I’m Alexandra Samuel. I run Dialogue Networks, a consulting practice that specializes in online dialogue and public engagement. This work has spurred my tagging explorations in a few ways. It began as a practical challenge of managing bookmaks across multiple machines and platforms. But it didn’t take long to jump from personal value to collaborative value, and from there to see tagging in the context of my explorations in what I call “found” engagement.

For a number of years I’ve been working in the field of formal or structured public engagement online, like online government policy consultations, and in the area of spontaneous engagement, like hacktivism (the phenomenon of political computer hacking — and the subject of my dissertation). I sometimes refer to hacktivism as “engagement without being invited”, because I think it’s crucial that we start breaking down these conceptual and practical walls between bottom-up activism and top-down policy-making. Governments spend a lot of time thinking about how to get citizens to re-engage in politics, vote, and/or provide input into policy decisions — when in fact citizens are expressing their views and policy preferences all the time in all sorts of ways. But a lot of these ways are either chaotic (street protests) or hidden (dinner table political debates).

The Internet brings a lot of these previously hidden conversations out into the semi-open — for example with blogs, newsgroups and chat rooms. So what we’re left with is the chaos: millions of voices and comments all battling for our attention. How can governments start to sort through this chaos to find out what citizens want? How can non-profits sift through for the input and goals of their members?

I’ve been grappling with this challenge via explorations into blog-based consultation and structured aggregation. Tagging is emerging as a crucial element in this toolbox because it provides a way for people to be a little more explicit or intentional about where they want their comments to end up. For example I don’t think we’re quite at the stage when tagging a blog post with the tag will catch the eye of federal and provincial officals charged with consulting the public on democratic renewal strategies, but it should soon. (And you guessed it, I’m posting from exotic Canada, where democratic renewal is a hot topic these days.)

As part of my ongoing work on blog-based engagement (including tag-enabled blog monitoring — a technique that should be in the toolbox of any public relations team) I continue to write and explore various tagging techniques and tools. Here are a few recent posts on the subject: