Friday, August 17, 2007

Lesson 13: Tagging, part 2

Lesson 13: Tagging, part 2

Folksonomy, Tag clouds,, and Technorati

Have a basic familiarity with tagging? Then let’s move on to other concepts in the world of tagging.

Next concept: folksonomy (or, folksonomies)

Folk + taxonomy = folksonomy. Ta-dah! A newly coined word!

According to Wikipedia, a folksonomy is “the practice and method of collaborative categorization using freely-chosen keywords called tags.”

To elaborate a little further (with a nod again to Wikipedia as a source):

--Folksonomies are used to classify and retrieve web content.

--If used wisely, folksonomic tagging can make “a body of information increasingly easy to search, discover, and navigate over time. A well-developed folksonomy is ideally accessible as a shared vocabulary that is both originated by, and familiar to, its primary users.”

Well, here’s ye old cataloger again. In a way, is not Library of Congress Subject Headings a “well-developed folksonomy”? I suppose we could argue this case on either side. Certainly, LCSH is well-developed, for it has existed for a century, and much time and thought and labor has been put into its creation. LCSH is definitely a shared vocabulary.

But what about the “folk”? Are the “folk” of LCSH the librarians, or are they the users they serve or both? Who are these users? Or, who were these users? Were they humanities scholars? Are they all scholars? Are they everyone in academe? Are they everyday people hungering for knowledge?

I ask these questions because although I think there are many beauties to LCSH, I see drawbacks to this “folksonomy” as well. If I want to know more about draft dodgers during the Civil War (and naturalist John Muir dodged the draft by fleeing to Canada), I would not find the following subject string intuitive:

United States – History – Civil War, 1861-1865 – Draft resisters

Even as a librarian who has cataloged a great deal, I find that heading awkward. I don’t want to dissect this heading word by word, but will simply state that “draft resisters” is not the phrase that comes to my mind – not after growing up during the Vietnam War. And that leads back to the definition above: “A well-developed folksonomy is ideally accessible as a shared vocabulary that is both originated by, and familiar to, its primary users.”

Can this ideal be achieved? Do you resist the draft? Do you dodge the draft?

And what about a particular mammal who pops up every February 2? Do you cook a ground hog? Or do you cook a woodchuck? LCSH has its cross references and they tell you to see woodchuck, not ground hog. If you are teaching a wildlife biology course and want to use “ground hog” as your topic, forget it. Our electronic resources prefer “woodchuck.” But – if I’m a primary user, and from a region where you use ground hog hide for a banjo head, am I going to mess with a woodchuck? Probably not. So which is it? Do I dodge the use of woodchuck? Or do I resist it? If I blog about the value of ground hog hide, or if I upload a group of photos of banjos with ground hog hide heads to Flicr, will I used the tag ground hog or woodchuck or both? Would both be redundant?

Language is an exciting and perilous ride. Enjoy it! (And if you’d like a recipe for ground hog, send me an email . . . )

Discovery Exercise 1

Read a short article by Thomas Vander Wal on the origin of the word “folksonomy” and the role he played in coining the term. He writes well, and his last paragraph is excellent.

Here’s the URL:

Tag Clouds

Back to Wikipedia for another definition:

Tag cloud: A tag cloud is a set of related tags with corresponding weights. Typical tag clouds have between 30 and 150 tags. The weights are represented using font sizes or other visual clues. Hence, unlike histograms or pie charts, tag clouds can represent many more weights, though less accurately so.

By now I think most of us have seen tag clouds, but it’s worth our while I believe to ponder them for a moment and consider their value.

Discovery Exercise 2:

If you’ve not done so, check out Encore at Michigan State University. Input a term, press enter, and see the tag cloud that occurs on the right side of the screen.

(I searched woodchuck. No kidding. And I got a tag cloud with no groundhogs. My first hit, though, was a children’s book with illustrations by Wendell Minor, who spoke here last spring.)

Explore Encore further with a number of searches. Then, write a brief passage in your blog about the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness if you so desire) of the tag clouds in Encore. Do you think the tag clouds will help our users in the future? Why or why not? If you teach classes, how do you see yourself teaching undergraduates about tag clouds? is a social bookmarking tool. Rather than give you another endless definition, how about a video? The source below will tell you everything you need to know about getting started with

Discovery Exercise 3:

Set up a account and take this Web 2.0 tool on a test drive. Practice your tagging techniques, and, after you have tagged a few sites, take a look at the tag cloud that’s been generated from your tags.

Also notice that you can set up an RSS feed for your account.

Finally, write about in your blog. Is this a useful tool for you personally? Can you see its value in teaching a class? How would be beneficial for the library? These questions should assist you in pulling your thoughts together about


Here is another video about If you are interested in learning more about the potential of using, then you might want to view this video. It covers much of the same ground as the other, but there is more emphasis on as a classroom tool here. A caveat – I found the sound a little fuzzy and the background music slightly annoying. You may or may not have the same reaction.


Our last topic in the world of tagging – Technorati.

Wikipedia’s definition: an Internet search engine for searching blogs, competing with Google, Yahoo, and IceRocket. As of April 2007, Technorati indexes over 75 million weblogs. The name Technorati is a portmanteau, pointing to the technological version of literati or intellectuals.

Well, those are the basics. Here’s a pretty good video that puts Technorati within the context of Web 2.0, especially social bookmarking and blogs. One point to note – since this video was made, Technorati’s homepage has changed its look. I suggest you listen more to the speaker and look less at the webpage graphics. When you look at Technorati in a few, you’ll find it’s attractive and easy to use.

Discovery Exercise 4:

Go to the Technorati website. Here’s the address:

1. Pause to admire the gorgeous tag cloud on this page.

2. Once you have finished admiring the cloud, search for your own blog using their search box.

I put in “Celtic musician librarian” and found my own blog.

Are you blogged out about tagging? Head in a tag cloud? Well, congratulations! With your FYI visit to Technorati, you’re done! Bravo!

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