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Contest: What does tagging do to knowledge?

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Edited: Aug 23, 2007, 4:53pm Top

See the blog post. We're giving our ten free copies of Everything is Miscellaneous.

The rules:

*If you want the book, come there and say a word or two about tagging.
*It doesn't need to be a big deal. A few sentences with some examples would be fine.
*You can talk about tagging on LibraryThing or other sites. You can do personal tagging, global tag pages, the new tagmash feature, David's talks, my talk, your talk, or whatever.
*You can say something positive, something negative or just ask an interesting question.
*You can post as many messages as you want, but you don't get more chances, duh.

UPDATE: Jeeze pople! Four responses before I could link to it! Look, I have to create a blog post that links to a thread and a thread that links to a blog post. The URLs don't exist until I make them, so it's not physically possible to do it simultaneously!

UPDATE #2: Contest closed and blogged about.

Jul 25, 2007, 4:48pm Top

am i missing something? i don't see anything about a contest on either blog?

Jul 25, 2007, 4:54pm Top

The latest blog entry doesn't seem to relate to this topic, does it? Maybe a new one is yet to come.

Edited: Jul 25, 2007, 5:25pm Top

It's in the thingology blog


edited to fix link, because I messed it up the first time around

Jul 25, 2007, 5:24pm Top

Jul 25, 2007, 5:26pm Top

I want a blue book.

Jul 25, 2007, 5:27pm Top

I would want a blue book...but I already have one...(and it's shiny, too!)

Jul 25, 2007, 5:27pm Top


I haven't gotten much use out of tagging so far. I'd much rather come ask people in Talk for recommendations since I get more information that way. For instance, if I want to find books about Florida, I would go to the Reading the States group and ask there rather than look for a Florida tag in search. I need more information than that.

Jul 25, 2007, 5:31pm Top

I think the most useful aspect of tagging for me is what I can get out of my own tags. My tag cloud makes a great reference point so that if I want to know, off hand, which books I have dealing with such-and-such a subject, it's available at the click of a mouse.

The LT tagging scheme has also made me deeply unsatisfied with the way I currently organize journal articles - to the point that I'm desperately waiting for LT to implement something to handle this, but growing closer and closer to the breaking point where I just buy another account for journal articles and start tagging away. For articles, I think the tags become even more crucial for research purposes - off the top of my head, I could not tell you which of the (hundreds? thousands?) of articles I've collected over the years deal with which subjects. It's a definite project for a future rainy weekend.

Jul 25, 2007, 5:32pm Top

what, you're not capable of doing 184 things at once?!? what kind of business are you running here, anyway?

11stoberg First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 5:36pm Top

Tagging helps to both aggregate and splinter knowledge. By this I mean, tagging helps to navigate relationships among disparate "knowledge objects" while at the same time, splits the categorization of similar objects into much finer and/or more random collections.

12charlierb3 First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 5:37pm Top

I think that tagging can sometimes be confusing, as with many search systems, one needs to figure out how plurals, wildcards, synonyms, misspellings, and fluff are handled (if at all)

Jul 25, 2007, 5:39pm Top

While all our books are tagged we don't really use them much. I think this may be because most of the tags are pretty general - tags like science and history. The ones that do see some use tend to be the more personal ones.

When I'm looking for something I usually have an idea of the title and go for a keyword from the title or I know the author and search on that. Therefore I haven't explored searching on multiple tags much. Tagmash may change that as it seems to bring up some very interesting lists.

Jul 25, 2007, 5:51pm Top

I find tagging fascinating because it's one of the few places where more is more. I tend to have only a few tags on books in my library, and I don't get as much use out of them as I should; on del.icio.us, I have 8 or 10 tags per link thanks to tag suggestions, and I sort and shuffle and refactor and group, using my links and others', with wild abandon. 8 or 10 official subject headings tends to make my head hurt.

Everything is Miscellaneous is one of 37 books I currently have tagged "included in the present classification" (there are none that look like flies from a great distance).

15bobngail First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 5:53pm Top

I think tags allow people to benefit from how other view something. When lots of people generate tags (and the software makes good use of them), new connections are created between bits of information. Many tags, of course, are based on a very personal view or need. Some, though, are useful to others -- to help them find things they would not have otherwise found, and that then use tags to lead them from the found bit to other, related bits. I'm always amazed at the different ways of viewing something when I see how differently others tagged something to which I have already assigned the most 'correct' or 'appropriate' tags.

Jul 25, 2007, 5:53pm Top

>The URLs don't exist until I make them, so it's not physically possible to do it simultaneously!

So Altay hasn't finished the time machine yet? C'mon, it's not like y'all are busy!

Jul 25, 2007, 5:54pm Top

How about "belonging to the emperor"?

Jul 25, 2007, 5:56pm Top

>How about "belonging to the emperor"?

The dog isn't allowed his own books. He likes to shred paper things.

Jul 25, 2007, 5:58pm Top

I like tagging. LT is the first site where I've played with it. I was initially somewhat sceptical and only added a few tags to each book. It's got a lot more complicated than that now. I use some tags a s a workaround for other search and ordering mechanisms that aren't yet as clever as they could be. I'm also expanding my genre tagging to see what general themes co-exist within books that I enjoy. I may have to add a rating tag too because you can't currently cross search ratings and tags.

I'm not sure that tagging does anything with respect to knowledge. It might miake it more accessible overall, but the information hasn't changed. To be most powerful it needs to be linked in many ways....

Jul 25, 2007, 6:18pm Top

I like tagging, it allows me to work around issues I have with the way LT works. If it weren't for tags, I would have left shortly after finding LT.

I suspect I will love tagging once I can take all my 'work around tags' out and start tagging free form.

