I've done some research on using tags from social bookmarking sites for web search, but I'd like to learn more about other ways in which users might use tags for information retrieval.

Do you use the tags on sites like Stack Overflow for navigation? Do you think of them like filters (narrowing down a large list of questions), or as categories (showing how the site is organized), or something else?

+1  A: 

I use the one here as filters to get to the content I am most interested in. I may have a question about something here and want to research the topic more before asking the question. Or I may be knowledgeable in an area and want to look through questions to see if I can help.

At work we use something similar to tags for our contacts. The tags indicates the type of attributes so if we want to find a certain type of vendor or customer more easily we can search by the tag.

Arthur Thomas
+2  A: 

I use them for searching for my stack (C#, ASP.NET, WinForms etc). I have them set up in Launchy as shortcuts.

I have posted some thoughts ideas on my StackOverflow blog post - feel free to comment on there if you like:

Search Support

The search functionality is improving. However, is it still limited (for example, no OR search). It also has limited filtering options. One major problem for me is that it displays searches the answers as well as questions. So, you can end up with a page of results that point to one question (which may not help you). Tag searching is also improving but still limited and even misunderstood by its creator (see the comments).

Finding Your Stack

I am a C# developer. I work on Windows and ASP.NET applications. I know nothing about Java, Python, Ruby and the many other languages out there. I can offer limited advice on architecture and design. Now, currently, it is bloody difficult for me to find questions with the appropriate tags so I can assist. I propose:

"Smart Lists" - these should be lists that each user can create that you can specify tags to search for. For example, I could create three "Windows" (which searches for items tagged "C# WinForms"), "Web" (tagged "ASP.NET") and Architecture (tagged "architecture"). Now, a web developer who works on the LAMP stack may have a "Web" tab, but entirely different tags.

I am currently getting around this by having Launchy shortcuts set up for my stacks.

Rob Cooper
+1  A: 

I don't know how you could use the tags for navigation -- to me navigation implies that you are going through static content.

I definitely think of them as filters. I can access information on a particular subject with one html link instead of going to a search form and going through the annoying process of either typing a search term or hitting a radio button and then hitting submit to get the kind of data that I want to look at.

+1  A: 

Yes - purely on the basis that I found this question by looking for the usability tag. :)

So far, on sites like this one, I tend to see tags as mutually exclusive filters. I'd like to combine tags in a search, but the fact that it's not immediately obvious how to do this on many sites e.g. as with labels in Blogger blogs, means I'm not inclined to try. On sites with interfaces that allow me to enter tags in a search field (such as this site), I'd be more inclined to try.

Either way, I think of the tags as simple filters and not as categories, hierarchical or otherwise.

Hope this helps.

Mal Ross

Tags and hierarhical views (like a dictionary structure) are the two main methods for information organization.

As dictionary structures are more familiar to most users (many real life analogies exists like looking for a specific art book in a library or looking for milk in a mall), at first they are usually more comfortable with them. But a hierarchical view has to be defined (at least the general structure) before the actual content is created, which is not so suitable for natural "content" growth. Also it doesn't provide any alternative views (for example I cannot look for food based on sugar content in the supermarket).

Tags are more organic, and after the users get used to it, provide a more natural way to look and sort information. On the long term however the organic growth of the tags could became quite chaotic. For example there could be many tags with the same meaning, but with a different spelling or word. Also, it is very hard to define a multilangual tag system. While on a small or medium scale tags work well, I think on a large scale they need heavy maintenance.

I like the way tags work here. If you fill out a tag (on the question asking form) a small pop-up shows what are the tags for your input, and how many items are tagged with each word. This helps me to decide what the exact tag word for a specific content should be.

Overall I like and use tags on other sites too, because they provide quick customizable views for large amounts of information.

A: and GMail sold me on tags as opposed to other methods of organizing things. GMail's implementation is particularly intuitive: tags are like folders, but a single item can be in multiple folders (something Outlook hasn't figured out yet). taught me the second concept: tags are like sets and applying unions and intersections can really narrow down what you are looking for.

So, yes, IMO, tags are useful for navigation.

Speaking of tags, if anyone is reading this who has the reputation to add tags...

I really like the "Hidden Features of (WhateverTechOrLanguage)" articles. There is a "hidden-feature" tag, but it isn't applied to every one of those articles. If I had the reputation, I'd do it, but I didn't want add an "answer" telling them to tag. I know that as soon as I get 50 points of "Whoofie" I can at least add a comment asking them to tag it, but...