Data Strategy

June 27, 2007

Social tagging and voting was invented at Xerox PARC… 15 years ago

Filed under: Collaborative filtering, Personalization — chucklam @ 4:56 pm

It’s easy to believe that social tagging started with and social voting started with digg. However, Xerox PARC had developed such functions in a system called Tapestry more than 15 years ago. The system was described in a 1992 Communications of the ACM article. (Official ACM link here. A “publicly” available pdf version here. A slide presentation here.) From the article:

“The Tapestry system was designed and built to support collaborative filtering. Collaborative filtering simply means that people collaborate to help one another perform filtering by recording their reactions to documents they read. Such reactions may be that a document was particularly interesting (or particularly uninteresting). These reactions, more generally called annotations, can be accessed by others’ filters.” (Emphasis theirs.)

This paper, in fact, was the first to coin the term ‘collaborative filtering,’ which over the years had evolved to mean the special case of automated recommendation using implicit feedback (i.e. Amazon style). Tapestry was architected for the general case. It assumed that “some annotations are themselves complex objects, and those annotations are more simply stored as separate records with pointers back to the document they annotate.” This design would sound familiar to anyone who had implemented a “modern” social tagging and voting system. See, for example, the design of Askeet.

It’s interesting to read a paper from 15 years ago and get some historical perspective. Xerox PARC had gotten the skeleton design of Web 2.0 functions before there was Web 1.0! It’s always amusing to read things like this too:

“Filtering on incoming documents is a very computationally intensive task. Imagine a Tapestry system with hundreds of users, each with dozens of filter queries, running on a document stream of tens of documents per minute.”

Yeah… We all need to thank the electrical engineers that make Moore’s law a reality…



  1. It’s amazing to see some of the technologies that large companies create years or, in this case, decades before they become popular with the population. I’m surprised that Xerox stock isn’t worth more considering some of the super-intelligent people they have working there 😕

    Comment by ジェイソン (Jason) — January 26, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

  2. Of course, having a great idea is one thing – successfully marketing it is something completely different!

    Comment by dev — January 27, 2008 @ 1:22 am

  3. […] Social tagging and voting was invented at Xerox PARC… 15 years ago ( […]

    Pingback by alex - El ‘web 2.0′ fue inventado en 1992 — January 27, 2008 @ 5:34 am

  4. Invention seems more evolutionary than revolutionary these days.

    Comment by visualize美形 — January 27, 2008 @ 5:59 am

  5. One of the interesting historical facets of Xerox and computers is that when Xerox began to make computers for IT, IBM responded by going into the copier business. Counter-competing, if you will. Xerox couldn’t stand the heat, and left the computer business. And IBM left the copier business.

    There is more to this. Canon later took a large part of the copier business from Xerox. And Canon was a leader in small laser printers, just as IBM had been a leader in large laser printers years before.

    Comment by JFred — January 27, 2008 @ 6:52 am

  6. For an excellent history of PARC’s computer technology accomplishments read ‘Dealers of Lighting’ by Michael Hiltzik. The book not only also describes PARCs many technological breathroughs, but it examines the relationship between Xerox and PARC. Xerox exhibited courage and foresight in funding PARC to the extent it did, but always seemed unable to bring PARCs achievements to the marketplace.

    It’s a great read – I highly recommend it.

    Comment by jimp — January 28, 2008 @ 12:52 am

  7. […] Social tagging and voting was invented at Xerox PARC… 15 years ago « Data Strategy (tags: social technology history) […]

    Pingback by links for 2008-01-28 — January 28, 2008 @ 4:19 am

  8. […] interesting here is the historical road that “collaborative filtering” has taken. The term “collaborative filtering” was first coined by Xerox PARC more than 15 years ago. Researchers at PARC had a system called Tapestry. It allowed users to “collaborate to help […]

    Pingback by “Collaborative filtering” help drive Digg usage « Data Strategy — August 1, 2008 @ 3:25 am

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