One thing I've noticed is that tagging gives me a peek at how someone thinks. It's not just the books in their collection that says something about them, but what they tag is just as revealing in some ways. It hints at what's important to that LTer, even if it's by it's absence.

Jul 25, 2007, 6:25pm Top

Damn, I just bought it yesterday!!!!

I never tagged before, and I think I'm not getting the most out of it. I've been tagging so I can think about the types of books I have and find them easily. But now that I've entered my library and have time to browse LT, I see much more detailed tags that give me interesting ideas about other books. So at some point I may try to think about my own tags more deeply and expand/refine them.

Jul 25, 2007, 6:28pm Top

Tagging makes me stop and look more closely at the latest pile of books I scooped up at a used book store. I sometimes find that I didn't want "that" book, after all, so it never gets posted.

Jul 25, 2007, 6:32pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Jul 25, 2007, 6:33pm Top

Well, here are some of the comments I posted when Thingology got started (I'd revise them a bit now, but I think they're still useful):

Some stray analytical thoughts that have been accumulating for a while:

LibraryThing's tags, as they are used in practice by people, fall into several groups, and I think it's important to keep these separate in discussion because they perform different functions:

1. Personal call number tags: these are the location notes you sometimes see, like "in the bedroom," or "home" vs. "office"; conceptually, a book may be given only one of these by a user because the physical object is only in one place, just as with library-assigned call numbers.

2. Personal flags: these are the "unread" vs. "read" markers you see, or "on loan," or one of mine, working copy, used for mass-market paperbacks or damaged copies that I would like to be able to replace someday. (I took the tag's name from one of the great condition-descriptions in bibliography, used by the venerable natural history dealer Wheldon & Wesley: "Working copy: useful for information but not a pleasure to possess.") These personal flags are "status markers" that could be assigned to any book regardless of its subject matter, which is what distinguishes them from...

3. Personal subject tags: these are the personal (currently uncontrolled) counterpart of the controlled subject headings of LC or any other cataloging agency. Many LT users have elaborate systems of personal subject tagging; I haven't used very many, but have put a few in where the existing LC headings aren't as effective as I would like, such as numismatics and residential colleges. The primary operational difference between these personal subject tags and the LC subject headings as they operate at the moment in LT is that the LC subject headings are hierarchical. Personal tags are not hierarchical now, but this is an obvious next step that could be taken. (I know WordPress allows you to specify a "parent tag" for any given tag in a blog, but I have never experimented with that; that's just creating a tag hierarchy, similar to the one in the LC subject headings.)

So let's think about each of these three categories of tags.

1. Personal call numbers will always be just what they are: personal. These are the kinds of tags you'd probably want to omit from system-wide displays and calculations.

2. Personal flags or status markers: in most cases these are similarly personal, and should probably be left out of system-wide calculations.

3. Personal subject headings: this is of course the interesting part. To subdivide this category further:

3a. Descriptive (meta)data that in some cases would have natural home somewhere in a MARC record, but because of LT's simplified structure, doesn't obviously fit anywhere. Some of these things would be note fields (5xx) in a MARC record; others might correspond to an illustrator or binder. I have flagged a few books Bruce Rogers when I know they were designed by that famous typographer. They aren't *about* Rogers, nor is he the author: he's the typographer/designer of the volume. A similar flag I've used is presentation copy for autographed/signed copies of a work. (More on that terminology in a moment.)

3b. Personal subjects proper: these are the user-generated tags that really are subject headings, like my examples of "numismatics" or "residential colleges" above. As I see it, these will always exist along a spectrum from casual and irregular, to formal and controlled (like the LC subject headings). At the casual end, some people will always want to use tags like "pets" or "favorite stories," and that's just fine. At the formal end, one obvious enhancement would be to let users select offical headings from the LC Subject Headings and assign them to their own titles as they please. Hennig's Phylogenetics, for example, really should have the LC subject heading Cladistic analysis added to it, since it was one of the foundational works in that field, but it probably was catalogued before the term "cladistic analysis" came into widespread use. (Some old librarians will remember having to explain to people looking for information about "World War I" in the card catalog that they should look under "Great War" or "European War," since those were the headings used before WWII caused the Great War to be renamed WWI.) I think it would be extraordinary to be able to pull down a list of LC subject headings directly and assign them to items in my catalog. LibraryThing's "works" system would explode with valuable information unlike anything now in existence. (Maybe you would would have to put a limit on it; say, no more than 10 or 20 LC headings for any given title.)

The in-between zone, between casual and formal, is where most of the creative action will be. I think it is inevitable that particular subject domains will develop their own controlled vocabularies, and that these will be pointed-to via something like RDF. This general approach has been around for centuries in any number of specialized fields; any serious work in natural history, for example, will always tell you what nomenclatural authority it is following, and highly technical works will point you directly to the original sources for how a particular name or vocabulary term is used. I can imagine LT's tag pages sprouting links to authority pages (or directly incorporating wiki-like editable authority data) that specify the vocabulary used within specialized domains. None of this will preclude casual tagging; it will just make non-casual tagging more powerful.

A small example of this from the (3a) category: I mentioned above my use of "presentation copy" as a tag. This is a bit fuzzy in my usage, and I'd like to clean it up, but I need a controlled vocabulary to do so. Some copies are simply "signed by author," others are "author's presentation copy," while others might be "presentation copy from third party." These are categories that are probably described with precision in the ISBD for rare books, but I haven't delved into it yet. This is a perfect example of where I'd really appreciate a specialist providing an easily-accessible controlled tag set that a non-specialist like me could apply with ease in LT.

