Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jeff Pulver and tag tags

I attended yesterday's Breakfast with Jeff Pulver, billed as "the only breakfast with real-time social tagging". This was an attempt to apply some of the practices of electronic social networking to the face-to-face world. It is in line with my own thoughts about "tag tags" expressed in a previous post.

Jeff describes his process in a 4-minute video, and it works like this: Each person receives a "Personal Social Networking Toolkit": a baggie with 2 blank, self-adhesive name tags, one sheet of blank tiny labels (about 0.5" x 0.75"?) and a pen.

  1. On the first name tag, each person writes their name, plus a "personal tag line".

  2. On the other name tag, other people affix "tags" (which they've written on their own tiny labels) about that person that they've learned from their conversation.

In other words, in the first mode, people tag themselves; and in the second mode, they tag each other. All of these tags are what I referred to in my other post as "networking hooks". The second mode is useful -- because how people tag one another may reveal networking hooks that the original person may not have considered when tagging herself. So, as the event progresses, each person (ideally) accumulates additional tags resulting from their encounters with more people. More networking hooks (and more types of networking hooks) provide more opportunities for people to strike up conversations and to make meaningful connections. Great.

I like the idea, but it felt a bit awkward, and I noticed that some participants didn't tag anybody else. So, here is a brainstorm of ideas that Jeff or others may want to consider when doing something similar in the future.

  1. Include a clipboard in the kit. This would make it much easier (and therefore more likely) to write on the tiny labels. (And the clipboards can be returned for future use.)

  2. Do something to identify the tiny tags with their respective authors. Ideally, this would mean having people's names on all of their blank tiny tags, but it could be as simple as having all the tiny tags on each sheet indicate an identifying number. (All of my tiny tags have a 17 on them; all of yours have a 22.) This is more analogous to electronic social networks (where you can see who has created a tag or comment). Not only does it tell you who wrote each tag, but it silently encourages people to be more prolific in their tagging. ("Boy, I see #22 has done a lot of tagging.")

  3. I would have needed 4 hands to really take advantage of the breakfast. As anyone who's been to a buffet reception knows, it's hard enough to juggle a cup of coffee and plate of danish while talking to somebody. Add to that using a pen to write on a label. It can't all be done at the same time. I opted to keep my pen ready and got really hungry. Others ate a nice breakfast, but weren't doing any tagging. I think an ideal environment would have a number of standing-height tables. Then, as people walk around, they can more easily put down their coffee to write a tag.

  4. Finally, I'd love to see this idea applied to a speed networking scenario. You know, the kind of event where you have 2 minutes to exchange business cards and talk to another person; then move on to the next person for 2 minutes; and so on. Imagine also encouraging people to tag their partner before moving to the next one. Not only would this add useful networking hooks, it would encourage people to listen to one another in a particularly purposeful way.

I believe (as does Jeff and many others) that tagging can be a useful practice in certain face-to-face situations. How else can this concept be applied?

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