. this is utterly lovely — if we took down the walled gardens and replaced with tag gardens — weed have a metaphorical field day! thank you, thank you. so, is lucas gonze’s lightnet meme/tag another example of what you mean? is that tag gardening?

  2. If URIs are like leaves and ontologies like trees. Does a tag gardener place leaves on trees? A single URI can fit on many trees. A persons epistological conceptual continuity would lead him to favor one gardener over another.

  3. This is a solution waiting for a fix, all this leads to (at least to me) is better search…

  4. I like the way you casually introduced the concept of “family resemblance.” Shades of Wittgenstein.

    You might find Jill Walker’s essay on feral hypertext interesting since she distinguishes between feral and domesticated hypertext. However, I must say I see more potential in the approach you lay out.


  5. This is a fascinating topic and one I’ve been playing with as the occasion demands and in my own quiet way.

    Development of meme gardens is very much a geek activity. As business picks up the idea then some existing memes will stay while others morph into terms more appropriate to the audience and segment concerned. I see this as reflective of the taxonomies that people expect to see in their daily work. But…phrases as opposed to single words will be the order of the day – example from my world:

    arctic – splurge
    arctic systems – less splurge
    arctic systems section 660 – subject matter stuff
    arctic systems HMRC defeat – as above but event specific

    KPMG – corporate then comment
    KPMG fined – related case
    KPMG fined $456 million – specific event

    This is how I’m seeing people search – Google/Yahoo! currently rule the means of initial access to a meme but will it stay like this?

    So now my tags are much more descriptive with a number consisting of phrases.

    Another way I’ve tried this is to use phrases to develop small but topic relevant resources. You use del.icio.us and Squidoo, I use Furl which I then republish to my site. The idea is to get people to consume and add to the collective knowledge on the topic and maybe even use phrases as either a collection point for related material.

    Does this lead to complexity? Actually no. If anything, it plays directly to common sense thinking applied to topic specific content. The trick for gardening professionals is getting them to understand the common sense nature of people’s thinking about search phrases rather than trying to be clever about likely attention getting phrases.

    So the fact KPMG created illegal tax shelters is both topic (illegal tax shelters) and event/business (KPMG) specific starts to work in many ways.

    Over time, we might – using my example – use phrase memes in many ways…what about reputation assessment?

    There is a problem. Today, most of my audience relies on straight Google style search and usually see sites as an electronic ad space. The upside is it allows people like myself to experiment without fear of debate around what a phrase meme means (sic.)

    It’s a hugely important topic. Let’s keep this one going.

  6. The Exciting World of Middleware!

    One meaning of the phrase “enterprise software” is “confusing as hell!”. To that end, I thought I’d look up how a few companies pitch their middleware offerings. Here we go! Oracle + J2EE = Integration Oracle Fusion: Oracle Fusion Middleware…

  7. MySpace, The Culture of Customization, and Person Portals

    In reply to a recent post about commoditization of IT, “Fraxis” ended his comment about customization in the software world with: I think the fact that companies still do have to call up manufacturers and get customized software demonstrates some…

  8. You have to laugh at the irony… I’m looking for gardening related sites and find a great article on “Tag Gardening” 😉

  9. Governor, how do manage to you get your shirt on over that inflated ego every day? And to think most people think Steve Jobs is a hypemeister.

  10. Hi,

    Iam working as volunteer for an organisation as a link manager wehre my responsiblities are managing links ,Managing blogroll,categorisation using word press.Iam also looking forward to work as a
    Tag gardener for them.Please assist me what is the specific role & the skills to improve for
    Tag Gardening.
    Please email me at [email protected].

    Thanks & regards,

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