Edited: Jul 25, 2007, 6:47pm Top

My favorite thing about tags is that I can use as many as I want. No more debating about which place would be the best place to put something, be it an email message, a favorite web site, or now, a book.

From a library standpoint, my favorite thing about tags is that it allows natural language into the catalog.

Oh, and what tagging does to knowledge? It gives you more access points.

Jul 25, 2007, 6:40pm Top

Believe it or not, tags are actually more formal or structured than some similar systems. Consider the general WikiWiki idea of turning any word into a link if it's in FunnyCaps. The effect is very similar, but the links appear anywhere in text. Tags isolate the linking to specific fields. The extreme free-form nature of Wikis drives some people off, just as the extreme formalisms of MARC, etc. do. So tags seem to be a widely accepted compromise.

Jul 25, 2007, 6:46pm Top

>9 philosojerk: Philosojerk, have you ever tried http://www.citeulike.com ? I was using this while I was still in school and I found it to be AMAZINGLY helpful.

Edited: Jul 25, 2007, 8:16pm Top

I like fun tags that are so personal or unique that nobody else uses them. A friend of mine, for example, has tags like "Detectives with gimmicks", "Elaborate crimes", "Witty people being clever", and my favorite "Fangirlin'". I myself want to use a tag for "Farm boys with magical destinies" but it's apparently too long.

Some might say these tags aren't useful for anybody but yourself, but the wonderful thing about tags is, they don't HAVE to be useful for anyone but yourself. And I think these kinds of tags tend to cover aspects of a book that aren't so easily described by Subject Headings.

29kristykay22 First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 6:54pm Top

As an archivist, I spend much of my day categorizing, describing, organizing, and arranging. Then I spend the rest of my day trying to figure out what I called things, how I organized them, and where on earth I put that one folder. In the course of this organizing, I generally rely on those good ole Library of Congress Subject Headings (I work in a library, after all). And they are great -- but sometimes I really wish my professional life could be as freely tagged as my personal life (what with Librarything, Flickr, Blogger, etc. etc.).

And who knows, maybe someday soon it will be...

Jul 25, 2007, 7:05pm Top

Tags are the bags
By which I layer my thoughts.

Why should I use only one? More tags will catch my interstitial interests.


31munzer First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 7:10pm Top

Tags are amazing! For me the sights that make the best use of Tags are these...

Flickr - the first tagging site I ever used. An archive of all my photos. If I want to find a photo of my cute neice, I just type in her name and they all come up. Also, a huge mass of others photos. I would always be able to find a photo from someone to go along with whatever I decided to blog about - great!

Facebook - So, I loved Flickr already for photo tagging, but then along came Facebook - where you tagged someone in a photo, and then they would know, and there friends would know. It's great! So, a friend uploads a photo, with me in it, tags me and everyone else.. I get notified, look at the photo and see that some friends I haven't seen in ages are also tagged - from there I can contact them, find out how they are doing etc. Even people who I don't know may upload a funny photo, or video or post a note about a person that I do know.. more insight into my friends lives. Amazing.

BoardGameGeek - so this is my newest venture. I am a board game geek - I have just bought my 100th board game, and you know what? I don't get to play them very often, it's really hard to decide what to play.. depends on your mood, who's playing an how many people want to play.. It takes ages to find a suitable game... but when you can tag your games.. you can search for a game with particular tags.. say, 'short' and '3-player'.

OK.. so my final one may not be classed as tags.. but surely a search engine really just searches via words which are tags....?? Do you agree?

Tags.. what an amazing invention.. I'm still trying to get used to using them effectively in G-Mail, Blogger and LibraryThing actually. In LibraryThing I use others tags.. but don't really put tags on my own books to use.

Jul 25, 2007, 7:18pm Top

One thing I find interesting about tagging is not actually tagging itself, but its theoretical eventual replacement.

After all, papers were mostly kept in pigeonholes until the vertical file was invented, and mostly in vertical files until the computer let digital copies be kept in digital "folders"; when Google completes having its search-don't-sort way with the world, more data will be stored flatly but with metadata and tags that let it be sorted and filed in any way possible with only a few keystrokes. It's all a matter of changing paradigms of how data is kept and found, and I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect or final paradigm. What will come after/out of tags?

On the other hand, what I actually like to do with my tags is rather shallow, but I enjoy imagining that my library is physically organized according to how I'm viewing it, so I will look at my tag cloud or books with a particular tag and imagine reorganizing my library so that all these books are together, and all those, in a lovely gradient of related subject matter, or in discrete groups of great significance, or whatever fashion catches my fancy. I don't have nearly as many tags in place as I'd like but I can still get most of the thrill of a reorganization without actually having to spend hours moving books.

#14: I think that is a beautiful tag. And looking at your books tagged as such, I realize that I greatly enjoyed every one of them that I've read, so I just may have to look into the rest.

33cubeshelves First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 7:33pm Top

I was involved in the design of a tagging system a while ago, and found a few interesting things while working on it.

First, tags really only seem to work for organizing stuff you have some sort of conceptual "ownership" of - things that in some way you have an incentive to keep order within. People don't seem to want to tag in enough quantity / detail to be useful when they don't have a personal stake in sorting through the resultant mess.

Second, it's hard to convince an established hierarchy-centric business to trust the users enough to let them tag data - there's a huge amount of concern about liability (what if I tag something you wrote as "utter crap?"), and a huge concern about gaming the system.

Third, I disagree with some of the things that have been getting said lately about the relationship between human effort in tags and algorithmic effort. Human effort is wonderful, and very smart - but it's extremely "effortful," in the sense that every minute of a human's time you spend organizing books is a minute of someone's finite life. Algorithms are a tool that, at their best, should enable humans to look at data in ways they otherwise can't, and enable them to make bigger, more important decisions.

