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April 18, 2005  Web 2.0: Bottom-up and Self-Organizing

When I was working on the first release of Photoshop Album, one of the biggest areas of contention was around tags. It was clear that there was a benefit to building an organizational model around tags, but it was unclear whether or not building the product around such a feature would make mainstream adoption difficult. At that point in time (2001) this was a new model, for better or worse. In the end we did go out the gate with the feature as the core organizational model of the application, and the drag-and-drop tag approach was fairly well received by the users and the press. In retrospect, however, one area where we blew it completely was around collaboration. We didn't aggressively go after collaborative tagging, and I believe that was one of the most fundamental mistakes we made.

Earlier last week there was a buzz around, a social bookmarking tool that allows you to store your Internet bookmarks on the web (instead of in your web browser), and associate tags with these bookmarks. The tags are public, so other people can search for, say taxonomies and find the sites bookmarked with that tag.

The reason for the buzz was that, up to this point, was privately funded by the founder, Joshua Schachter. He recently accepted $2M in funding from some of the web's most famous names:, Marc Andreessen, BV Capital, Tim O'Reilly, and many others.

The term that people have started using to describe the type of organizational model created by is "Folksonomies". Over the last year, it has picked up traction and changed the nature of the web: of how people find information. As Mr Schachter noted: "The top tags for Wikipedia are free and reference, which are not words that appear on Wikipedia's home page, so people are thinking about you differently than you are."

This is the crux of Web 2.0. In a system that is bottom-up and self-organizing, the act of consuming content changes the fundamental nature of the content itself. Because organizational systems evolve from the network that are bottom-up and self-organizing, a new set of complexities and possibilities is created.

It is not to say that collaborative tagging will replace alternative systems of organization, such as the directory and navigational structures created by the content providers, but it is a complementary system that cannot be overlooked or underestimated.

There are a host of companies building businesses around this idea. There is a controversial open-source copy-cat called Delirious, another Amazon venture called 43 things, our old friend who was just recently snatched up by Yahoo! called Flickr, a video version of Flickr called Vimeo, and many more. (This PDF provides an overview of many other social bookmarking services.)

InfoWorld recently announced that it was going to move its keyword engine over to use Matt McAlister explains: "What I like most in this new architecture is that the related links are now driven by Our edit team is tagging content in The engineers are pulling down the RSS feeds. And then we create matching logic based on the common tags. We also link back out to pages via the tags for the article on display."

The content provider is now not only not alone in providing structure, but is also collaborating with the readers themselves.

As David Weinberger explains: "The old way provides the vocabulary we are to use. The new way lets us use our own words. The old way puts the control of the classification system in that hands of the owners of information classifying it. The new way gives control to the users of information. The old way creates a tree. The new rakes leaves together."

The part about all this that appeals to me is the simplicity of it all. It's so simple that it's easy to write off, but that is why it's so important.

It's the simple idea. There's no magic. Just a community.

Posted by johnnie at April 18, 2005 09:11 PM

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Comments is another to add to your list. It has two major twists: 1) hierarchical tagging and 2) a "karma" system that encourages helpful contributions.

Posted by: TypeKeyCommentor [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2005 01:51 AM

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