Magazine article Online

Tag-You're It!

Magazine article Online

Tag-You're It!

Article excerpt

Most of us are familiar with the idea of tagging content-blog entries, saved URLs, photographs, and so on. Sites such as Technorati, Furl.net, Del.icio.us, and Flickr have either made their reputation or significantly enhanced their following by allowing users to apply the users' own keywords to content. These folksonomies (taxonomies built by just plain folks) are, of course, a completely different beast than the true controlled vocabularies used in human-built directories such as Open Directory Project, Librarians' Internet Index, or the Yahoo! directory. The latter are true hierarchical taxonomies, complete with cross-references and levels of specificity. Tags, on the other hand, emerge out of an informal voting and usage process that is intriguing to watch. I think of formal taxonomies and tagging as being roughly equivalent to a prescriptive dictionary (one that prescribes the definitions a word should have) and a descriptive one (which modifies its definitions to reflect current usage, even if that usage has changed over time). A descriptive dictionary will include "irregardless"; prescriptive dictionary editors would rather chew off their hind leg than to permit such an atrocity.

As most researchers have learned, folksonomies aren't good for conducting comprehensive searches on a topic, since folksonomies are dependent on people discovering the most useful term and then applying it to content. This means that anything added to the Web before an agreed-upon term emerged won't get appropriately tagged. On the other hand, folksonomies quickly reflect the (perhaps temporary) need for new terms. As I write this, two of the newest tags in Flickr are NYCmarathon (pictures of the New York City marathon) and guy fawkes (Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated in the U.K. on November 5).

In one sense, the weakness of tagging is that it's done by people who aren't thinking like catalogers-no one's considering, "Is this how we'll refer to this issue in 2 years?" or, "Is this really of enduring note as a topic?" Instead, tags are intended to help people identify something of current interest now.

And sometimes a tag isn't applied in a way that I would consider proper, but it could prompt me to wonder why that person tagged that item with that term. Is there an aspect of the idea that I missed? As Amy Gahran of blog.contentious.com commented, "Folksonomies enhance exploration. Taxonomies enhance searching."

Another aspect of tagging that drives researchers to distraction is the fact that there is tag spam just as there was keyword spam when the metadata tag was first implemented on Web pages. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.