Saturday, February 19, 2011

Week 6: Folksonomy: Tag Clouds

Kleine Dada soirée Haagsche K.K. [lithographic proof], January 1923(?), by Theo van Doesburg (Christian Emil Marie Küpper), Dutch, 1883-1931;



I hadn’t paid much attention to tag clouds prior to taking this course. Vander Wal’s Amazon example seems to be a demonstration of herd behaviour. Most of the tags are quite uncomplimentary of k-fed’s musical ability. However, I wonder how many of the taggers actually listened to the music? I’m not defending the artist in question here, but I am wondering how much critical analysis was actually undertaken by the taggers. Tagging seems to be a way to express oneself without expending much effort or applying more than a minimal amount of critical thinking. If the words in the tag cloud are remotely congruent with one’s preconceived idea, then it is simple enough to copy the same tag or dig up some synonyms for new tags. This creates the impression of a mass movement of opinion for or against the particular issue, but there is little depth to the analysis.

Tag clouds are somewhat reminiscent of the Dada collages from the 1920s and the cut-ups of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. It is interesting that the Dada collages were promoted as meaning nothing, yet there were elements of authorial control present. With tag clouds, there is clearly a meaning to be gleaned from the presence and size of certain words, but there is no authorial control. (i.e. the cloud only emerges from the collective action of the readers, and is not consciously controlled by anyone.)

I do believe that tag clouds can alter the reader’s perception. If the cloud is viewed before reading the text, then a preconceived impression may be created in the reader. People are quite often biased by “representativeness” (i.e. they tend to believe information that reinforces their own ideas while discarding contrary data), so the cloud may promote a type of “momentum of opinion”. A more positive interpretation may be that tag clouds could trigger new associations in the reader that could lead to synthesis of new ideas.

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