Tag, signal, noise

With the release of WordPress version 2.3, tagging has been finally integrated into the core functionality of the platform.

Not a bad idea, if your blog generally has fewer words and more photos. I am well aware of its usefulness in flickr, fergodssakes, but tagging posts with the very same words that are used in the body text of said posts?

Maybe I’m not “web 2.0” enough. Maybe, with my four years of blogging, I’m turning into a luddite. What exactly is the benefit of a tag on a text-based post? The fact that posts could be assigned to multiple categories was a pretty awesome thing, because topics do overlap. But tags?



No doubt, I’ll have to get into it and understand it if I want to continue relating to the needs of the people for whom I maintain WordPress-based sites, but on my site? When I do upgrade to version 2.3, you can expect tags on photo-based posts.


One thought on “Tag, signal, noise”

  1. Actually, text-based tags – or something similar – are very useful for clarifying text-based content, just as they are useful companions for photos, etc. However, in the spirit of making progress, why not call each one a “caption for a passage”? They obviously would use some of the same words that are in the text, perhaps the highlighted ones. For example, a caption for an image may say, “In front of a rustic barn in New England.” The viewer immediately focuses his attention on the barn in the picture, not the clouds, squirrels, etc. Similarly, if we highlight something in a given passage, and use a simple command our computer program extract the highlighted text verbatim as our text for the caption of that passage, we have semi-automated the process of tagging it. This would be efficient and would do OK in most instances, if we are careful about what we highlight. However, if we need to “shade” or otherwise put the passage in more context, we ought to be able to do that too. For example, from a single photograph, it may be difficult, unless one is an expert on such matters, to know that the barn in question is an authentic example of rustic New England agrarian architecture, painting, and maintenance. Similarly, the plain text of a passage may not reveal or sum up its entire significance concisely like that caption does. Captions automatically carry a ring of authenticity and finality. Only a propagandist or other miscreant would use a lie in a photo caption. So, we should ensure that captions for passages of text are written in such a way that they don’t inadvertently contain half-truths or ambiguous statements. If the passage of text is ambiguous, this means that the author of the tag must work even harder to convey the accurate meaning, or at least very clearly indicate the range of the ambiguity or uncertainty. For example, in my view it is legitimate to caption a picture with the phrase “In front of a rustic barn in Massachusetts or Vermont, I forget which”, so it is a good practice to make a caption for text, i.e., a tag, or whatever one calls it, more general to cover any ambiguity in the passage, i.e., use “New England” instead of listing possible States. On the other hand, “New England” is still a fairly large piece of the country, so if there is reason and validity to add a caption to such a photo that includes a limited form of ambiguity, similarly there may be valid reasons to add text tags for given passages of text that narrow down any possible ambiguity. The result of faithfully following the rules implied above will be very useful in AI – that is, if so, such a tag is not only concise as it can be to meet the needs of the reader, but it also is most assuredly true, and an AI certainly needs lots of assuredly true statements as a solid base of knowledge. By letting the AI program refine tags based upon such rules and assumptions that tags are true statements, eventually any given tag would become as specific as possible without eroding the truth. I think that this approach could cure the problem some AI researchers are having by generating true statements that are nevertheless too general to be of much practical use.

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