The Complex Dynamics of Collaborative Tagging

Presented at: 16th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW2007)

by Harry Halpin, Valentin Robu, Hana Shepherd

The debate within the Web community over the optimal means by which to organize information often pits formalized classifications against distributed collaborative tagging systems. A number of questions remain unanswered, however, regarding the nature of collaborative tagging systems including whether coherent categorization schemes can emerge from unsupervised tagging by users. This paper uses data from tagged sites on the social bookmarking site to examine the dynamics of collaborative tagging systems. In particular, we examine whether the distribution of the frequency of use of tags for "popular" sites with a long history (many tags and many users) can be described by a power law distribution, often characteristic of what are considered complex systems. We produce a generative model of collaborative tagging in order to understand the basic dynamics behind tagging, including how a power law distribution of tags could arise. We empirically examine the tagging history of sites in order to determine how this distribution arises over time and patterns prior to a stable distribution. Lastly, by focusing on the high-frequency tags of a site where the distribution of tags is a stabilized power law, we show how tag co-occurrence networks for a sample domain of tags can be used analyze the meaning of particular tags given their relationship to other tags.

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