Give me back my tags: portable attention data

Locked up tagsHaving recently moved and been caught up in a silly broadband snafu, I spent a couple of weeks without regular Internet access: the previous entry on this blog was composed in the local pub, which offers free wi-fi along with a pint of Youngs bitter. This interrupted form of net access is fine for keeping up with important emails or news on the web. What I missed, though, was the tag radio streams that I’ve built up over the last six months (in fact I missed them more than my CD and LP collection that I still haven’t been able to unpack for other reasons).
Throughout this disturbance I had continuous access to my iTunes library (3,000 tracks — large by some standards, modest by others). Many of the artists and tracks in the library are ones I’ve tagged on, but I don’t have access to those tags from within iTunes or without Internet access.
What I really wanted to do was apply my tags to the relevant entries in my iTunes library. And my MyStrands tags, while I’m about it. In fact I started tagging with MyStrands first. My tags are still there, but I rarely (if ever) add to them these days, as I realised I was very constrained in getting value out of them. But I tag a lot on I find it a great way of gradually expanding the penumbra of music that I know a bit about, but don’t know very well. Firstly, it can be like listening to the radio and using tags to mark the songs you want to come back to, or include in a playlist. Secondly, if I read a review or a story about a band that sounds interesting, I tag them for checking out later.

So far, then, I’ve applied 91 tags over 1,400 times to artists, albums and tracks — see all my tags. That’s quite a lot of work. However, it pales next to my Flickr tags or the keywords I’ve added to 2600+ web pages on Furl.
To take the last of these as an example, I made the decision to use Furl over two and a half years ago. The alternative I considered at the time was, though many more similar services have come onto the market in the meantime — while Furl hasn’t changed much — and I hear good things about ma.gnolia. Furl will actually allow me to export my list of saved web pages, but there is no way simply to import this to another service will all the saved pages and other metadata intact. So, as long as the difference between Furl and the current best service available is only moderate, I’ll stick with Furl. And the longer I stick with them, the bigger the difference has to be before I switch away from them. What’s the incentive for Furl to make it easier for me to switch? Not much of one, surely. But one day they may have a lot of grizzled and disgruntled users who press them for more interchangeable metadata.
Last year I came across a quote from Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, which indicated that his company does not want to be evil on this issue: “The more we can… let users move their data around, never trap the data of an end user, let them move it if they don’t like us, the better.”
Will the likes of, Flickr and Furl follow suit, and, if so, when?
Via Paul Lamere’s blog I found out about the AttentionTrust and Attention Profiling Mark-up Language. The technical details of these are beyond me, but the idea seems to be to create a standard format for the data that describes where and how I direct my attention: the sites I visit, the people I email, plus the tags I add, and even the history of tracks I listen to on my computer? Then to give control over this data to me, rather than to, Flickr, Furl or their competitors, so that I can switch between services without having to start all that tagging work from scratch.
In the meantime, I’ll continue tagging artists and tracks on because I get a short-term pay-off from this, as well as the long-term benefit of building up my own classification library. However, I’ll do so warily, and any service that offers me the scope to export my tag data in a format that might be usable elsewhere will attract me as an early adopter.
Padlock image © copyright Leo Reynolds and licensed under Creative Commons.

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