Tagging: Keeping Tabs On The Net

Mark Ghuneim, the founder and chief executive of New York City-based Wiredset Digital Agency, started using the Web site del.icio.us a year ago. He took advantage of its free technology to slap "tags," or labels, on interesting online articles or Web sites. That made it a breeze to go back and find everything he had tagged under "mashup" or "Live8."

Then it dawned on him. Del.icio.us could be extremely useful for his business. Wiredset helps entertainment companies develop their digital strategies. By following the tags for a band, Ghuneim could let a record company know the level of buzz after a radio interview or live performance. He could find chatter about budding artists. Essentially, del.icio.us would allow him to listen in on the conversations on the Net that he cared about, minute by minute. He's now obsessed. "There are amazingly few tools I care about on the Web, and this is one of them," Ghuneim says.

The power of del.icio.us stems from the clicking keyboards of its many members. The service was a homegrown project created in late 2003 by Joshua Schachter, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, to track and share bookmarks. As the system took off, Schachter quit his job and raised venture funding. Now, 200,000 subscribers busily label online articles, blog postings, and more. They use tags like "katrina," often adding comments such as "Pictures of before and after. Very good." The process creates a mountain of information subscribers can explore.

Now, companies are figuring out ways to take advantage of this phenomenon. As they tag, subscribers end up collectively highlighting changing trends and raging discussions all available at the del.icio.us site. Increasingly, innovative advertisers and other companies are trying to make sense of these discussions. "The conversation we're having with clients is, 'How do you stay on top of tagging? Because you need to, and it can be hugely beneficial,"' says Dan Buczaczer, a vice-president at ad firm Starcom Media Vest Group.

Wiredset is on the leading edge. It's developing a service for record labels that pulls together a variety of online data -- sales on Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN ), number of blog posts, tags on del.icio.us. The idea? Allow labels to see, in real time, the impact of their marketing. If Sony BMG Music Entertainment releases an MP3 from the band Franz Ferdinand on MySpace, it can track the buzz. Or watch how an MTV video affects Amazon sales. As a test, Wiredset is tracking the tags of a London band, Bloc Party. Wiredset follows the chatter around the band's new album to pinpoint influential online players. "It's good to find and establish relationships we might not know about," says Adam Shore, a general manager at Vice Records, Bloc Party's label.

Del.icio.us is getting put to work in other ways. When marketing agency MarCom:Interactive holds seminars, it now creates resource pages with tags to blogs, Web sites, and research presented in the seminar. Afterwards, MarCom and its clients can add more links, keeping the discussion going. Corporations are just discovering tagging. But with its growing popularity, the mountain of tags to explore keeps rising ever higher.

By Heather Green in New York

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