During the AlwaysOn Summit being held here this week, technology entrepreneurs and executives repeatedly turned to the topic of tags as an example of the collective power of individual users—or, as conference organizers put it in their theme for the year, "The giant brain is us."
Pluck Corp., a startup best known for RSS aggregation, used the conference to publicly unveil its move into tagging with a service called Shadows. Shadows combines the ability of users to save and associate tags to Web pages with the ability to search personal and aggregated keyword tags.
Meanwhile, in onstage presentations and hallway chatter, the role of tags in such online services as del.icio.us, Weblog search engine Technorati Inc. and photo-sharing site Flickr was repeatedly stressed.
Through tags, users can associate keyword metadata with Web information, such as a Web page or site, a digital photo or other media.
Those tags can then serve as an alternative to traditional bookmarks for individuals, be shared among users to form communities of interests, or be aggregated to discover trends.
Even enterprises are turning more attention to the potential of tags as a way to connect knowledge from internal experts with colleagues and customers, said Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technologies at IBM, during an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News.
"Enterprises are expressing interest, but theyre not yet ready to deploy something," Smith said. "Theyre looking at how their experts could use tags for themselves and for their partners."
AlwaysOn opened on Tuesday evening with a presentation in which a Technorati executive hailed the rapid rise of tags. San Francisco-based Technorati began supporting tags about six months ago, and in that time 20 million people have added tags, said Peter Hirshberg, a board member and exec vice president of Technorati.
For Pluck, the tags from its Shadows community act like an alternative index of Web sites, or their "alter ego," said Pluck founder and CEO Dave Panos. Along with keywords, users also can add longer comments about a Web page or site and can rate pages on a numerical scale.
"Plucks product line has been focused on individuals personal information management," Panos said. "We saw an opportunity to turn that on its head and take more of a community approach and do it from a search angle."
Plucks main application is a plug-in to the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers for aggregating and reading syndication feeds.
Other tagging services, such as tag pioneer del.icio.us and LookSmart Ltd.s Furl, are built on user-built tags associated with Web pages. Furl and Technorati, for example, also provide features for conducting keyword searches of tags to find Web pages and drill into tags from like-minded users.
Major Internet companies also are beginning to gravitate toward tags. Yahoo Inc. last month launched a beta service called My Web 2.0 that is built upon users storing and searching tagged Web pages.
Panos said Pluck is focusing more directly on search, though. Technorati, for example, draws its tags not only from users generating them on services such as Flickr or Furl, but also directly from blog publishers who insert tags into their posts.
"Were not trying to replace Google, but this is an alternative mechanism of searching your stuff and what [other] people have filtered out as being applicable," Panos said.
Plucks Shadows service first went live as a beta test about two weeks ago, and Panos said he expects it remain at the beta-testing stage for the foreseeable future as features are added and refined.