Advanced Tagging and TripleTags

[Update: More recent Triple Tag post over here] 

Users are great and smart and do cool stuff, you can’t stop them. Therefore it’s no surprise to see them constantly pushing things to the limit, and this is why we’re seeing the start of curious tagging methods.

Let’s look at the obvious one that I deal with…


The second two tags have three parts; its namespace ‘geo’ and a key/value pair ‘lat=53.1234′. Because most tagging systems don’t allow us to search with wildcards, you can’t find all items tagged with ‘geo:lat=*’ for example, we also use a declarative tag ‘geotagged’ which can be used for searching.

Anyone can follow this [namespace]:[key]=[value] convention. If I wanted to sell my bike, I may add a photo of it to Flickr and add the tags:


There’s the declarative tag and two TripleTags. If it gained traction and enough people did it, then it’s easy enough to build a website or services that handle the searching and tagging of photos of items people want to sell. Once they’ve be sold the tags are automatically removed.

Combine these with geotags and you can find items near you that are for sale.

The Berkley Research crew are doing this with celltagging, more on that in another post. Look here for an extreme example of TripleTags.

In the case of geotags I tried to follow the W3C standards for the geo namespace. I think there’s a lot to be said for following standards or microformats. However there’s nothing stopping people from tagging however they like, and if enough people do it becomes its own useful standard. There are many places around the internet where you can read about why user created tags and ‘folksonomies’ are good, I’ll not go over them again here.

Why do we need TripleTags?

Tags are great there’s no doubt about that, but key/value pairs are great too and have their own slightly different uses. The Windows Registry uses key/values, html markup uses key/values <img xsrc=’blank.gif’> src is the key, blank.gif is the value (converted to TripleTags is ‘img:src=blank.gif’, ‘imgtagged’). If you look at adding items to Google Base they let you pick a category, then add your own key/value. There’s a good reason why Google chose to do that, and it’s something you can’t do with simple tags. The above example can be tagged as location:town=london, location:street=oxford_st and of course locationtagged.

The fairly obvious problems with TripleTags

First off, we’re making tags hold more information than they were really designed to do and that breaks things, such as tag clouds. If you had 200 celltagged images, your tag cloud would have one giant ‘celltagged’ tag and polluted with 200 individual, one use only tags. The more people celltag, or geotag (or selltag, or locationtag) the more polluted these tag clouds get.

Also the display of tags for individual items becomes less user friendly. TripleTags are normally used for systems to read and use, not people. If your items has several TripleTags it devalues the rest of the tags, they become harder to read for the end user.

There are a couple of possible ways that this can be controlled, more probably.

A site that implements tagging can either just let it continue. If a set of TripleTags start to appear but not become widely adopted then it’s up to the user to elect to pollute their own tag clouds and interface. The chances are there’ll be a quick bloom in those tags which will rapidly die off as they don’t reach critical mass. Those that do reach critical mass and then start to impact on the system could then be adopted and absorbed into the system and therefore removed from the tagging system.

The problems is that if the tags go in a direction different to that of the site. In our example of selltagging, if it became adopted by thousand of users on a site, but the site didn’t want to absorb such a tag into its inner workings into the system, then you’d end up with a rampant set of TripleTags floating around. Maybe that’s just fine and at the end of the day it’s the users choice what they decide to do and how far they are willing to go to stop their own tagging system working for them.

An alternative for the system owners is to continue to allow the TripleTags, or even encourage it as it’s adds extra functionality to tags but hide any tags with the format ‘*:*=*’ errrr… ^(\w+):(\w+)=(.+)$ (thanks Simon) from tag clouds. Then move any TripleTags with their declarative tag out of the list of tags, or at least to the end or a separate location.

A more extreme solution would be to ban TripleTags from being submitted altogether, which shouldn’t be too hard to implement. Unless the users decide on a different format geo}lat}53.1234 and so on. And if you enter that cat and mouse game with your users then what the users are trying to do is probably important enough for you to use one of the two suggestions above.

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8 Responses

  1. [...] At the moment this is quite hot in the geoblogging scene as this allows their tools to integrate with flickr to match a geographical location to a photo. Explore posts in the same categories: internet, software, flickr, photo, project, management [...]

  2. [...] geobloggers » Blog Archive » Advanced Tagging and TripleTags problems with ad hoc user tags for key/value pairs, differeniate machine and people tags (tags: geotagging tagging tags machinetags RDF Triple SemanticWeb TripleTags) [...]

  3. [...] Atomshy tipped me off to another form of tag abuse, of which much more experienced users are guilty. Geobloggers, like Dan Catt, have been “triple-tagging” Flickr photos with essentially name/value pairs for use in API feeds to external applications. Catt uses the following example in another post on his blog: geotagged geo:lat=53.1234 geo:long=-2.5678 [...]

  4. [...] Más información He leído también que ya han abierto un wiki (ayer!) para estandarizar el uso de machine tags, para que todos nos entendamos igual… ya sabéis… un artículo muy interesante [...]

  5. [...] tenho certeza que o flickr, que modificou bastante estrutura de banco de dados do site para melhorar o suporte ao feature, vai encorajar o uso indiscriminado das tags, mas deve “entender” mesmo somente um número menor delas. [...]

  6. [...] Hace unos días me enteraba, gracias a Logicola de la existencia de las “machine tags“. No es una cosa nueva, de hecho he encontrado artículos de enero del 2006 aunque definiéndolos como TripleTags [...]

  7. This one makes sence “One’s first step in wisdom is to kuesstion everything – and one’s last is to come to terms with everything.”

  8. Hi,

    This seems good to me and m trying to make search on the bases of machine tag for events. But for tht first I want to machine tag the photos of other users too. Is it possible to machine tag others photos using flickr API???

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