Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Metadata Paper

Beneath the Metadata: Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy by Elaine Peterson appears in the latest D-Lib Magazine.
A traditional classification scheme based on Aristotelian categories yields search results that are more exact. Traditional cataloging can be more time consuming, and is by definition more limiting, but it does result in consistency within its scheme. Folksonomy allows for disparate opinions and the display of multicultural views; however, in the networked world of information retrieval, a display of all views can also lead to a breakdown of the system.
Takes an either-or position. Why not both? Also, seems to make too much about incorrect tagging. If the mass of tags is large enough one incorrect among 1000 correct tags will just get buried. This is only a problem when there is a group effort to supply the bad tag or there are only a small number of tags. There is also the aspect of access for one person or a small group that tagging supplies. The reading list for a class tagged LIS2600 is not much use to most folks but could be very useful to those in the class. Is tagging a replacement for subject analysis? No. Does it provide some access that traditional cataloging misses? Yes. Play around with Library Thing, tags there compliment the LCSH that also exist.


Nathan said...


I am a frequent reader, first time commentor... (I appreciate your thoughtful and informative blog very much).

I agree with you about how both are useful in their own way. It seems to me, however, that it is human nature to just want to label things the way that is best for us (self-absorption), not necessarily taking into consideration a wider interpretation of reality that would intentionally attempt (very important word!) to go beyond our "own little worlds", and recognize other people and things that aren't really that interesting to us (and how will we want this, appreciate this, if we aren't educated about [experience] this kind of view?). In this case, LC subject headings are a good educative, "liberal arts" (elitist? :) ) (library as educator) balance to insist on (vs. MyList, MyBooks, MyOptions, My, My, My!) ad nauseum. While I think the either/or option is true indeed, I'd rather have catalogers emphasizing these powerful and little-thought-of/understood/realized truths rather than giving tagging more serious attention than it deserves (and again, I admit it does deserve some attention and appreciation!)

Nathan said...


Some more thoughts.

I read Elaine Peterson's whole paper, and it doesn't seem to me that she is taking an either/or position. She just thinks that some people are not recognizing what she believes are the inevitable (logical conclusion?) limits of tagging - and that they should.

For example, she quotes David Weinberger saying: "When it comes to searching, what a work means to the searcher is far more important than the author's intention" [9].

and goes on to say herself: "Weinberger also mentions as benefits financial savings and elimination of bureaucracies of catalogers and indexers" Now this doesn't seem like an "either-or" situation to me!

Therefore, I think Elaine Peterson is right when in her conclusion she says:

"Folksonomists are confusing cataloging structure with personal opinions and subsequent social bookmarking. These are not the same thing, and they need to be separated."

Perhaps she should have said "[some] folksonomists are...", but it seems that some of the most prominent voices (Shirkey, Weinberger) are, at least in practice, doing just what she says.

Again, this is not to say that folksonomies aren't useful. I don't believe she says this in her paper. I think she is precisely arguing against some evidently more extreme folksonomist views that don't give the traditional classification scheme its due.