in General, Libraries/Info Sci, Tech

Musings on tagging

My introduction to Flickr, combined with Nick‘s comments on tags and Technorati’s addition of searchable tags, have really got my brain moving.

(For the novice, tagging is the practice of assigning identifying keywords or ‘tags’ to a document stored online. Pictures on Flickr, links on, blog posts on Technorati, etc. Even my ‘category’ assignments for each post could be considered tags. Metadata use in tag form makes searching for documents much more practical.)

My first thought was a knee-jerk reaction: metadata in this form would be much more useful using a standardized vocabulary. Something more along the lines of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, for example. Wouldn’t you rather know that searching for ‘China’ returned everything relevant, and you didn’t miss out on results tagged with ‘Chinese’ or something similar?

But then I got to thinking: The amount of human effort required to make such a standardized vocabulary useful would be staggering. Using an interface like Google Suggest might help in implementation, but wouldn’t solve the issue of creating a definitive tag list in the first place.

So let the creators of content do their own tagging. Yes it’s freeform, but it’s better than nothing. It’ll take time to develop, but perhaps harnessing the power of a group in this manner is the solution. And isn’t a librarian’s job to sort through information and organize it into a useful form? Doing that with tags is no different than other sources.

In the end, the idea of tagging documents has re-introduced the concept of metadata to a wide audience. And that can’t be bad for organizing the web.

Later today when I’ve got a bit more free time I’ll look into adding technorati tags to my own posts.