The Value of Social Tagging in a Corporate Setting
Compiled and edited by Stephanie Lemieux

Quick link to page 2, or to the social tagging software page

Marti Heyman started the ball rolling after seeing a talk by David Weinberger at the 2006 IA Summit in Vancouver, in which Dr. Weinberger implied that he didn't understand why more corporations weren't embracing social tagging. Marti wondered about the value in general of social tagging, and more specifically enabling the capability within a corporate setting, thinking it inefficient and potentially misleading.

Marcia Morante agreed with this initial assessment, pointing out that social tagging works on the Internet, where there are "gazillions of postings on a wide variety of subjects posted by a wide variety of people." In a corporate setting, she argued, the opposite conditions exist: "On the Internet, connections eventually develop among the different tags applied to similar content. When employees of a corporation want to find today's cafeteria menu, they shouldn't have to guess how it's tagged. On the other hand, there's probably only one tagger for this type of content, so what's the point anyway. It would work even less well on B to C commerce sites."
She did point out a potential value for tagging in a corporate setting, where users would apply tags as a supplement to a controlled vocabulary, raising awareness of how users think about finding information and providing a source for tracking vocabulary changes.

David Eddy also agreed, questioning the ultimate practicality of social tagging:
"Just slapping an au courant tag on something isn't going to stand the test of time. The meaningful tag today will be forgotten/opaque in a few months"
He pointed out that it is difficult to track and recall assigned tags, especially in corporate settings where companies and products can be renamed, etc. Also, labelling is very subjective. He wondered whether there was a tagging mechanism that goes to a 3rd level of definition.

Christine Connors really added fire to the discussion with her description of how her company, Raytheon, successfully uses social tagging in a hybrid approach. At Raytheon, people submit website suggestions (URLs) along with recommended tags/keyword which are subsequently verified and approved by librarians.
"We only rarely disapprove of a user-submitted term; overly general, vague or completely off-base terms are those that get deleted. We occasionally call to clarify a submission."

She explained more about their approach:
"In search, we insert Suggested Sites in a "feature" box to the right of the regularly ranked results. We do not allow these suggestions to affect the ranking determined by the algorithm. Our surveys show that the sites submitted via this process repeatedly rank as the result deemed "best" for the user's query. It is the single best thing we've done. I can't tell you how much we've spent on formal taxonomies, but suffice it to say that it's enough for me to wonder why I haven't gone into business for myself!

Why does it work? Chiefly because the sites submitted are specific to a group or discipline, and no matter how hard we try, having a degree in library science does not give you a degree in engineering (insert discipline here). We do not speak their vernacular. We do well enough to add value with controlled terms, but these folk tags have a life of their own.

These tags are a fantastic resource - user warrant - for keeping the controlled vocabularies up-to-date. They provide us feedback we could get no other way. Given the ease with which people can tag things – and yes, we could argue about whether there should be some cognitive burden for quality's sake - we gain a unique insight via this process."

Christine received many responses, including:

Seth Earley:
"I would imagine that this is effective because it is specific to an audience. (This is an area I have suggested in the past that social tagging will evolve to - searching specifically for tags that your peer group - or a specific audience - has selected as opposed to those selected by the hoi polloi.) The challenge will be to gather metadata about the group of taggers that will allow filtering of results. This is where social network analysis and organizational network analysis will come into play."

"It sounds as though your approach works well because it is a hybrid - the best of both worlds. You've retained your controlled vocabulary but users can submit tags to augment it, with the libararian as referee. I've recommended this to clients several times, and maybe one of them will pick up on it someday. Certainly beats combing through search logs and other materials to guess how users think about the content that they want. I continue to seriously doubt that the free-wheeling tagging approach advocated by Weinberger and others is appropriate in a corporate setting."

"I have been hearing a bit about how wonderful/powerful the social tagging functionality is and how we 'need it' on our corporate intranet. My first experience with it has been that it seems like an interesting toy but ultimately it has to somehow work back into directly impacting navigation and search on the intranet. Your approach seems to show a way to do that. Another approach I've considered is advocating the use of internet-based tools (say, even for intranet-based content.

The primary advantage of this is that it takes no resources internally to accomplish. It provides a zero-day start to start doing it and you can then use it as a test-bed to see if employees would actually take advantage of such an ability. Perhaps come up with a standard tag that everyone would need to know to use to provide a universe in which to then do more browsing, but that's it.

The potential downside, of course, is that you've got URLs to your intranet resources visible to everyone. As long as your firewall/authentication is adequate, I don't think this presents any higher security risk than might already exist; the one thing this does do is potentially expose the names of resources, which in some cases might be more than appropriate from an IP protection stance.

This does not address my initial questions about using these tags for something impactful like searching or modifying navigation (of the intranet) but it could be a way to see if people would actually use the capability."

Bruce Melendely:
"Generally the value of open tagging is in allowing the flexibility needed to classify a completely wide-open domain without presenting users with an onerous, massive classification interface. On a site like flickr you would need, what? 80% or more of something like the dewey classification to cover any and all images - imagine the UI for that and what it would require from casual users in the way of familiarity with the classification in the first place if you were to hope for anything like accuracy.

So I don't think there's anything trendy or faddish about it. In fact it's a very clever solution as long as it's applied to the relevant use cases. That said, I'm intrigued by Christine's description of how it's used at Raytheon, which makes a lot of sense to me. No doubt it works precisely because the tagging is being done by people who are experts in specific domains and therefore very likely to be familiar with existing formal classifications in those domains already - ie to have a common frame of reference. Which isn't really open tagging per se, because the domain isn't open, and the taggers are more likely to be 'accurate' because they're more likely to use the same terms to refer to the same things. Add to this that Raytheon harvests these user-supplied tags to update their formal classification and I would say the business value of their approach is significant.

As for the value of open tagging to search & navigation, the same caveats apply: if your tags are coming from anyone and anyone and aren't being corrected, the best you can hope for is the kind of 'related tag' linking you get via delicious or flickr - which generally tends to be more of a serendipitous wander than precisely targeted navigation - but those sites aren't really intended to give you precise results in the first place."

...Many other members had more specific questions for Christine on her approach to social tagging at Raytheon.
Read on!