Physical tags: an experiment worth trying

How often have you been at a mixer, conference, or social event and thought, “I know the type of people I want to meet. Where are they?”

The search for relevant people is woefully inefficient. It is essentially random; it takes several minutes for two people to cycle through social graces, backgrounds, interests, and eventually mutual needs. In a place driven to match the world’s best minds and solve inefficiencies, the most common solution to this significant problem is a plain white nametag with name/title/company.

We can do better. I wish conference organizers would offer physical tags that let participants self-describe their haves (background, skills, interests) and needs (job openings, funding requirements, partnerships). The tags could be graphical, text, and color-coded to quickly convey information. Most importantly, the tags would not be mutually exclusive; people would be encouraged to use multiple tags to convey granularity. This recognizes that no one tag can convey all potentially useful information to a room of diverse people. For instance:

Role – graphic – color
Founder – light bulb – yellow
Executive – tie – white
Software engineer – code – blue
Hardware engineer – wrench – red
Product manager – conductor – purple
Investor – dollar sign – green (of course)
Business development – handshake – brown (of course)

Need software engineer – code with question mark – blue with dots (“holes”)
Need investor – dollar sign with q-mark – green with dots

Blogger – megaphone – orange
Staff – smiley – pink

(Right now, I’d wear three tags: purple, yellow, and blue with dots.)

The type and detail of the tag taxonomy could of course change for different events. A web 2.0 conference could let participants self-tag by web application; e.g. ‘social network’, ‘newsreader’, ‘video aggregator’ (thus helping investors know who to avoid). 😉 Even non-professional events like meetups and speed dating could benefit from physical tags. Wouldn’t you want to know if that certain someone is single, straight, and likes tennis?

If anyone is organizing a social event and wants help setting up a physical tag experiment, email me at

P.S. Did I mention I am hiring? 🙂

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