Now, write down the words that you associate with the picture.
Are you having fun yet?
“Tagging,” or assigning descriptors to pictures, websites, and other content on the internet, is a huge trend in 2.0. With good reason. Whether on Flickr with photos, on del.icio.us with web pages, or on blogs with posts, tagging makes organization of items and search of them easier. Instead of searching based only on the taxonomy assigned by the authority who runs the site (i.e. the name of this site is X or the name of this artifact is Y), you can search based on the terms that users identify with the item.
It’s all about who has the authority to identify things. For example, I identify myself as Nina Simon, the government identifies me by my social security number, some guy on the street identifies me as a woman with curly hair… all of these are valid descriptors or tags for me, and the aggregation of these tags provides a fuller picture of who I am to the outside world.
Tagging is useful. But is it fun? On its own, not so much. Most of the incentives on sites for tagging are related to increased functionality (better organization of my sites on del.icio.us) or increased visibility (more searchable content). For internal web managers, tagging also improves accessibility for people who are blind by adding text descriptors to images so that site visitors understand the content of those images.
The ESP Game, and its related game, Phetch, are two games that create a framework to make tagging fun. These games were developed by Carnegie Mellon with funding from the NSF, with the goal of harnessing collective intelligence (and interest in playing games) to tag all of the images on the internet. Why would they want to do that? To increase the functionality, visibility, and accessibility of these images to web users worldwide.
The games take the game I posed in the beginning (Tag this image!) and make it fun by adding another player. Separately at your own computers, you tag images. Every time you and your partner player come up with the same tag for an image, you both get points. It ain’t Risk, but the addition of the social question (do we think alike?) and the game metric of scoring makes for a fairly compelling game. And it’s exciting to be part of an experiment that has a meaningful outcome.
There are many museums that are starting to experiment with allowing visitors to tag their online content, whether to engage them in 2.0 activities or to increase functionality, visibility, and accessibility of content (or both). But tagging is new enough, especially to museum audiences, that just giving web visitors that functionality is not necessarily enough to motivate them to start tagging. I’d love to see museums explore using games like the ESP Game to encourage people to engage with the museum’s content—and each other—and help the museum out, too. The games on the website at my museum are old. We don’t pay attention to them, and yet, they account for a high percentage of our web traffic. Wouldn’t it be nice to offer something useful on the game areas of museum websites?