In that regard, I'm really happy with what tags are on LibraryThing; the algorithms we're currently seeing are a smart combination of automatic and human. There's still a lot of neat information to dig for, though - I'd love the opportunity to run reports against the LT tag system and look for interesting properties.

Edited: Jul 25, 2007, 7:35pm Top

#14 "Everything is Miscellaneous is one of 37 books I currently have tagged "included in the present classification" (there are none that look like flies from a great distance)."

Are too! Are too! That's one of the first ones I made:


Jul 25, 2007, 7:50pm Top

I've reached the age where hair grows on my ears. Complex schemes I don't need. Tagging simplifies my book life. My books my way.

Anybody got any good ideas about getting hair off my ears without spattering a lot of blood around?

Jul 25, 2007, 7:53pm Top

Tagging takes great big gobs of verbose knowledge and condenses it into tasty little knowledgettes. I plan to write a history of the world in tags. It should come in at four octavo sized pages.

Jul 25, 2007, 8:06pm Top

Tagging is getting awfully close, it seems, to the way our brains naturally work anyway - it "associates" and "retrieves" based on miscellaneous tags it has (subconsciously) attached to the idea or concept.

38briandorsey First Message
Edited: Jul 25, 2007, 8:09pm Top

I love tags, and have been an avid user of del.icio.us for years. On del.icio.us I use tags to categorize URLs in ways which are probably generally useful.

However, my use on LibraryThing is different. I find myself tagging my books based on how I got them, or where they currently are now. (ex: http://www.librarything.com/tagcloud.php?view=briandorsey)

I'm not sure why this is, actually. I guess I just never really care to browse my own books by genre? I usually want to look at them by author or where they are, etc.

Take care,

Jul 25, 2007, 8:18pm Top

Tagging personalizes knowledge, replaces external classifications for "what is," and enables a user to create their own tools rather than forcing them to conform to ones with a predetermined function. My tags do not define heirarchies within my library, whereas others' do. My tags do not indicate on which date I acquired a book or when I began reading them, but again, some users have found this useful.

A tag called "NEW" could mean many different things to many different users: it could mean a recently acquired purchase, the latest in a series, the physical condition of the book, or it could even be an abbreviation for "News," meaning books about Journalism or Current Events.

Tags allow you to organize conceptually, creating distinctions that are meaningful to you. This, for me is the biggest appeal. There have been several times on this site where I wished that a feature or field existed and made do with tags, the Swiss Army Knife of notation.

40selkins First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 8:49pm Top

I've blogged some about knowledge gardening (using tags and other social software for knowledge management), and did a presentation on it at Penguicon. I'm still waiting for a promised scanner loan to upload the bulk of my books into LibraryThing, but I pass along tagmashes from my Connotea links library (2000+ online articles, blog entries, etc.; Connotea's motto is "Organise. Share. Discover) pretty often. For instance, http://www.connotea.org/user/selkins/tag/tagging+knowledge%20gardening is the intersection of URLs I've tagged with "tagging" and "knowledge gardening" (a slightly different tagmash from http://www.connotea.org/user/selkins/tag/tagging+knowledge%20management or http://www.connotea.org/user/selkins/tag/tagging+job). I can suggest that friends/co-workers subscribe to RSS feeds of those tags/tagmashes of mine which interest them most (it would be really cool if LibraryThing could offer RSS feeds of LT tags and individual users' tags).

Jul 25, 2007, 9:03pm Top

Ahh, tags, years before tags became 'known' I've wanted ways to organize things that are not necessarily hierarchical. Take Comic Books for example, generally a comic book is fairly linear in it's story BUT there are also MANY cross overs and new characters start in one series only to be spun off, or one might spin off for a separate series and come back ad nauseum. Tacking story arcs across titles and where favorite characters show up in different titles. I envisioned a 'tagging' scheme (though I didn't call it that) and once I learned the wonderful invention of the relational database I knew it could be done! Of course I never got around to it and now with LT I don't need to (Thanks Tim from saving me the work!).

However as wonderful and powerful tags are for an individual user's collection in aggregate their power grows. The larger a dataset someone has to work with the more useful information can be gleamed from it.

Knowing I have the Illiad in my collection and hasn't been read is knowing a little about me, knowing that %20 of people on LT (made up number) own it but haven't read it is significant about the book.

There is a lot of noise in tags and that is actually a good thing because it helps point out the things that really are significant in the mess. Also as the data set gets bigger and bigger more things around the fringe will start to take a more statistically significant role. We might find that a reasonable number of people keep Uncle John's Bathroom reader in the bathroom and War and Peace on the bedroom night stand, or even that the latest craze sold 3 copies and everyone passes it around.

I personally don't think there is such a thing as a worthless tag, it just need a point of view to see it from!

Jul 25, 2007, 9:05pm Top

Like a lot of others, LT is the first site I've used that has tags and has given me the opportunity to experiment them. It's interesting. Most of the things I've noticed have been pointed out above (ah, to have an original thought...), but what I find myself really wanting to use tags for is to function as workarounds for features I'd like. Examples would be adding books tagged with "wishlist". I've yet to do that, though once I get my cell phone web access working, I likely will add my wishlist on here.

As for the tags I've actually added, they're pretty straightforward. What I really enjoy is adding the tags without looking at other tags I've added and seeing what kind of odd combinations I get. I'm very inclusive with my tagging. I figure it's easier to weed things out through further investigation rather than not include them...

43jmittell First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 9:09pm Top

A word that hasn't been used yet is "emergent" - tags allow knowledge to emerge from practice rather than top-down authorities. A mass of readers can categorize books better than one librarian, just as ants build better anthills.

