Facebook has just introduced the latest feature in its ongoing evolution to blur the lines between social networking and search engine- tags. The new '@' tags allow users to tag other users in posts and integrates a whole new realm of search capabilities.
Facebook already allowed users to tag photos to identify other Facebook contacts. Photos is using the term loosely. The reality is that you can tag any image just by pointing to a spot on in the image and then identifying which contact that spot should be linked to. This type of image tagging has led to all kinds of fun (as well as possible malware compromise).
The new tagging is in posts or status updates, though, rather than images. For example, if I write a post about going to my best friend's wedding, I can tag the post with my best friend's name. The tag will make it easy for other users who read my post to be able to link to and view all other status posts related to my friend no matter who wrote the posts. Its sort of like an instant search function with the tagged friend being the search term.
The new tagging is actually borrowed from Twitter, a rival social network. Twitter users use the '@' symbol followed by the name of other Twitter users as a means of tagging the user and providing a link to that user's profile. In terms of social networking it helps to extend the network of contacts and allow people to easily find and link with even more like-minded individuals.
Twitter users also use another form of tagging called hash tags. As the name implies, hash tags use a hash (#) symbol rather than the @ symbol. Where @ tags are used to identify other users, hash tags are used to identify keywords and help to index the message so others can find it.
For example, I might tweet "I can't believe he just did that on live TV" and add "#Kanye" to the end. The message itself, while it is about Kanye West's outburst during Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards, doesn't say specifically who it is about. The Twitter search index would not identify this message in a search for posts related to Kanye West, but adding the hash tag associates it with that keyword.
All of the tagging essentially boils down to delivering relevant, real-time search capabilities. The ability to interconnect and expand the network of influence is nice as well, but the grand prize for all of the tagging is the ability to quickly and easily index information as it is entered and provide a priceless wealth of searchable information in real time.
Facebook is continuing to innovate and explore new ways to leverage the vast network of users it has amassed. Blurring the line between social network, microblog, and search engine makes sense in the evolution of Web 2.0 and Facebook seems to be making progress delivering features and functions that attract and retain users.
Facebook could still learn a thing or two about how to develop user-friendly terms of service from Twitter though.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.