Who is John Dvorak?

Link: Opinion Column by PC Magazine: To Tag or Not to Tag, That Is the Question.

Dvorak just panned tagging over at PC Magazine.  Remember PC Magazine?  During the mid 90's, it was like an encyclopedia, or more fittingly a bible.  It was the crown jewel of the Ziff Davis tech publishing empire...  an empire whose fall has seriously cratered the LBO fund who bought it and then threw lots more money in it. 

Well, today, the latest news on PCM is that it cut its guaranteed circulation numbers nearly in half over the last year and the magazine isn't nearly has thick as it used to be.  Frankly, I'm not surprised.  Word of mouth, especially in tech, has become so inexpensive and efficient, I'm not quite sure why I'd pay to read an "experts" opinion, when you've got 10 million bloggers out there already consuming products and writing about their personal experiences with them.  I'd bet that most of the 700,000 paid PCM subscriptions are dentists offices.  People seem to like reading about which PC to buy when they're waiting to get a root canal.

Anyway, so here comes Dvorak writing in PCM and he's ripping apart tagging.  (Thanks to Anil for the link.)  Now, instead of bashing this guy, I'll use a lesson that Brad taught me:  Try to understand why a seemlingly smart guy thinks the way he does before you bash him.   Ok, so here's the summary:

"So far, tags have not even gotten popular enough to reach the stage of
vandalism and spam. That they've attracted so little attention does not
bode well for them"

So John thinks that if the masses haven't broken something yet, it isn't popular.  I guess he never looks up anything on Wikipedia either.  Frankly, I think its possible to build a system in a way that only incentivizes people to contribute something useful and meaningful.  You know, "spam" isn't the only garbage content people will create for monetary purposes.  I mean, for example, hypothetically, do you think there is more monetary incentive to write ANOTHER "tagging is great, bloggers are great" article, or a potentially congtroversal "tagging sucks and bloggers are brain-dead" article to buoy a dying magazine?

"The "folksonomy" notion is the bloggers' last hope of invention...   ...doomed to failure. The utopianism and idealism that
exist in the online societies ignore the real problem with tags,
metatags, übertags, folksonomies, and the like...   ...they
honestly think that most people are goodhearted. The online world,
because of its anonymity, encourages bad behavior. "You suck!" is a
common post, and it would be the number-one tag if tagging ever became
popular."

Actually, John, two of the most popular del.icio.us tags for your article are "idiot" and "ignorance" so maybe tagging is more popular than you thought.  Is that spam or is that just the voice of the people?

"Apparently it's lost on all of them that the term "tagging," in popular
parlance, refers to the worst form of public graffiti. These people
don't get out much, it seems."

Yes, and all phrases only have one and only one meaning.  Tagging, those idiots, means graffiti (and of course, all graffiti is bad, right, and never art...  who doesn't get out much?)  So scientists, stop using the word tagging for tracking endangered species.  Don't you know that words means graffiti?  Oh, little kids, too.  You can't play "tag" anymore.  Didn't your parents ever tell you that means graffiti?  Jeez...

So, basically, from reading the article, it seems that Dvorak's argument against tagging is that the public is evil and can't be trusted to catagorize their own world.  So, instead of intelligently designing systems to draw out the best in people, we shouldn't even try to leverage off of social networks and self organizing systems, b/c of the 1% who'll just wind up messing it all up.  We're not smart enough to do that, nor are we smart enough to deal with the 1%.  Perhaps all John needs is a good spam filter or did he not realize the spam war is over.