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    I am reading through 'both ways' literature of Yolngu and non-Yolngu working their knowledge systems together. Alongside I am reading Lorraine Code's 2006 book Ecological Thinking. I am also browsing through blogs and discussions on knowledge work and community development.
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    Here I post some of my work and thinking. It is a much harder task than I thought! It is an extension of my research on knowledge and difference connecting my experiences, reflections, formal written pieces, and hopefully friends and colleagues. As work and self cannot be separate this blog is both personal and intellectual. Comments are moderated because, while it is a site for collective work, it is not anonymous.
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Tagging, Metaphor and Web 2.0

There is much hype about Web2.0 (blogs, twitter, feeds, rss, tags) and how it will transform the world as we know it. I have been draw in of late. I have been watching TED talks about how processor speed will get better and better with a prediction that in twenty years a computer will be as smart of a three month old baby and the internet will be as complex as a human consciousness (lot’s of three months olds?). I have also reading blogs and such on knowledge management and how social networking sites and technologies in Web2.0 such as tagging will liberate the use, categorization and transformation of knowledge (no longer will librarians and information managers sort and file our information but we will do it collectively over the internet). One major concern in talk about tagging is whether ‘tags’ (a word or words associated with a item of knowledge) correctly describe what they tag. Indeed, all the research I found on tagging looked at this. So it seems that we are simply reproducing the representation understanding of knowledge: does the representation accurate point to what it says it does. Not very transformative at all.

I bought up tagging with friends at the pub the other night and asked can tags ever work strategically as metaphors. I didn’t make my point very well and have been thinking about tagging ever since. Then walking down my street I come across this:


This form of tagging had not even come to mind in all my ponderings! But a few years ago a conversation at a pub about tagging surely would have been talking about these additions to our public landscape. But these tags were never meant to truly represent a real thing. They were many things; a claim to space, protest, art, communal practice, but not a representation. Perhaps a representation in the political sense by the disenfranchised. So who is tagging and claiming space online? I had a bit of a play Flickr. These are the amount of photos under each tag:

indigenous: 35 938
indigenous australians: 58
Yolngu: 147

war: 497 614
peace: 361 385

Africa: 1 537 437
America: 1 094 210

happy: 744 463
sad: 144 295

poetry: 109 007 (inspired by the tag next to my house)
music: 5 016 741
painting: 803 512
photo: 2 060 750

surveillance: 15 250
tagging: 47 409

A few observations: the Yolngu certainly are a popular group of Indigenous Australians. The ‘Africa’ tag has a lot of photos for a continent with not many digital cameras, so who is taking the photos? Amazing that music could ‘out-tag’ painting is a visual medium. Another interesting thing Flickr does is show related tags. On the tag ‘war’ the most related tags are ‘memorial’ (over 500 000 photos more that war itself!) and peace (not so popular) and protest. Under ‘indigenous’, ‘child’ is a related tag. Why is indigenous related to childishness?

What to make of this? Is war more popular than peace? Is Africa more photogenic than America? Is music more photogenic than a paintings? It’s all a little too confusing.

I’ll get back to my theme – is this really new? The distribution and logic of Web2.0 is not really that revolutionary. If most of the processing power goes into war and going to space, is more processing power really a social good? And if we do turn processing power and modern technology to social ends will it work? If processing power defines intelligence as essentially computational and is still being understood within a representation understanding of knowledge how will it deal with knowledge systems in Indigenous Australia and African that have vastly different logics? Are photos representing Africa helping make space for African communities gain control over how these technologies are used? If you doubled the process power of a ‘three month old’ does it become a ‘six month old’?

So I am bring a bit facetious now, but it is worth being suspicious. The difference between representation and metaphor is that representation in the West ignores its production and where it comes from. Once representation are made they are taken as as self-evident. A tag is taken to point to what it says. A photo never includes the photographer. A metaphor keeps the fact that is it moving from context to context more evident. I guess I am greatly enjoying the web 2.0 at the moment but I trying not to take it on its own terms.

[From Tagging, Metaphor and Web 2.0]


3 Responses

  1. Hi Christian

    First of all I would like to say how much I enjoyed reading your Tagging, Metaphor and Web 2.0! I thought I would jot down a couple of my thoughts.

    First, forgive me, but I can’t help but seeing some irony in the piece. I decided to do a little search on the interweb using some ‘tags’ I put in ‘Indigenous Australians Stories writing Yolngu’ and sure enough I found a fantastic article – yours (on page 3)! I also searched ‘Indigenous knowing knowledge local knowledge stories writing’ search terms that conceivably could have been searched by someone in Africa, and found it again!

    I think this highlights the transformation of how information, opinions and knowledge can now be freely shared and questioned to stimulate ideas with anyone in the word with access to the internet (1.4 billion people). I think this is a major transformation from say 50 years ago when I would have only heard about your views face-to-face or if you wrote into a paper, magazine or similar.

    I guess your main question is – are these good? I think they are. I believe the freedom to express ideas, stimulate discussion and the benefit that global communication and increased diversity of ideas have is positive overall. Take, for example, the use of Facebook, Twitter and TXTs to help citizens in repressive regimes to report on real news bypassing censors (however briefly) – look what is happening in Iran at the moment. Another example I thought was interesting was that Twitter was reporting the Chinese earthquake disaster well before the royal geological society, and the first BBC report used twitter feeds. The previous earthquake disaster was covered up for over 3 yrs!. But I agree there here are negative aspects too.

