Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Long Tail of Ann Coulter

Here is are two charts showing the distribution of customer tags on Amazon.com for Ann Coulter's Godless: The Church of Liberalism. The first shows tags 1-25; the second all 881 tags.




The distribution is not too far from the classic "long tail" pattern common to social data. Although the common tags are common, fully 75% of the tags are used only once.

It's an even better example of another characteristic of social data, that "user generated content" is all about context, not just object. LibraryThing members and Amazon customers are tagging the same book. But while, on LibraryThing, where you have to have a book to tag it, Godless has a fairly unremarkable tag cloud, touching on its subject matter and point of view, on Amazon, the tagging has devolved into a shouting match. I don't think the people who tagged the book "asshat," "vomit" or "w h o r e" are using tagging as a memory aid ("I forget—what books did I think are 'asshat' anyway?"). They're using tagging as a sort of drive-by review.

Now, a case can be made that Amazon's tags are signaling something important—this is a "controversial" book indeed! The LibraryThing tag cloud doesn't show that as starkly. On balance, however, I think opinion tags corrupt the value of tagging. 

Either way, I think this example demonstrates that tagging isn't a simple matter of putting users in front of taggable stuff.

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15 Comments:

Blogger Melinda said...

I was sharing this post with my colleagues, and showing the tags in Library Thing for Godless when I was asked if the tags could be listed by number of tags, as opposed to an alphabetical tag cloud... and I realized I didn't know - but didn't see an option to re-organize the tag cloud in that way...

5/07/2008 2:15 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

At present, no. Good idea, thought.

T

5/07/2008 2:40 PM  
OpenID undeadgoat said...

Mostly I find it hilarious how many people have tagged it "horsecrap" and how many people have called it "the truth" in order to counteract the people who tagged it "propaganda" or "lies".

5/07/2008 3:04 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Yeah, there's a definite "get-a-life" element here.

5/07/2008 3:10 PM  
Blogger Casey Durfee said...

My favorite example of "protest tagging" is on Jonah Goldberg's book _Liberal Fascism_:

http://www.amazon.com/Liberal-Fascism-American-Mussolini-Politics/dp/tags-on-product/0385511841/ref=tag_dpp_cust_edpp_sa

They include such tags as "ein volk ein reich ein bag von cheetos", "doughy pantload", "makes ann coulter seem sane" and "banged out by howler monkeys".

5/07/2008 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Stephmmo said...

I find "Chris Daughtry" the most perplexing...

5/07/2008 8:22 PM  
Blogger Dystopos said...

Correction, on LibraryThing you could pretend to own it.

More likely, I would think, you could pretend not to.

5/08/2008 6:45 PM  
Blogger K.G. Schneider said...

Very interesting, Tim, for many reasons. No doubt as we discuss this some ambitious academic is preparing to defend a PhD about tagging.

5/10/2008 8:16 AM  
Anonymous d@vid said...

I was going to respond about the usefulness of the tag asshat, but then I noticed that I've used it only once on LT. (For I book I own but haven't read yet.)

And *then* I noticed that the tag asshat has been used only once on the whole of LT.

...

So I guess that's not significant enough to be one of the tags you keep in LibraryThing for Libraries? :)

5/10/2008 1:06 PM  
Blogger szarka said...

Interesting observation, Time. But I'm tempted to conclude that the real difference is in the sort of users the two sites attract... ;)

5/10/2008 11:26 PM  
Anonymous mel said...

Similar thought: sampling bias inherent in amazon demographic vs. LT demographic. It seems we're much more serious as a group about our books and about posting coherent, relevent reviews and tags. Or maybe it's just a new use of tags as flames, courtesy of internet anonymity.

5/13/2008 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Come on, you may as well be using google hits as a way to confirm your opinion of Ann Coulter.

Look no further than the Democrat Underground or DailyKos to find that the internet is overpopulated by young and old, liberal leaning folk that view interent ruckus as a form of activism. Which is your whole point with this article isn't it?

Its the same reason that online political polls are so skewed.

6/08/2008 12:25 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Whoever you are, are you unable to read things without your bias?

I don't fricking CARE about Ms. Coulter! I am not making a point about her. I'm making a point about tagging, and how it works in different systems.

6/08/2008 2:50 AM  
Blogger prosfilaes said...

It's interesting that the tags I use have a long tail also. On one hand, sometimes there are connections--I put in Black Orchids recently, and used the tag chimpanzees, and later discovered it wasn't the first book so tagged. On the other, sometimes it says things to other users and possibly myself later. On a tail, it reminds me that I need to figure out some subgenre tagging system for science fiction, as just pounding out tags fails to produce a useful set of tags.

As for Ann Coulter, we have two fairly mild but shallow reviews on the book. Some of the reviews at Amazon are much more heated, but there's also quite a few deep insightful reviews. Part of that is an element of size, but I also think that heat also helps produce some fire.

6/21/2008 6:18 PM  
Blogger JNagarya said...

"Anonymous said...

"Look no further than the Democrat[*] Underground or DailyKos to find that the internet is overpopulated by young and old, liberal leaning folk that view interent ruckus as a form of activism."

_____

*The proper term is DemocratIC". It is disrespectful -- rude -- to call others differntly than they require.
_____

As for the majority of people being liberal, therefore the majority online being liberals -- "overpopulation"!? -- that reality is only news for non-liberals.

Otherwise, I view Tags as an extension of topic categories. As example: should one tag as "philosophy" something which is claimed by its proponents to be a philosophy but which lacks the qualifications to be a philosophy?

6/29/2008 9:59 PM  

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