Tagging in Geneone Forum

Tagging is a concept which has become popular on sites such as del.icio.us, flickr, technorati and some blog softwares. Even Amazon are implementing tagging. I’m not really sure how much of a new idea this is as people used to write their websites with <meta name="keywords"> which was more or less a global tagging system across the whole web.

However, it seemed like one of those nice ideas that could be adapted to a forum and could solve some real problems.

In Geneone, instead of replacing the existing forum hierarchy with tags, tags have been built on top of the forum hierarchy. Each forum contains it’s own namespace of tags.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Forums work. Forums are generally well defined and each forum generally covers quite a large subject area. However with forums, there is no way of finding all discussions on one specific subject. In a standard forum you can’t easily find all discussions about php in a programming forum. This can be solved in two ways: you can either create a subforum for PHP or use tags to indicate the discussion is about PHP. Both methods will work; however subforums are messy and there is no way for a discussion to be both in the PHP forum and CSS forum. Similarly, removing forums altogether will be messy. Without subscribing to a gazillion tags, you’ll never be able to subscribe to every discussion about programming. On Evolution, we run a ‘Lounge’ forum. Users can just take a look inside to see what is being discussed. With a purely tag system, users have to decide what they want to talk about and then look for any relevant discussions.
  • Permissions. In a tag-only system, how do you define permissions? How do you run a forum only for certain members or moderators?
  • Easier to find discussions – When browsing through a lounge forum, it’s very easy to find something really really random and uber cool. You’ll still be able to find that topic on Weebl and Bob even though you don’t subscribe to the "weeblandbob" tag.

I think the principles behind the design for Firefox 2.0’s places user interface are similar.

Hierarchies are bad (difficult to create and maintain*), so default presentation deemphasizes them, but retains support for advanced and existing users.

* It is easy to create too many categories, or a highly nested structure that obscures the available categories, such that it is difficult to categorize links effectively and the amount of work required to do the task exceeds the benefit provided, given searching tools. 

Adding tags removes the requirement of having tons of subforums just to be able to find all discussions about PHP. And yes, hopefully reduce the number of "is this in the right forum?" posts.

By keeping the existing forum structure, we also lower the learning curve for end users and administrators will have learning to adjust to using tags. Gradual evolution rather than revolution.

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