So I just read an interesting post about Technorati Tags on Shelley Powers's blog entitled Cheap Eats at the Semantic Web Café. As I read Shelley's post I kept feeling a strong sense of deja vu which I couldn't shake. If you were using the Web in the 1990s then the following descriptions of Technorati Tags taken from their homepage should be quite familiar.

What's a tag?

Think of a tag as a simple category name. People can categorize their posts, photos, and links with any tag that makes sense.


The rest of the Technorati Tag pages is made up of blog posts. And those come from you! Anyone with a blog can contribute to Technorati Tag pages. There are two ways to contribute:

  • If your blog software supports categories and RSS/Atom (like Movable Type, WordPress, TypePad, Blogware, Radio), just use the included category system and make sure you're publishing RSS/Atom and we'll automatically include your posts! Your categories will be read as tags.
  • If your blog software does not support those things, don't worry, you can still play. To add your post to a Technorati Tag page, all you have to do is "tag" your post by including a special link. Like so:
    <a href="[tagname]" rel="tag">[tagname]</a>
    The [tagname] can be anything, but it should be descriptive. Please only use tags that are relevant to the post. No need to include the brackets. Just make sure to include rel="tag".

    Also, you don't have to link to Technorati. You can link to any URL that ends in something tag-like. These tag links would also be included on our Tag pages:
    <a href="" rel="tag">iPod</a>
    <a href="" rel="tag">Gravity</a>
    <a href="" rel="tag">Chihuahua</a>

If you weren't using the Web in the 1990s this may seem new and wonderful to you but the fact is we've all seen this before. The so-called Technorati Tags are glorified HTML META tags with all their attendant problems. The reason all the arguments in Shelley's blog post seemed so familiar is that a number of them are the same ones Cory Doctorow made in his article Metacrap from so many years ago. All the problems with META tags are still valid today most important being the fact that people lie especially spammers and that even well intentioned people tend to categorize things incorrectly or according to their prejudices.

META tags simply couldn't scale to match the needs of the World Wide Web and are mostly ignored by search engines today. I wonder why people think that if you dress up an old idea with new buzzwords (*cough* folksonomies *cough* social tagging *cough*) that it somehow turns a bad old idea into a good new one?


Monday, January 31, 2005 9:56:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I haven't looked into the Technorati tags yet, but does your averseness to tags change if they were community generated? Unlike META tags, which are given solely by the author, community-generated tags could be made by "agreement" of trusted taggers. Lots of thought to be done on how to define trusted taggers (taggers that tag non-spam). It seems like the eBay or Amazon model of ratings might make a decent tagging system. How does Wiki ensure non-spam content?

Just thoughts.

Greg Smith
- Author, FeederReader - The Pocket PC RSS reader and podcatcher
Monday, January 31, 2005 11:58:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Folksonomies like Flickr and are about community generated tagging. The problem is exactly how to filter out the tagging done by the 'bad eggs' in the community at least with Flickr and one can eject problematic users from the community by banning their accounts.
Tuesday, February 1, 2005 6:07:10 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
flickr and (damn, that's hard to type) also have the law of large numbers on their side - unless the spammers manage to generate huge numbers of fake users, they'll never be able to "out-vote" the tags generated by real people.

So I think that your final line of dissin' "folksonomies" and "social tagging" is taking things too far - flickr and have shown that they can leverage their users to add real value to the web.

Having said that, I totally agree that technorati is just jumping on the publicity bandwagon here, with an idea that is somewhere between "dumb" and "laughable". "I know, let's invent categories, I mean meta tags, all over again!"
Wednesday, February 2, 2005 10:07:37 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
ahoy carnage4life. your html is rendering your page brokenly in both firefox and ie 6. also could you space out the comments a bit, it makes me feel pukey trying to parse them.
Saturday, February 5, 2005 8:38:22 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
you use categories in your blog. We collate them. eg
The url-based tags are for people with less forgiving category systems, or one-off post tags that aren't really worth the mental load of setting up a whole new category for.
The difference between meta tags and the rel="tag" based links is that the later are visible to readers, and collated with the posts, so link-stuffing is more obvious to the reader.
Jonathan, you can call it jumping on a bandwagon, I call it watching what kinds of metadata people are creating, and collating it in a useful form.
Tags aren't everyone's cup of tea, but like links and text they are interesting things to collate and correlate to better discover one anothers' writings.
Monday, February 7, 2005 3:39:14 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
"I wonder why people think that if you dress up an old idea with new buzzwords (*cough* folksonomies *cough* social tagging *cough*) that it somehow turns a bad old idea into a good new one?"

so if i understand this correctly, you think, Flickr, Furl and the like are no more valuable than the original HTML metatags?

not sure i'm buying that.
Monday, February 7, 2005 8:45:17 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Lighten up; Technorati tags aren't supposed to revolutionize the world ... They're just harmless fun.
Monday, February 7, 2005 1:09:06 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Humanity is destined to 'F' up over and over again, didn't you know that? ;-) They're also destined to constantly duplicate each other's work with slight variation depending on particular problem domains, naively (or arrogantly) labeling it 'innovation'.

In the long run, the world at large will be none-the-wiser to the majority of technological mistakes we make; they'll just go about their days, utilizing what works for them.

For the vast majority of users out there, the simplest thing will win out the day, because they're not like technologists, and they'll kindly ignore the garbage layered on top of or around the actual solution.

Simple text with some HTML, and relying on search engines to do the hard work of relevance, false positives or not, is the simplest form of publishing for most people. They'll continue to rely on that, regardless of the layers of crap that we pile on to the solution.
Monday, February 7, 2005 1:36:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
My post is about Technorati tags. My opinions on folksonomies is in my previous post at
Monday, February 7, 2005 5:55:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
ah, understood.

it's a bit problematic, however, b/c your comment implies (to me, anyway) that folksonomies and social tagging - both commonly associated with and Flickr, obviously - are mere buzzwords. maybe they are when considered in relation to Technorati tags, but think vis a vis and Flickr they can and are used to decribe a legitimate process.

but thx for the clarification.
Wednesday, February 9, 2005 6:02:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Tags on and flickr have the advantage of being /visible/ at least to the average user. For that reason alone they function differently than the html meta tags. Additionally, some people abuse html meta tags because of the lack of clear information and variance in implementation, i.e. people try everything because they don't have a clear idea of how they function or how they should be used.

But the point about SPAM is not really related to tagging. It's a much more expansive issue than that. Open systems are spammable and that wont change regardless of your system for taxonomy or indexing. There may be solutions to this though, too, like social schemes and collaborative filtering.
Wednesday, February 9, 2005 8:41:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I have similar reservations about the utility of the Technorati tag concept, butI have begun to try them. A prior comment noted that they're visible, unlike meta tags. They're also localized to a specific blog entry rather than a whole page.

A lot of bloggers choose category names in a more personalized setting. I notice "Das Blog", "Ramblings", and "Mindless Link Propagation" here. I too have categories like "biblio" and "chow"; but when writing a topic tag, I use a word that seems relevant in a common setting, because I know that's what's intended. Also, my postings often fall into multiple topics. A single category doesn't quite cut it.

Friday, February 11, 2005 8:22:59 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Some points...
1) As I think someone might have pointed out, it's not the same mistake all over again, it's an exciting new mistake because... with meta tags you could only tag your *own* content.

2) These tags are used not only by search engines but by humans. Who can adapt to bullshit faster than search engines. For instance, nobody but idiots now googles for words like viagra, cialis, sex, porn, etc. Those might as well have become stop words.

3) One form of spam that hasn't recieved much attention is username spam. Did you know, for instance, that until a few minutes ago the word "logon" was not already taken as a username? Nor was "serach". But along with the problem, I offer a distributed solution-- go out and register as many potentially abusable names as you can. Every account named "php" and "sex" you own (heh, heh, don't bother with those two now) is an account some spammer who will catch on to the meme a day later than you have will not be able to own. Sort of like those environmentalists who buy acres of rainforest to make sure it never gets developed. Let the pre-emptive defense of's namespace begin!
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