Blog posts that get meta about blogging can be a little yucky, but I hope you’ll allow me to get a little meta. Having worked with databases for years I have come to appreciate the ability to label people or items more than one way in a database. Multiple labeling helps me find these items later and know several things about them at a glance. When blogging and other media sprouted up on the web with a tagging feature, I was intrigued. It’s especially helpful to watch multiple people contribute to a set of tags and see how different people label the same thing.
Imagine my surprise then, when I came across this paragraph in the (otherwise unreadable) foreword of Roger Schank’s (quite readable) 1990 book, Tell Me a Story; Narrative and Intelligence:
[W]hy do some people resemble an old grandfather who can only tell the same few stories over and over again? By contrast, why do other people seem to respond with a truly pertinent case?….[W]hat enables such people to respond intelligently? The answer…is that they have previously mulled over their experiences and labeled them in multiple interesting ways. From a sequence of experiences they have constructed a narrative; they have reflected on this narrative and found a number of ways in which it is significant; and in so doing, their memory has attached several labels to the story, which allow them to recall the story when another narrative suggests similar labels. Once the earlier story is recalled, these people can reflect on pertinent comparisons with the current situations. Present wisdom depends on earlier indexing. (emphasis added) (pp. xv-xvi)
In 1990, Schank described the human intelligence that computers try to mimic through systems like tagging and search. We’re built to index things, and we’re smarter when we do it and when we then employ those indexes.
The next time you’re writing a blog post and want to skip the tags, don’t do it. Think about what’s relevant or how you’ll want readers to find the information in your post and hit that tag feature. Be a friend to the hive’s intelligence. Present wisdom depends on earlier indexing.