Presently I’m taking a rather geeky course at Coursera called Metadata: Organizing and Discovering collections.

With any course on this topic, there is a lot of information that seems fairly obvious with a smattering of other technical information that screams, “Why do I need to know this?”.  (Because it is hyper detailed and particular to a very small subset of Librarian scientist.)

One of the sections of Unit 1 discusses controlled and uncontrolled vocabularies.  This is something I have been dealing with on both a professional and personal basis for some time.  It is something we discussed at length when we rebuilt our website at work since the backbone that drives the hierarchical organization is build entirely on taxonomy.  In our case at work, it is a controlled vocabulary. Each time we tag an article, it targets to a very specific section (or more than one section) of our website.

In the case of Twitter, and it is even worse on Instagram, you have a plethora of folksonomy.  That is, tags that people add to their own posts.

Sometimes people try to be cute about it and tag something that is more a state of mind than a real tag.  So they might use a hashtag like #lifesuckswhenyouaremarried.  Well it certainly gets their point of view across, but how viral is it?  If you click on a hashtag like that, you are likely to get no other posts other than your own. If your point is to vent, then it doesn’t matter. The other phenomenom is posting irrelevant tags just to drive traffic.  This is more frustrating than anything else.  For example, this post is tags with the keyword #hashtags because the post is about metadata.  However not everyone on Tumblr tags their post correctly.  Here are other posts tagged with the word #hashtag. Obviously, this is not a useful tag because there is so much noise in the data, it renders the tag useless.

If your purpose is to add value to the greater twitterverse or webstagram universe, promote your business, then you should think carefully about your hashtags, and treat those tags with the same importance as the actual post.  Do a little preliminary research and figure out if the tag want to use has some relevance, is it ‘noisy’, are their synonyms used more often.

Some corporations go as far as studying the top 100 hashtags of their competitors and then go on to incorporate them into their own posts. This is a good strategy because it brings attention to what you have to say into a conversation that someone else is already having.

Hashtags show you the point of view a person has.  It is often quite subtle but the choice of tag often says a lot about the person. A stark example is #obamacare vs. #affordablecareact.  It communicates a lot of information about the poster’s point of view.  This is something to consider when posting about any topics that may or may not be controversial.

If you have interest in this kind of metadata, check out the use of hashtags on tumblr.  Instagram has a different set of top 100 tags which informative about its userbase.  One site, is tracking many social media sites in real time. It’s a good place to start if you are a marketer. Finally, if you run across a tag you aren’t familiar with, you an always look it up at

There is no authoritative resource of what is the right or wrong tag to use.  But there are smart practices and there are goals. Once you are clear on the purpose of your tags (or perhaps you have no purpose), then you can begin to hash away.  Cheers.