    In regards to your major concern about whether ‘tags’ correctly describe what they tags, I acknowledge that tagers may not always correctly tag their subjects. But on a whole I would have to say that I think they do. When you look through flickr or similar for a specific subject using tags I would say the vast majority of the images correctly tagged. Likewise google searches generally are pretty good at directing you to the right information. I am guessing, however, that your concern may not also relate to how these tagged images can be a gross invasion of privacy and human rights?? I also have this concern, but this invasion also goes back to when the picture was taken.

    Another of your questions I found interesting was ‘Are photos representing Africa helping make space for African communities gain control over how these technologies are used?’ At the moment I don’t think they are. But I am not sure that any community, whether in Africa or Melbourne, can gain control of how these technologies are used. Looking through the ‘interesting’ flickr photos using some African country tags the one thing that stuck me was how beautiful and positive these images were. Looking back at the representation of Africa in traditional media platforms like print and TV, the one thing that most people associate with Africa is negative e.g., war, famine and crises. I think that these newer platforms, while not perfect, do provide new ways to look at the world.

    In considering ‘related tags’ I agree that tags that people use are prejudiced by stereotypes and beliefs and you provided some very good examples. The link between ‘indigenous’ and ‘child’ tag and your question as to why indigenous is related to childishness made me think –could it be that people (tourists) often take pictures of indigenous children?

    Anyway sorry for rabbiting on, keep writing your blogs – great stuff!


  2. Hi Christian, I am enjoying this conversation. I got the impression, though, that you aren’t concerned about the accuracy of tags per se, but rather that all this focus on accuracy denies their metaphoric potential. Am I right?

    Somehow it doesn’t worry me, either way. I think that people always, down through the ages, have this thing about trying to be ‘accurate’ and then the poets and revolutionaries have a context against which to say something different: to expose metaphor, to make counter claims re representation, etc. We ‘steady ourselves’ in the sea of metaphors in which we really live by taking some of our metaphors as temporary ‘realities’. Poets (and philosophers and ANTers et al) jolt us out of this from time to time, but while we are eating our weeties we slip back into it all the time. Even in our pre-modern manifestations, which Helen Verran and David Wade Chamber talk about in Singing the Land, in which metaphors (nature as a book, etc) played such a big role in religious discourse, I suspect the users were allowing the metaphor to disappear too. Nature really was a book to them. Just as Yolngu metaphors really are what they say they are, to Yolngu. Just as botanical family names really are what they say they are to the botanist. Does this make sense? I think I’m trying to say that the tendency for metaphors to forget themselves is their power. We need poets and philosophers to catch us out on this so we don’t turn our metaphors into weapons, but I don’t think we want to ever not be able to forget that they are metaphors, sometimes .. or rather most of the time. I think we would become autistic in that case .. so overwhelmed by the complexity we had to shut down.

    I was fascinated though, and a tiny bit overwhelmed, by something else about the blogs and websites I dipped into via your blog, Flickr, for instance. For me one of the most amazing things is the way these social networking sites allow what we would have always called ‘drivel’ and ‘chit chat’ to be redeemed and used to give people a presence or to feel connected or whatever it is they participate for. All that effort just to say ‘great photo’ (when 15 other people have just said the same thing). Or rather to say, ‘nice shot’, or ‘heyniceshot!!!!!!:)’. Or ‘Rly NCE sht’. The creativity that has been released with respect to the use of language and its representation and especially its distortion for effect is astonishing. Most especially in how people name and depict themselves. Everyone trying to distinguish themselves in an ever more idiosyncratic way. This goes way beyond quirky!

    Anyway, it is so good for this oldie to be getting this help with venturing into the world of new web contortions. Despite doing a PhD in IT I still pitch my tent with the luddites. Well, maybe in a camp just outside Ludditia, but not too far away. So a big thank you and I look forward to more.

  3. Thanks Michael and Anthea for you replies. I liked how you, Michael, separated out my tow concerns of the ‘good’ of tags and Web2.0 and ‘accuracy’ tags and Web2.0 because so often in knowledge management (and I included libraries, our own bibliographies, Web2.0 in this) accuracy is taken the good, a self evident good in itself. and this is what I do worry about. Precisely because as Anthea, you say, accuracy denies the metaphorical work of labels with is crucial for any contestation of knowledge and hence politics.

    Rather than give any more arguments about tags (I re-address it here in relation to Delicious) I’ll just offer a few alternative that come to mind.

    Some camera’s now tag their photos by GPS location. What if we were to tag everything by the location in which it was done, and even search them via a map interface. Some things would be tagged a number of locations and be multiple on the map. If I were to tag something ‘Africa’ say from where I work now, Melbourne, this classification of ‘Africa’ it would be disrupted by its presence in Australia on this interface. Immediately people would say ‘
    Hey, that’s not Africa, its Australia!’.

    What about tagging by the name of the artist, author or uploaded. while on Flickr and Delicious you can search by user, user is not a tag, it is above tags. Why is user not just a tag like anything else?

    Tagging as intended audience. Rather than trying to accurately refer to some notion of what the entity is about, we could tag it as who might like to look at it. I might tag my blog ‘friends’, ‘family’, ‘colleagues’, ‘students’ for example. So when my Dad goes to my blog he might just click on the tag family, not because it is about family but I have posted in for family.

    What about tagging being open to contestation and change by readers? What happens if someone does not like me tagging a site as Indigenous on my Delicious page? Do they have any right to change my tags? In a democratic vein you could click on tags you think work and that registers a vote and only the three tags with the three highest votes gets use in searchers, but again this marginalizes those who are already underrepresented.

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