Jul 25, 2007, 9:21pm Top

Tags are not new. I was using them on books in the late 1960s.

Whenever I learned a new computer language, I used to write myself another book cataloging program. My first one was in FORTRAN, and the info about a book had to fit on one 80-column card. I keypunched a couple boxes of book-cards (back about 1968). ISBNs were barely invented by then (I think) so they were not important enough to include. But I had three fields defined for tags (7 capital letters each) even then. I called them comments, though, not tags. I knew I needed to categorize books by more than author and title.

I wrote book cataloging programs in PL-1, Algol, APL (the briefest program, and virtually unintelligible, but fun and fast), Lisp, etc. They all used the same 80-column physical cards for input.

Then, in 1984, I got a Macintosh. It turned me into a user of other people's programs. I eventually graduated from cards to records in data bases, and that is the system I was using until I found LibraryThing.

I really, really want more fields in LibraryThing, particularly book cost, so I know how much wealth I've sunk into this book obsession, with the ability to get a total on that field, and Series id, so I can sort books in series order instead of by title. So it isn't perfect, and I am still maintaining my FileMaker book database on my local disk.

But what LibraryThing does better than my home-grown catalogers and the databases I've tried, is that it allows me to not only pull out sub-libraries by tag (which I was doing before), but also to compare my encapsulation of the essence of a book with that of other people. And sometimes I add tags as a result.

I can throw away my punched cards. Eventually, I hope to be able to throw away the Filemaker files, too. But LibraryThing does not yet do everything they do, alas.

Because of the social nature of tags, I have followed other people's tags to find books I "needed" to have. So LibraryThing tags have directly contributed to the book clutter in my house. Thanks a lot!

45idkidd First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 9:32pm Top

Tagging gives anyone control to the degree of which they want it: tag a ton or don't tag at all. The benefits of tag clouds and all that are just gravy. But really good gravy!

Jul 25, 2007, 9:35pm Top

I think the excellent thing about tags is the ability to make the catalogue personal - Like the UPenn Tag system, which allows users to add their own tags to books in the University Library. They are search able by others but it shows what people have an interest in. It also helps people see what users find important about different books. And since tags can be obscure (the less number of ppl who tag them, the less likely to influence the balance of the earth...) they can be more impactful for the maker of the tag. For instance, if I were tag a Nancy Drew book, I would tag it, "Anna, Mystery, Youth, 3-5th grade, Yellow" While 3 of those tags would be helpful to others (particularly using the new Mashup feature...) but Yellow would be more helpful to me, particularly when I want to search the shelves for this particular book. One thing that is interesting is the number of people who come into libraries looking for a book based upon it's physical attributes. The use of mashups and tags could help librarians find a book much faster then sending an email to Fiction_L listserv. Hope that gives some more insight into tags :-)

The only drawback I see of tags is the need to think about a book and enter it...But that may be what makes it work - you enter in the first few words that come to mind instantly about that work. Yet I would like to see a feature like Del.ici.ous, which gives a list of tags that are already created for that item, b/c I ALWAYS leave something important out.

Jul 25, 2007, 10:02pm Top

I agree with much of what others have said. Tagging makes organizing my library personal and unique, like how I choose to organize the books on the physical shelf. I mostly use tags for me, and I organize my information in ways that make sense to me. But the brilliance of combining tags is that it allows for people with different ways of thinking to unify their ways of thought, while keeping their idiosyncrasies.

Jul 25, 2007, 10:50pm Top

#34, I should've known to search! Or at least to specify that I didn't have any tagged as flies. Doing so would be like admitting that the bifocals are coming along any now...

#44, don't throw away the punch cards! They make excellent bookmarks.

49aenterman First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 11:09pm Top

I'm not a very active user on LibraryThing, although I certainly would be if I ever had the time. Anyway, I'm a big fan of tagging. I didn't used to be. I love taxonomy - the feeling of neatly slotting everything into place, giving an item a label that perfectly suits it, and knowing that I can find it with other items like it any time I wish. I like to alphabetize, organize, and sort with exact conditions. I spend a lot of time updating metadata on my iTunes library! As you can expect, when I first ran into the concept of folksonomy I was slightly mistrustful. When LiveJournal introduced tags (for that was my first introduction), I started trying to tag my posts under OTHERS' categories -- I frantically read every blog possible in hopes that categories that worked for other people might work for me. When I started a del.icio.us account, and a last.fm account, I realized, hey! all of these have tagging capabilities - I should STANDARDIZE my tags! I spent an afternoon trying to do just that, until that evening, weary after trying to make the tag "photos" have any relevance on last.fm, realized the true beauty of tags. It wasn't about having exact categories, or having everything fit neatly into a name I gave it. With tags, you could be messy, if you really needed to; you didn't HAVE to worry about the exact spelling everyone else was using for something - sure, it might be easier on del.icio.us or other social networks, but it was by no means necessary.

50xaglen First Message
Jul 25, 2007, 11:09pm Top

Tagging doesn't so much affect knowledge as reveal it in unexpected places and from unexpected sources. We are all bent, but we're bent in different directions, and so the sum of our deviances converges on reality quickly - and tagging taps into that. We collectively arrive at a solution that is wiser than one which an expert could create.

Jul 25, 2007, 11:19pm Top

I remember when tags were called keywords. I guess a name change made them "hip".

Jul 26, 2007, 12:04am Top

>I remember when tags were called keywords. I guess a name change made them "hip".

Oooooh. I have to respond to that!

Tags are keywords. They're keywords in much the same way that blogs are web pages. When blogs first came out, technical people were confused. "Aren't these just web pages? Aren't blogs just a CMS with lots of restrictions? What's new here?"

