Why tagging is good for democracy

Matthew Hawn was talking at the recent Digital Shoreditch Summit about tagging and why it’s important to them. A bit of background. If you grew up on that old medium of radio or use something like iTunes you’ll notice there’s a real temptation to categorise music into genres. Now personally, I find this broad-brush approach annoying. I’ve found useful for me in any meaningful way because it’s not just subjective. Or rather, it’s based on someone else’s subjectivity. Last.fm feel the same, so instead of categories they allow users to create their own tags to describe the music they’re listening to. So, there you’ll find the broad ones you expect and a whole lot more. Some in fact incredibly esoteric. Some just plain silly – Rick Astley’s ‘Never going to give you up’ is tagged as ‘brutal death metal’. The other value of tags over categories is that tagging something is an emotional response, not simply a taxonomic decision. So what’s this got to do with democracy? I reckon that Last.fm have hit on a really smart way of putting us back in control of how we define things. In their case music, but why not do this for public websites, data repositories and consultations? Allow us to describe what we’re seeing in our own words, to imbue the experience with our own meaning. How a civil servant describes the redevelopment of a playground or hospital – the keywords or categories – is going to be quite different to how a local resident or user of the facility describes it. Both are meaningful, neither invalidates the other. By expanding the tags to allow the whole community to define them in ways that mean something to them we’re ensuring that more people can find the consultation too. Something for the GDS to consider as gov.uk grows?  ]]>

Leave a Reply