Tag Archives: tagging

Tag your tasks – Eliminate Static Hierarchy

Last year I wrote a post called “Microsoft Project doesn’t work“.  The headline is a bit sensational, but the sentiment is something I am going to explore further in this post.

Project management tools usually require the entry of tasks and all their accompanying data via hierarchies.  A group of tasks are made a subset of a parent task, which fits within a project, etc….  The end result is a single view hierarchy for a scope of work.

The problem with static hierarchies is that they are just one view of a complex world.  Another person in the exact same job as you, might see the structure/relationships differently.  Yet another person in a completely different role from you will almost definitely create different groupings and sub-structures for the tasks.  Over time, even YOU are likely to believe the task relationships aren’t quite right due to new information about the world changing around that structure.

Despite most project members’ mild buy-in to the initial work breakdown structure and despite the fact that almost all project plans become rapidly irrelevant, they are still the favored structure for project managers.

What if rather than grouping tasks and building a hierarchy, tasks are just tagged with keywords?   There are relatively sophisticated tools now for building views on top of those tags to show the work plan in the way that makes most sense to the viewer.  There could also be filters to take out extraneous (to that person) information and simple hyperlinks to view related sets of tasks.

There would still need to be dependencies between tasks, but those related tasks could be initially found through keyword searches and links could be established via collaborative project start-up sessions.  With dependencies established, individualized views could allow software to display specific gantt charts.

Avoiding the static hierarchy means one less artifact pinning down the original plan thereby giving more opportunity for the plan to stay ahead of the reality taking shape around it over time.

Does anyone know of any project management tools out there that work more like this?  I have not found them yet.

Twitter as CMS meta-tagger

That title was a pretty big mouthful so before we get started let’s define the terms:

  • Twitter – The primary micro-streaming network.  You type any 140 chars.  They are received by anyone subscribed to your stream.  
  • CMS – Content Management System.  The way (tools/process/people) that organizations collect/manage all their content
  • Meta-tagging – a way to describe pieces of content.  “Meta” because it is content about content

OK, so starting from that foundation, what’s the big idea?  One of the toughest challenges with any CMS is getting people to put stuff into it.  If you have found a way to get over that hurdle, you may have been stymied by how to get people to spend time classifying their contributions so that others can find them.  People just don’t want to spend the time.  Their head is ready to get onto the next item on the to-do list.  

But, Twitter came along and all of a sudden people have a way to promote their content and that of others.  Links are flying around all over the place and people are deriving great use from that sharing.  Unfortunately, if you didn’t catch something in someone’s stream it is usually gone.

Here are two ways that Twitter can be of value to an organization’s content management.  They both rely on the premise that many tweets contain links to more complex content items: documents, videos, etc…

  1. It is a good way to find content that should be in your CMS.  If your people are tweeting (or whatever micro-stream network) about something a lot, someone should make sure it is easily accessible to all in the organization (possibly through your CMS)
  2. The 120 chars or so used to describe why people should visit a certain link is in essence meta-tagging. If an organization could capture those words from all the people who are tweeting that content item, they would have a great auto meta-tagging tool.

Twitter is a great way to connect tacit and explicit knowledge through people’s sharing.  Many people describe Twitter activity as a stream that we can dip into when we have time and shouldn’t worry about when we don’t.  I think that use is not realizing Twitter’s full potential.  We should have tools that are watching Twitter streams even when we aren’t and connecting us to the right content when we need it.

Seen any tools that are moving in this direction?  If you notice http://bit.ly is tracking all the places where a short-URL has been posted: Twitter, Fbook, etc…   That is certainly a start.

Social Tagging

Social bookmarking (eg. Del.icio.us) is one example of social tagging. IBM’s internal Fringe application (also called Bluepages+1) is another example that goes beyond social bookmarking to tag people rather than web pages. In this author’s opinion social tagging is the most valuable feature of a corporate whitepages.

Social tagging is merely the ability for multiple people to describe a single object with free-form words. It is far superior to author/creator tagging because it allows those who are making use of the item to be the ones who are describing it. Thus, the descriptors are likely to match the way that the target audience perceives the item and its value.

A pretty academic discussion of social tagging is available from a British journal called Ariadne or the more colloquial version is available from Wikipedia under the topic “Folksonomy”.

I will leave the discussion of free-form tagging vs. structured hierarchical taxonomies to another post, but having created structured taxonomies for multiple businesses in the past, I know there are many difficulties/drawbacks to doing so. Tagging is much more organic and scalable though it does have some drawbacks.

One of the most difficult elements of creator only tagging is that the incentive to tag is purely altruistic (good of the firm) or recognition based (I want people to find this so they know I am the expert). Social tagging introduces an additional incentive. In tagging something/someone, I am creating a breadcrumb back to that item. At any time I can recall the items I have tagged with a particular word. Also, not only am I creating a better sense of the item I am tagging, but my tagging act is helping to describe me. A view of my tagging words helps to understand me in the same way that perusing the bookshelf in my home would.

Even the number of tags on an item tells us something about that item. An item with more tags may be more popular. We have to be careful with this until social tagging is mainstream because there will be a skew towards the naval gazing of web2.0 type topics.

As with anything the social tagging user interface is ever important. If it is cumbersome to enter tags, users will not do so. The Fringe example from above was ideal because one generally looked up another user for their phone number and then while you were chatting to them could multi-task to attach some tags to them about the topic being discussed.

One of the most important factors in social tagging is the long tail. While many people will not social tag, there will be enough people in the long tail who derive personal and altruistic value from the act of tagging that they will tag a large portion of the items in order that the masses can better search.