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Naming is Power, or, Tagging Makes Some Folks More Equal than Others

When I first wrote about folksonomies for retailers in the January issue of Multichannel Merchant, you still had to look pretty hard to find them: even Amazon, the site the article used for its primary example, buried its tagging feature well below the fold amidst the clutter of many more familiar ways to shop.

But just a few weeks later, my personal tag cloud features prominently on the recommendations page Amazon offers me each time I return. This becomes especially interesting as you think about Amazon less as a retailer and more of a mall. When I choose a tag for a product, how does my naming convention jibe with that of other users--and with the names chosen by the various retailers who compete to win the buy box for a given product on Amazon?

Whether you learn it from Bob Dylan or Genesis 2:20, that there's power in naming things has been acknowledged from the very beginning. With some very large online folksonomies soon to launch, the folks who tag early get to define the game for those that follow soon after. If I sell size 8.5" blue-striped widgets, and I’m the first to use the tag “widget” I claim a powerful findability label for my very specific merchandise.

Say I'm a consumer electronics retailer with a large selection of 1080p TVs. If I'm an early mover in a folksonomy, I'd tag all these sets not only as "1080p" and "HDTV", but also with the more colloquial "flat-panel" and "big screen TV" and maybe even plain old "TV." The upshot is I get to create an equivalence in the user's mind between TV and the TVs I sell. In this folksonomy, some retailers are now more equal than others.

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