But blogs were an advance. They weren't a technical advance, but a social one. By making a standard CMS and involving everyone in a social world of people using the CMS, blogs created something new and very exciting.

Blogs differ from keywords in two major ways. First, they are treated like top-level entities, not like searches. A tag has a page. It has a URL, usually something like /tag/sheep. The page shows other metadata about that tag. A search is a transient dip into the data. The URL is more likely to look like search.php?query=sheep&type=keyword&x=1&b=2. And it's not likely to show other metadata, like who uses the keyword, other keywords that relate and so forth.

Second, standardization has allowed social use. But I'm getting tired and I won't continue this paragraph. You get the point.

Jul 26, 2007, 12:19am Top

What does tagging do to knowledge?

Well, it stands it on its head.

Rather than have to learn some authoritative taxonomy, the user gets to project his-or-her own taxonomy - the one they carry around in their head, the way they actually view things - out upon the outer world.

Jul 26, 2007, 12:19am Top

I, by contrast, hardly tag at all. It's partly that I am a private library and tagging makes my library less secure but it's also that I just don't see the point of spending a lot of time recategorizing my books in some once-removed, multi-layered manner. (I did fiddle around with it when I first began loading my books in, before abandonning it as a waste of time.)

Although I have many thousands of books, I don't feel the need to have much, if any, additional information tacked on to my catalogue about them. They are largely sorted and shelved in ways that makes them easy to find; I've read virtually all of them, and they're not going anywhere as long as I live. And luckily, my mind is still sharp enough to remember my acquaintance with them.

I can see the utility of some highly personal tags (mostly to indicate the familial source of my inherited books), but I plan to hold off until I'm done entering all my books and can get them extracted away from LT on to an Xcell spread sheet. There, on my own hard drive, I can safely add whatever notes I need.

The many comments above were enjoyable and thought provoking reading, about how we humans approach organization and categorization, but I still don't see the point of tagging one's own books. When you hold one of your books in your hand, doesn't it call up what you need to know about it? And if not, can't you sit and leaf through it, or re-read it?

Having studied some works' tag clouds, I just don't see that anything worthwhile is gained when (for example) War and Peace is tagged "fiction" 606 times; Russia, Russian or Russian literature collectively 576 times; classic or classical 304 times or literature 186 times. Or even "not read" or variations of that more than 80 times. At the other end, does it help me understand the book to know it was recommended to one LT user by Dan somebody or other? Buried somewhere between the tag noting Dan what's his name and the banality of one noting the book is "fiction", there may be something interesting, but who would ever want to take the time to find it? And just because an algorithym can be devised to quickly assort and display all manner of data in novel ways, it doesn't mean there is much benefit, or even entertainment, in that novelty.

I much rather spend my time reading a book!


Jul 26, 2007, 12:25am Top

>52 timspalding: It still seems like a mere semantic shift to me, but it hasn't stopped me from having 9.36 tags per book. :)

Jul 26, 2007, 12:33am Top

Tim, I love ya, but I have to say "huh"? -- I don't think I'd ever put "having a URL" at the top of the list of what makes tags different.

I'd say first -

Tags differ from keywords in that they're not limited to what the creator says they have to be. Keywords as they're traditionally understood are either drawn from the words in the text itself or added by an authoritative source (publisher, cataloger...). By being able to add my own tags describing your website, or Charles Dickens's book, or a complete stranger's photos, I have a role (and an investment) in creating the information that I never could've had when I was just a reader.

And second -

If we start from the premise implied by that, that my perspective is an important part of the information, then my opinion combined with fleela's opinion, or contrasted with it, or (let's say) churned with a lot of others into recommended lists. The aggregate has power beyond the single (possibly weird) opinion.

But having a URL? I mean, it's pretty spiffy, and I can go on about the joys of human-readable URLs all day, but it's way down the list.

57LivePaola First Message
Jul 26, 2007, 12:34am Top

Google got tags exactly right when it built tags, not folders, into GMail. Now, the only mystery is why they called them "Labels" instead of simply "tags"...

Jul 26, 2007, 12:37am Top

52> I remember people trying to describe Robot Wisdom when it appeared. I didn't know what to call it either. It was something different.

Jul 26, 2007, 12:46am Top

And it's hard to label things. I want a tiny tag icon, not some crap drop-down.

I'll argue for URL later.

Jul 26, 2007, 1:02am Top

I'm a very light tagger, but it has helped me do basic statistics on the handful of categories of books I'm interested in following.

I'm very interested in the structures of knowledge that come out of a thorough set of tags. I'm not sure LT has enough people (or diverse enough people) to make that aspect work out yet, but it's a start.

I'm perhaps even more interested in the creative possibilities. A poetics of emergence, if you will, tied to large-scale samplings of how people connect things in the world.

Jul 26, 2007, 1:18am Top

Well, my main reason for tagging is that I enjoy the organization that it gives the chaotic state of some of my collections. As I slowly started adding tags to my books on LibraryThing, I could see the order arise. While the state of my bookshelves at home hasn't become more organized because of LibraryThing, I feel that my access to those books has become easier. I can keep track of what I've read, what I've enjoyed and most importantly, expand my horizons outside of my own collection.

It's hard to describe why I enjoy the information that can be gathered from a book that has been tagged by the community, I have spent hours just looking over the tags that have been applied to the books here just taking it all in.

Hmmm, maybe if I do win a copy of this book I'll be able to better describe my obsession here!

62Placebogirl First Message
Jul 26, 2007, 2:16am Top

Tags do different things to knowledge, depending on the environment in which they are used.

