Framavox
August 16th, 2019 12:51

Community-editable tags and searchability

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Hey all!

The following idea is rather long-term, but worth thinking about right now, as it addresses some of the issues of the entire internet right now. Let me know what you think, and feel free to point out potential issues/better systems.

As the amount of online content increases, it becomes ever-harder to find all content that suits a particular topic. Although searching based on the title or content of a post helps, it is usually necessary to rank them based on "relevancy" (a.k.a. some black-box algorithm). No matter the search algorithm, this inevitably leads to some blogs becoming very findable and others being buried in the dust -- or not showing up at all, because they don't have that particular keyword in the title or content, despite covering the subject. It is a biased system that favours popular wording over actual content. Furthermore, it fosters a competitive environment where the titles must hit the right keys to rank high by the algorithm (and this can lead to clickbait, as we have seen many times before).

Of course, the solution to this is not to search by title, but by something neutral: tags. They don't have to show up in the title, but still provide a convenient method of finding content. There's already a nice mechanism in place for tags in Plume (and the rest of the Fediverse), but there's one problem: nobody uses them!

This has to do with two things: managing tags is cumbersome, and people can find your content by a title search anyway. But, as I have said, title or content searches leads to problems.

When it comes to tag management, it's quite hard to know what tag to use. Should I use the tag "politics", or "political", or perhaps "policy"? Someone talking about elections may forget to add the tag "politics" altogether, and will likely not use the word in the title or content either. Some people mistype their tags. Many people won't even bother to add tags to their content at all. This makes their post hard to find for people searching for the tag "politics". Managing tags is very annoying. You need to add so many tags to cover all subjects. And even then it might not be complete.

Still, I think that tags are a good solution to the problem with title and content-based searches. However, this requires some features to be added to Plume. Why not make tagging content a community project? Writers can add their initial tags to their content, and readers can add (or remove?) tags to increase tag coverage. This way, if anyone overlooks adding a tag, the community can add it quite easily.

Another feature to add would be a standard tag repository that the community can expand, so that we won't get a mix of similar-sounding tags such as ""politics" and "political" (perhaps make them synonymous for the search system). When adding tags to your blog post, this system could suggest the best fitting standard tag to use while typing. This could possibly be done on the instance-level (one repository per instance), or a global system (one repository for all instances). Either have advantages or disadvantages. In any case, a standard tag repository will make posts much more findable. Of course, custom tags could still be supported in case any quick new trend arises.

Both of these additions (community-editable tags and a tag database) would make it much easier for users to find content, but it'll also make it much easier for users to filter content they don't want to see based on their tags (care must be taken that this doesn't lead to echo-chambering or a filter-bubble, though. This can be done by making the standard tags as politically-neutral as possible).

I know that this is a rather big subject to tackle in terms of design, but I think properly functioning tags are essential for an unbiased federated universe where everyone gets an equal chance at having their content be seen --- and so we're not dependent on ever-changing and biased search relevancy algorithms trapping us in a filter bubble. I'd love to hear your opinions and constructive criticisms on these ideas.

What do you guys think?

Ana Gelez

Ana Gelez September 7th, 2019 14:51

Hi! Sorry for the long delay, but the notification ended in my spam folder…

I like the idea that readers can suggest edits to an article in general, without even limiting it to tags (for instance if you spot a typo, or something like that, you could suggest it to the author, that could then approve or reject it).

For the "tag database" thing, I also like the idea, it would help to keep tags uniforms, and would allow to filter content very precisely (either by removing these articles from your timelines, or adding a warning before reading them). However, I wonder if it really is a good idea to force people to use specific tags? I don't know if there is a way to implement it so that every articles are both correctly tagged, and that writers don't feel limited or constrained by this system… (allowing custom tags as you suggested is a good first step).

So, I personally quite like the idea, but as you said it is a long-term project, even if everyone else agrees it is a good feature, we won't implement it immediately. Anyway, thanks for the suggestion!