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Towards Tag Poetry

In the world of tag metadata - folksonomies, fauxonomies, etc. - there are a few high-profile services and a million up-and-coming. Flickr photos, del.icio.us bookmarks, and Technorati blog posts all use tags to turbo-charge their useful output, increase community involvement, and simplify third party APIs. Many pieces of digital text art in the last two years have centered around the use of publicly available tagging - in particular search visualizations and generators.

In general, however, the tags tends to be a second-order supporter of digital art, not the focus. I have not yet seen a poem or a short story written entirely in tags. There are some intriguing possibilities - for example, TiddlyWiki supports tagging of individual entries in a way that might help the development of tagged wikifiction - but so far the artistic excitement and energy around tags seems to be around the infrastructure enabled by them or the data visualization techniques built on top of them, not making specific statements through them.

There are however a few examples of writing with tags, rather than above or around them. One is the header of We-Make-Money-Not-Art, which uses a tag-cloud navigation display in lieu of a subtitle, tagline, about blurb, or anything describing what the site is and what it does. The tag cloud is an organically changing navigation tool, and it is the description of the site as well. (There may be a other sites which do this, or even did it first - I’m just not familiar with them).
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to a second, more dramatic example - a recent announcement of an upcoming event on Flickr blog. The announcement was not prose, however, but instead a typical cloud tag, alphabetized, with words scaled and color-coded to show their relative importance. The date, time, event name and hosts jumped out in red, with other tags including people attending, foods and decorations, activities, and so on.

The Flickr invitation is an alphabetical list that nevertheless clearly communicates a message, and is furthermore an attractive presentation of information. It would have been even more interesting if it had used live tags rather than a mockup - although might introduce the possibility of someone or some group hacking the message. Even with total editorial control over the data, organizers might worry that a truly tagged invitation would confuse, as tags are by convention generic links - each word leading to more ‘music’ ‘food’ etc. - rather than specific links leading to more information about the event itself.

This suggests some ways in which potential tag-cloud poetry or tag-cloud fiction might be different from the scattered typographic arrangements of earlier Dada, visual, and concrete poetry that tag-clouds most resemble, or from other predominantly linked works like hypertext fiction.

  • Deep yet arbitrary order (i.e. alphabetization, frequency)
  • Weighted values (i.e. fonts size, weight, color corresponding frequency, index conjunction, etc.)
  • Artifacts of use, such as redundant language (september, September 19, tshirt, tshirts, talk, chat….) or conjunctive writing (ars_electronica, jerryyang)
  • Generic reference (massive linking to indexes, search results pages, etc. which have inevitably moved on from the time of composition)

Perhaps one of the more interesting possibilities of tag-cloud poetry is a potential disconnect between the composition process (tagging some other content) and the automatic assemblage and arrangement of the poem itself. The tag-cloud poem is not composed so much as assembled, and as such becomes a document of a particular reading process - “60 Minutes of Reading World News: a tag-cloud poem.

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