The Ethics of Tag Clouds

Joshua Porter has a thoughtful piece about the ethics of tag clouds (and other ways of showing the aggregated choices of participants in a social software environment). He’s referring to a piece of research done by Duncan Watts last year, looking at the download choices of people in “independent” environments where people couldn’t see what the most frequently downloaded songs were, compared to “social” environments where people could see how many times any given song had been downloaded. Watts concluded:

“In all the social-influence worlds, the most popular songs were much more popular (and the least popular songs were less popular) than in the independent condition.”

Joshua follows up by looking at the potential for manipulation by using aggregate displays to influence choices: “But taking it even further we get into ethical territory. This was made plain to me by a question that someone asked me the other day after we were discussing Watts’ study. They asked: “If people respond to aggregate displays, and change their behavior accordingly as they’ve done in Watts’ study, aren’t those people also in a position to be manipulated?” ”

Taxonomists who are trying to influence taggers towards greater consistency might take advantage of this: I blogged back in July about a combined controlled vocabulary-folksonomy project where agregate displays could in theory be weighted to influence users towards the approved taxonomy terms – is this unethical? Do aggregate displays such as tag clouds have to be strictly weighted towards actual frequency of use? Is greater consistency and findability of content sufficient cause to weight aggregate displays in this manner?

0 Comment so far

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.

Comment Guidelines: Basic XHTML is allowed (<strong>, <em>, <a>) Line breaks and paragraphs are automatically generated. URLs are automatically converted into links.