In a long tail world of online bookselling, tagging represents the new classification system. Library and bookstore classifications systems have struggled to keep up with the changes in society, technology and consumer tastes. This has become more apparent as individuals increasingly search and buy books online. Tagging is still relatively new, but is becoming hugely popular as evidenced by the growth of sites like Flickr and del.icio.us. The Pew Internet project published a report earlier this year that focused on how tagging is used by the general internet popolation. Quoting from the study summary:
Just as the internet allows users to create and share their own media, it is also enabling them to organize digital material their own way, rather than relying on pre-existing formats of classifying information. A December 2006 survey has found that 28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts. On a typical day online, 7% of internet users say they tag or categorize online content.
The demographics of taggers are spread surprisingly even across gender, income, age and ethnicity categories. The study contains an interview with David Weinberger who recently published a book on user generated classfiication systems for web content entitled Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. Weinberger posits that tags have become so popular because they are easy, useful and menaingul. As individuals, we can use them to classify and organize all things digital – information, photos, emails. When we tag on public sites, we self identify through our tagging choices. This allows groups to form around shared tags.
Tagging is one of the mechanisms that “thickens” the long tail of books offered for sale online. Search popular tags on Amazon and you are likely to disocver new titles associated with those tags that you wouldn’t have considered with a more traditional classification. This encourages the sale of more books toward the end of the tail. Software programs that analyze tags are getting more sophisticated and we can expect better search results and book recommendations.
Brick and mortar bookstores need to find a way to tap into consumer generated tags. Like the Dewey decimal system, bookstore categories represent a sure way to misclassify titles and leave them undiscovered on the shelf. Publishers should also explore tags as a way find and entice new readers. Sometimes the metadata surrounding a book can be as important to selling it as the content between the covers.