Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Playing Tag Is Good for You!

Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Playing Tag Is Good for You!

Article excerpt

WAY back in my early days, before I learned to be a junior-high conformist, I used to collect insects. To their credit, my parents nurtured my interest, helping me get the supplies I wanted--mounting pins, cardboard, boxes for my specimens, etc. I loved the idea of bringing order to my collection by separating critters into their respective boxes and tagging them by laboriously printing information on little slips of paper, which were then mounted on the tall pins above each specimen.

While I am not inherently an organized person, this process of classifying appealed to me deeply. I think I wanted a bit of order in my disorganized little mind. Years later, cataloging books had a similar attraction. As a school librarian, I loved the idea that I could look out over my collection and tell myself that all those wonderful books were in their places, waiting to be found by seeking students. Lately, I have been thinking about tagging and folksonomies and how they work together to bring a modicum of order to the vast, unruly internet.


Before delving into my topic, definitions are certainly in order. In cyberspeak, tagging is appending keywords to websites so that users can find the sites later. It is the descendent of bookmarking, a web browser feature from earlier days. I can remember when I had a long list of bookmarks saved to my favorite computer in my preferred browser. I have always been leery of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and back in my early searching days I was a devoted Netscape user. If I were searching for pages about endangered animals for use with 8th-grade science students, I would create a bookmark folder with that label and file the URLs into it.

Remember when your bookmarks were only available at that one computer? The solution was to carry them around on a floppy disk. Then, beginning in the late 1990s, you could use resources to save your bookmarks online. For me, moving among many machines, this was great! I would generally save to an online source and then go from computer to computer in my library and save the bookmarks locally for students to use. Looking back, this was a cumbersome process, but at the time it was a great leap forward in keeping resources organized. Now, of course, we have a plethora of web-based services where we can access our "favorite" sites, and, better yet, we can tag them with any number of keywords for future reference. Best of all, we can then share them with others. This capability leads to increased access points for any given site, not only for the tagger, but also for anyone else with whom he or she shares.

Continuing with definitions, folksonomy is one of those made-up words that have emerged to describe new developments related to technology and the internet. Just as blog is the blending of two words, "web" and "log," folksonomy is melded from "taxonomy" and "folk." The origin of the word is credited to one person, Thomas Vander Wal. His own account of the birth of the term can be found at omy.html. It is a word that I find captivating, perhaps because of my love of folklore and the oral tradition.

A folksonomy is a social project whereby users can mark or tag favorite websites and share them with similarly interested people. The two web entities most famous for offering environments conducive to this are Delicious, for tagging webpages, and Flickr, for tagging images. As is true with any internet development, there are numerous other sites doing similar things: marking locations and sharing tags with a community of users. When compared with the very formalized rules of taxonomies, folksonomies offer both advantages and disadvantages.

Perhaps the two biggest strengths of folksonomies are the ability to assign many tags to any one artifact and the ability to share with other people. What results is any number of ways to find a tagged resource. One downside is that collaborative tagging may produce confusing results. …

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