Monday, 14 June 2010

Thing 8 - Tagging

Image by cambodia4kidsorg from Flickr

Welcome to Thing 8!

After completing Thing 8 you will have...

... had a chance to take a breath (figuratively), look back over the Things you've achieved so far, and learn more about tagging and organising your blog posts.

What is tagging and how is it relevant to libraries?
Tagging is how the social web organises its information. As library staff, we know that retrieving information can be a pretty complex task, and that the more access points a record offers, the more chance there is that a reader will find it. Tags are the access points of Web 2.0: they work in the same way as good ol' Library of Congress Subject Headings. The difference is that they're generated on the fly by users, not imposed by library taxonomies.

Tagging is designed to be both personal - you choose which tags you want to use - and collaborative - others can see the tags you've assigned, and can choose to follow you in using them. Of course this doesn't always happen! One person's "cat" may be another's "feline quadruped" (or even "lolkitteh"): unlike LCSH, there are no right and wrong ways of tagging.

Some people find this idea inspiring; to others, it's opening the door to anarchy. Yet tagging is perhaps the defining element of web 2.0's user-generated content, and it's not going to go away. This in turn is going to have a profound effect on our readers' expectations of how information is described and retrieved.

Should libraries be looking at ways of incorporating tags in the OPAC? Ann Arbor District Library already does, right alongside the traditional access points. What do you think of this?

Step-by-step instructions for Thing 8

Part 1: Read Clay Shirky's essay, 'Ontology is Overrated', where he argues that "many of the ways we're attempting to apply categorization to the electronic world are ... a bad fit, because we've adopted habits of mind that are left over from earlier strategies". What do you think?

Part 2: Look back on your blog posts and organise them by adding more tags. We've been suggesting basic tags to use for each of your posts (e.g. "Thing 1"); now try enhancing this by adding tags that describe your content. This can be as formal or as fun, as workmanlike or as personal, as you like - you decide how you want to present your information! For example, one Oxford participant chose to give an approval rating to Things by using the tags 'yay', 'nay', and 'meh' as appropriate.

Finally, blog about Thing 8.

You'll be doing more with tags in some later Things, particularly Flickr (Thing 9) and Delicious (Thing 12).

Image from

Further reading/watching:
Tagging 'takes off for web users' (BBC, 1 Feb 2007)
The machine is us/ing us - YouTube video by anthropologist and digital ethnographer Prof. Michael Wesch (4m 32)

Next time...
In Thing 9 you will be exploring Flickr and discovering how to find and use Creative Commons-licensed pictures to enhance your library teaching, marketing and promotional materials.

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