In a private environment, they allow people to categorise things they own or know about in a low weight manner. The downside of this is that I think tags are probably often contextual, so a book that you tag as historical fiction might be a book you later want to return to by the name of the main character -- and if you didn't tag that, you're out of luck. Nonetheless, tags can help people organise their private knowledge in a low-weight accessible way, and with the addition of a tag cloud or similar, allow them to explore the things they are tagging in a novel way (for example, when tagging interesting-to-me webpages I might find I read much more in the way of economics or politics than I thought I did).

In a public environment tags do something very different. They do, as mentioned before, make items more accesible for both searching and browsing by providing community labels for them, thus allowing synonyms, mutiple classifications, and cultural variations. For this to work, though, tags must be applied liberally but not too liberally; it is like the conept of stopwords in a search engine -- words that are used too often are not useful, and items that are tagged with too many words are unlikely to be relevant to a specific need.

In a small community, though, tags are very interesting. Not only do they provide the advantages mentioned above, but they also allow the community to negotiate meaning and context -- the types of tags that are used, and the content of those tags says something about what is meaningful to a community. As an example of this, consider a community of students pooling photos and tagging them; types of tags might include who is in the photos, location, date, time and photographer. The community standard for who is in the photos may include labelling everyone, or it may mean only tagging photos with the names of comunity members. This approach allows the group to negotioate what is important about the photos.

One concern I have with tagging, particularly of multimedia items, and particularly for small communities or private use is that it is merely a stopgap until we find more effective ways of searching and browsing multimedia files.

Jul 26, 2007, 2:55am Top

I think AsYouKnow_Bob #53 has hit my point exactly. Tags are about you, your stuff and how you think about it. LibraryThing is smart in that it allows interested people (we could call them subject experts - but really they are people with too much time on their hands! °grin°) to equate certain tags so that they connect to other like-minded people.
Over time I've actually reduced the number of tags I've used per book, as I've seen what significant patterns emerge in my collection (like a cataloguer adapting their classfication behaviour to suit their library?)

As I think Tim has talked about previously, people do not want to work on other people's stuff (at least not when they're not being paid for it) but when a system allows their work to benefit others, then it's hunky dory.

Jul 26, 2007, 5:10am Top

I am currently studying for my MSc in library and information studies and have become very interested in recent trends in web 2, social sharing and the development of folksonomies. I think the main point to remember is that tagging is NOT JUST an unstructured form of subject headings; it is a completely different way of viewing the world. Taxonomies and standardised subject heading vocab divide knowledge hierarchically according to set rules. Folksonomies allow knowledge to emerge through collaborative involvement. Tagging allows people to look at books in new ways, to share that knowledge, and to create tag clouds so that no one tag gets missed.
I personally use tags in several ways. Firstly, I am currently tagging all of my catalogued books for my personal use. For example, if I fancy reading a historical novel I can see straight away which ones I have. I can also look at the ‘not read’ tag to see a list of books that have sat unread on my shelves for years! The control of my tags is firmly in my hands.
Secondly, I use tags to look at books that others have tagged with my tag. I may agree, I may not, but I can always follow the tag cloud for more options. It is a fluid process.
I also find it interesting to look at the tag itself and see statistically figures about its use.
I am a big fan of tags within a context like librarything, where users are in the main cataloguing their personal libraries and using it to store their catalogue and get recommendations. However, I do think that in order to introduce tagging into the academic library context would require a lot of thought. Perhaps it is just the librarian blood in me that fights against handing over all control to students, who knows deep down that we have subject headings for a reason, and who questions whether if given the opportunity many library users would bother to design their own tags. There may well be chaos. But if tags help students to find information more easily, perhaps we should give it a try. Maybe the answer is in a combination; keep the LCSHs in the catalogue record whilst also allowing students to add tags to records.

Jul 26, 2007, 5:38am Top

I bought this superbook already and would LOVE to give it to someone else too!

Jul 26, 2007, 6:44am Top

Having just read Mrs Radcliffe above (msg 64) I would have to say that tagging does not equal folksonomy. Tags are equally amenable to being used in a controlled vocabulary if that is how one sets up the rules (and I can see that this may well be done in formal library settings).

However not being a librarian I do prefer the free tagging approach of folksonomies. It allows the emergence of information that no-one would even suspect was there (see msg #43). It allows me to model the way I think not the way some group of experts constrain themselves to think. As Peter Morville (not that I agree with him on all his points) writes in Ambient Findability, "Like relevance, authority is subjective and ascribed by the viewer."

67beatlemoon First Message
Jul 26, 2007, 7:38am Top

What's so wonderful about tagging is that it puts the classification power in the users' hands. It personalizes the organization of information.

If you hate the LC or Dewey subjects that are tied to your books, well to hell with them! Make your own headings! Anything you want, even tags that mean nothing to anyone but you! And some of the fun can be surfing others' strange and interesting tags. Further up someone mentioned wanting to make a tag for "Farm boys with Magical Destinies" (or something to that effect). I'd love to see what books fall into that category.

Jul 26, 2007, 8:08am Top

One of the things I find most fascinating about tagging is what it reveals about the cognitive processes of the taggers. What makes one person tag Walden with "simplicity" and another person with "hermits"? It's not a novel observation that we all experience books (for example) personally or subjectively. Tagging is a very simple way to turn that individual experience into universal information.

Edited: Jul 26, 2007, 8:17am Top

#66 Fair point that tagging does not necessarily equal folksonomies. I would however drawn the conclusion that I did due to the fact that, if I were using tags in a structured way with controlled vocab, I'd just use subject headings. The point behind tags is the user control and the freedom of cognitive thought.

