Week 5: Tagging, Social Bookmarking & Folksonomies

If you’ve ever used a subject heading in a library catalogue, a descriptor in a database, or even written names or places on the back of a photograph, you’re already familiar with tagging!

A tag is just a keyword or term, and tagging is the process of assigning or associating them to something. We usually talk about tagging with online content like websites, digital photos, or blog posts, but the concept is the same as your handwritten notes on the family snapshots.

Tags are completely unstructured and freeform. You choose terms that are meaningful for you, so if “cooking” makes more sense to you than “cookery” (thank you, LCSH), you’re free to use it! Tagging also lets you combine terms any way you want, so your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe might be tagged:

  • cooking chocolate or
  • baking chocolate_chips or
  • chocolatechip cookies or
  • yummy_recipes

You get to decide. Just bear in mind that tags are often separated by spaces, so chocolate_chip_cookies and ChocolateChipCookies are both one tag, while chocolate chip cookies is three tags. Makes for creative spelling, spacing, and capitalization.

This week, we’re exploring a couple of popular websites that use tagging: del.icio.us and Flickr. del.icio.us is a site that lets you save and organize links to web content. It’s sort of like the “Bookmarks” or “Favorites” folders in Firefox or Internet Explorer. Only better. With del.icio.us, you never have to remember which computer you saved that link on. So if you’re going from work to home, or to different computers around the library, all of your bookmarks are always available.

Flickr is specifically for digital photographs and images. Like del.icio.us, once you’ve saved an image in Flickr it’s accessible from where ever you happen to be. It’s easy to share your photos, too.

Anyone who’s applied Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) knows that there are pages (and pages and pages…) of rules for how it is to be used. You are also required to use the exact terms specified. With a structured system like LCSH, the rules are essential to keep everyone using it consistently (more or less). LCSH is a taxonomy, a professionally developed system in which a controlled vocabulary is used to categorize materials.

A folksonomy is like a taxonomy, but without all the rules. Folksonomies grow from the tags that users apply on bookmarking sites like del.icio.us. As you add bookmarks to del.icio.us or photos to Flickr, you see the tags that other users have associated with similar items. You might even like some of them and decide to apply the tag to your own bookmarks.

Folksonomies are not hierarchical, meaning they lack the “Broader Term, Narrower Term, Related Term” structure often seen in taxonomies. Also, because they do not use a controlled vocabulary, terms can change quickly, there can be multiple tags for the same concept (library, libraries), and the same tag may be used for different concepts (try searching “cookies” in del.icio.us…).

del.icio.us lets you see the bookmarks that other users have added and how they are tagged (though you now have the option not to share your bookmarks). This open sharing of links is called social bookmarking. As bookmarks are added and tagged, a folksonomy emerges. Just as you might click a subject heading in MORRIS to see what the library has on a particular topic, clicking a tag in del.icio.us shows you all the bookmarks with that tag. And in the same way that using a subject heading can narrow a catalogue search, using a folksonomy tag can save you from sorting through 2 million Google hits by showing you what other people have found useful on that topic.

So, for this week’s activities, try out some tagging and social bookmarking:

Activity #1
Search del.icio.us for something you’re interested in. Check out some of the tags people have used for that topic. Try the same search in Google or another Internet search engine. In your blog, tell us what you thought! How do the results compare? Were there any that you didn’t expect? Did you find any tags that were confusing or especially useful?

Activity #2
Set up an account on del.icio.us. Add a few websites and add your own tags to each of your links.

Activity #3
Visit Flickr and browse the “Popular” tags (the link is at the bottom of the page) or try a search. Explore some of the related tags. Put a link in your blog to your favorite photo.

Activity #4
If you like del.icio.us and want to easily add bookmarks to your account, you can put buttons on your browser toolbar. Instructions are available for Internet Explorer and Firefox.

Further Readings (optional!)

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3 comments so far

  1. […] Search del.icio.us for something you’re interested in. Check out some of the tags people have used…. […]

  2. Jill Bedford on

    Unfortunately, those of us at Thode Library who are working on the course are unable to complete activity #4 – adding the buttons to the staff computer’s browser because of “Administrator access only”

  3. Kathy Garay on

    Maybe I’m just too stressed at the moment to relax into this but I’m not impressed with anything I found on delicious (no time to get correct punctuation) and although I set up an account on flickr a couple of months ago, it has really been more aggravation than it is worth. i wanted to share new grandbaby photos with family and friends but most of them had a v. hard time logging in. In the end, we’ve been waiting for f2f opportunities and sharing old fashioned “real” photographs!


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