Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tagging Touches Records Management

On February 16, our local chapter of ARMA hosted Chris Izquierdo of DevFacto to speak about folksonomy vs taxonomy . A good argument was made to hand the reins of classification over to the users (folksonomy) with perhaps some controls in the background (taxonomy). When it was all over, a friend turned to me and asked, "What is tagging?" Goodness, I realized. I've been playing around with the internet for so long, I've forgotten that these concepts are new to some. Tagging works great with electronic documents and is virtually impossible to replicate in the paper world. So let's spend a few moments finding out what tags are and how they can help classify and search for our electronic records.

Tag has many definitions, and most have to do with adding more information to
an object. The tag on my new headband gives me information about the manufacturer. In the past, when a user sent records to file, they may add a file number to the corner. The user was restricted to the classification plan. The file number is a sort of tag, but it is limited in scope.

On an internet form, however, a as many tags as needed can be attached to a document to help the user sort their entries, and readers find what they are looking for. This blog, for instance, offers tags in the field marked "Labels:" and shows up on the bottom of my post. The software remembers what tags I have used in the past, so as I start typing, it offers me choices based on past use. Over time the tagging becomes ever more consistent to the way I classify things.

I tag my posted recipes, too. The site offers sort and search on my tags, offering new ways to find and manage my recipes.

Tagging photos is a huge hit. Flicr was a pioneer of photo tagging in
 2004, but we can now tag on virtually all digital photo sites including Picasa and Facebook. Internet software is now sophisticated enough to recognized faces on a photo, and will often prompt the user to tag the person. I can now search for all photos that contain the tagged face of a friend or loved-one.

Besides personal tagging, there are tag cloud generators that automatically build graphical representations of your tags. The good generators should highlight by significance (i.e. tags with greatest weight are bigger). There are free tag generators available. I regularly generate a tag cloud of my blog. Every word is a link to the source that the reader can follow.  Try it out for yourself.

So how does this change the Records Management world? Internet savvy users may demand the option to tag their documents for later retrieval. Tags (keywords) can be added as optional metadata entries in Electronic Records Management applications. In the future, tagging might replace formal taxonomies as the primary cataloguer of electronic records. You may offer new search options by offering tag clouds of frequently searched content.
The classic paper file manual, a true brick, able to stop a steel door in it's tracks, might soon be a relic. But people are still driven to classify and organize. We have the opportunity, as RIM professionals, to offer new ways to look and search; to guide our users on how to tag records for easy retrieval, and to show off our information in new ways. In the future it won't be just the linear thinkers who rule the day; our visuals and creatives have the opportunity to find what they need, their way, too.