Answer: Tagging is the act of assigning your own keywords to things online—photos, blog entries, bookmarks—so that you can easily categorize, locate, and share them in the future. One of the best examples is del.icio.us, which lets you save web bookmarks to a page on the site instead of to a file stashed away on your computer. This way, you can access them from anywhere and let other people see what sites you like. So if you saved popsci.com to your collection and tagged it with “science, tech, magazine,” anyone who clicked on the “science” tag would see it, along with any sites anyone else had tagged “science.” There are no rules for coming up with tags, so results can be unpredictable, but that’s part of the fun, and most are pretty intuitive anyway.
Tagging is also a great way to find stuff related to topics that interest you. Missing life in the Bay Area? Go to the photo-sharing site flickr.com, and click on “San Francisco” to bring up hundreds of photos of the city.
Some sites, including del.icio.us, Flickr, and the goal-sharing site 43things.com, also generate RSS feeds for specific tags, so you can easily follow certain topics, such as “recipes,” “mac” or “webdesign.” You can even subscribe to friends’ lists to see what they’re surfing, or you can generate custom feeds for them—tag certain items “for Madeline,” and she can check out all the sites that you’ve bookmarked just for her.
- Merlin Mann lives in San Francisco. He is the creator and editor of 5ives.com and the popular productivity tips site 43folders.com. He’s currently co-writing the book Life Hacks for O’Reilly.
This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the August 2005 issue of Popular Science magazine.