As much as I celebrate the revolution of public participatory media I am increasingly frustrated at the apparent apathy of some citizen media makers to properly contextualise their work through tagging (aka folksonomies) which is a form of cooperative catagorization. Without tags, your images, video and/or audio content are not searchable, public or properly “participatory.”
The philosophy of participatory media is simple: participation between viewers and makers in the production and distribution of citizen produced media. Being a citizen media producer isn’t about merely a selfish show and tell but a cooperative process that involves you taking the time to make your media accessible, user-friendly and easy to distribute on a variety of platforms. Given the amount of bandwidth required to host all that citizen media, the least a citizen media producer can do in return for all this free publicity is to properly contextualise his or her work in a meaningful and relevant way.
My recent experiences at Flickr and Ourmedia confirmed that people still aren’t bothering to tag their works. Or those who are, aren’t doing a very good job of it.
A couple of weeks ago I spent an entire afternoon looking over recent video submissions at Ourmedia. In addition to bugs and long loading time I was exceptionally annoyed with the lack of tags or relevant text context accompanying the videos. Not only was it difficult to find video by content type but most of the descriptions had little, if anything, to do with the actual content. This isn’t Ourmedia’s fault but the fault of contributors who aren’t bothering to tag their stuff. All the videos I viewed had “no tags defined.”
I don’t get it. I mean, if you have the ability to create and upload your video content you are capable of typing in a few keywords and writing a one sentence description for your work. Perhaps some of these producers assume that their work will “speak for itself.” On the web, nothing speaks-for-itself without keywords/metadata. A cool screen grab with a cute title isn’t enough to inspire me (or most people) to take the time to view your video. Chances are, we’re searching for something specific, not randomly clicking through. Who has that kind of time?
My second experience with tag-challenged content involved Flickr image galleries. I had recently uploaded my unremarkable vacation snaps and wanted to see if others had taken photos of any of the same places. Naturally I clicked on my tags only to find my own images (yes, I checked “all public images with the tag” link). While I ended up finding a couple of image pools devoted to my vacation spots, few of the photos were properly tagged. It explained why I hadn’t seen their images when I searched for them. Here is an example one of my images features an embedded note, which is a truly revolutionary use of flash to contextualise specific image elements. It’s clear that developers are working hard to create amazing tools, so why aren’t we using them?
Maybe part of it is that people still don’t know the function of tags (though I’m doubtful that anybody who is using Flickr or Ourmedia isn’t fairly web savvy). Or perhaps it’s that they’re just too lazy. Either way, we’ve got to address this issue if citizen media producers are going to argue that their video, audio and image content are genuinely part of the “participatory” media movement. Tagging video content, especially, would go a long way towards warming people to vlogs, which are still attracting the ire of those who reproach vlogger content for its lack of granularity and searchability.
I have a couple of suggestions for the metadata impaired
1) Forget about clever (and/or cute)
One of the first things a journalism student learns is to forget about clever when it comes to titles. People aren’t going to read a story because the title is charming but because it has content they want to read about. The same goes for participatory media. This is especially important with video and audio content which can involve a sizeable investment of time on the viewer/listener’s part. They want to know what’s in that file that they may or may not have time to view. Many authors/producers misguidedly assume that the clever title can serve as a “hook” to show how special and unique their work is – it defies description! For the purposes of web audiences, context is more important than standing out.
2) Searchable, meaningful and relevant keywords
Your description, tags and title should contain relevant, searchable and meaningful descriptives. Think about some of the things people might be looking for in your content and add those things to your list of tags. Identify as much of the subject matter and context as you can. Think beyond the immediate uses or interests and visualise the smallest element as having some meaning to someone.
3) UI designers/developers should explain the importance of keywords/tags
The tags field on the user interface should have some additional info about why tags are important. Maybe even a link to a short blurb somewhere – “Why tag my work?” would be suffice.
Feel free to add to my suggestions!