I participate in LibraryThing’s Tuesday Thingers group–a weekly blogging exercise. This week’s question:
Today’s question is about tags- do you tag? How do you tag? How do you feel about tagging- do you think it would be better to have standardized tags, like libraries have standardized subject headings, or do you like the individualized nature of tagging? What are your top 5 tags and what do they say about your collection or your reading habits?
Yes. Carefully. No/yes. ['read', 'fiction', 'novel', 'tbr','non-fiction']–nothing too interesting.
Let me pull this apart a bit. I’m a strong supporter of community-based tagging, and in a larger sense, folksonomies. When I worked for [large semi-conductor company] briefly, I was able to spend a few days researching the then-nascent trend of tagging (mostly embodied on the Web by the early versions of Flickr and Del.icio.us). The notion is intuitive and useful–humans are a hell of a lot smarter than computers, and by harnessing the categorization pieces of lots of people’s brains, you can build a really compelling and highly-accurate structure.
However, tagging creates inherently noisy data. You’ll get a sort of bell curve of information for any given item. In a lot of cases this is smoothed out by the ubiquitous “tag cloud” presentation–weighting more oft-used tags heavier than the left-field ones. LibraryThing does this.
Tagging also requires a critical mass of taggers. The more participation and tagging, the more accurate and useful the picture created by the tags will be.
Do I tag a lot? Yes. A quick look at the LibraryThing Zeitgeist page gives me a feeling for things.
The average library for a user is around 65 books. (I have 707 catalogued currently).
Averaging tags out, each user contributes a mean of 85 tags, or 1.3 tags per book. I have contributed 2953 tags, for an average of 4.74 per book. I have tagged 623 of my 707 books. I expect that average to go up, as I aggressively tag books as I add them.
I use my tags daily. I sort by ‘tbr’ (my shorthand for books I haven’t read and plan to), or ’2008readinglist’ (the books I’m “supposed” to read this year) or ‘readin2008′ (books that I have read–I also tag them ‘read’). And then, yes, I do use descriptive tagging, things like “california” or “american history” or “orchids.” However, I find that I do that more for the community–I rarely search on criteria more specific than genre (I might use my “history” tag, but probably not my “naturalism” tag when looking for something to read).
I oppose the notion of “standardized” tags based on a few arguments. One, it’s counter to the nature and spirit of folksonomies. It ceases being tagging and instead is categorization. Second, it’s counter to the spirit of LibraryThing, which has a fairly libertarian view on users’ data. Third, what governing body would be responsible for the management of the “standard” tags?