Jul 26, 2007, 8:27am Top

My tags are almost exclusively subject-related, and I tend to use several tags per title. I like the flexibility of tags, but the ability to create hierarchy would be useful.

I generally put personal information (where I obtained the book), condition, and special attributes (1st edition, signed, etc.) in Comments. I use a few temporary personal tags (e.g. “wrong cover”, “check ISBN”, etc.) to highlight details that need to be cleaned up.

The variety of tagging systems is amazing. You can tell a lot about a user’s interests by the complexity of tags relating to a specific concept. I am always a bit disappointed when I encounter a catalog without tags. Of course you can look at the books in that catalog, but you don’t get much indication of the user’s relationship to their books.

Edited: Jul 26, 2007, 9:19am Top

I started using LibraryThing because all the books I had in storage came back in boxes and I need to put them onto my new shelves in a far more orderly manner than before - what's the point in having books if you can't find them when you need them. I didn't want to go the Dewey route.

Adding books to LibraryThing and applying tags helped me go through the process of determining what clusters of books I had, and what were the important discriminators i.e. I have tags for cooking, travel and languages, and although I have a tag for France that's not one that you'll see on the shelves.

72vmg569 First Message
Jul 26, 2007, 9:36am Top

I ordered the book from the library, read it a couple of times and would love to own a copy. This is a book that you need to revisit a couple of times for everything to sink in. The concept of smushiness (referring to the semantic web) - I can relate to that when I tag. I stopped trying to find the right tag. My tagging style is what immediately pops into my head ala "Blink". I trust my instincts...

Jul 26, 2007, 10:20am Top

>67 beatlemoon:.. I'm tipping that "farm boys with magical destinies' tag would feature The Belgariad series by David Eddings .. and a whole slew of traditional fantasy :-)

That's what I love about tags, the way they're a mix of finding common themes among the same genre, or new connections across disparate genres or authors.
When I joined LT, what I found so-big-bright-flashbulb interesting about using tags was how suddenly I had this magic tool to create and discover these thematic connections on my bookshelves.
And discovered via tags how someone else sees completely different key ideas for the same books.

These connections made me reflect more on what I liked reading and why I found something interesting.

That understanding helps me find more books (and authors) that fit what I'm looking for, and I've found some wonderful books on the journey so far.

I suspect the tagmash feature will help me break my book budget. (again)
For that reason alone, it would be great to win one of the 10. :-)

74kdavidson First Message
Jul 26, 2007, 10:40am Top

I see two uses for tags. One is to record a personal categorization, and the other is to allow you to find what other people have that is similar. Lots of people have covered the positive aspects of the first use, and I couldn't agree more. However, the freeform nature of tags makes the second use somewhat more limited. With so many different English words available to describe the same concept, people use all those words when describing even the same book. It would be helpful to have a list of several dozen (or even several hundred) common tags that could be selected in addition to the freeform tags that would make finding other similar books easier.

75ehampton First Message
Jul 26, 2007, 10:48am Top

Tagging creates ways to classify things in a variety of different ways, and allowing users to tag lets there be as many ways to classify things as there are people! Faceted classification rules! Go S. R. Ranganathan!

Edited: Jul 26, 2007, 11:18am Top

At first look, I think possibly the most useful features on the tagmash page are the "Related Tagmashes" and "Related Subjects" sidebar. This means that, after I've gotten the tagmash results from my initial tag combo, there's a tool that may help find a better fit or a related fit that is more interesting that what I was originally looking for.


Jul 26, 2007, 11:26am Top

For my entry in the drawing, I’d like to suggest a tag related feature:

Add a field to the “Your Library” page (to the left of the “Search your library” field) and to the Search page, to hold a persistent tag expression to be ANDed with expressions in the existing tag search fields. In other words, only apply search expressions to the sub-set of books defined by the persistent expression. Of course, when the new field is empty, search works as it does now. The new field would be a database field, so its value would persist across pages and sessions. It would be an easy way to implement tag-based collections.

Jul 26, 2007, 11:59am Top

Tagging helps me corral certain books based on attributes & find trends among my books. Some funny, some ironic & some a bit scary.

Jul 26, 2007, 12:22pm Top

I've not been much of a tagger; I've mainly used them to label books in a series. Honestly, I'd rather be able to establish a category hierarchy than use freeform tags; I guess I just don't have the "Web 2.0 mindset" yet.

On the other hand, it could be that I'm simply not community-minded; all my data entry is focused on my needs, and I don't really think about what would be useful to others.

Edited: Jul 26, 2007, 11:06pm Top

In his essay "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" (text here), Jorge Luis Borges offers an engaging argument for the inadequacy of formal systems of categorization. Pointing out the "arbitrariness" of several attempts at formal classification (including one by the Bibliographical Institute of Brussels), Borges comes to the conclusion that "there is no classification of the universe that is not arbitrary and conjectural. The reason is very simple: we do not know what the universe is."

Among the systems that Borges cites, the most memorable is a certain (almost certainly apocryphal) Chinese Encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In this encyclopedia, animals are divided into the following categories:

(a) those belonging to the emperor
(b) embalmed ones
(c) those that are trained
(d) suckling pigs
(e) mermaids
(f) fabulous ones
(g) stray dogs
(h) those that are included in this classification
(i) those that tremble as if they were mad
(j) innumerable ones
(k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush
(l) others
(m) those that have just broken a flower vase
(n) those that resemble flies from a distance

Interestingly, Borges does not ultimately reject formal classification: "the impossibility of penetrating the divine scheme of the universe," he writes, "cannot dissuade us from outlining human schemes, even though we are aware that they are provisional."

I am sure that Borges would have had something interesting to say about tagging, folksonomies and emergent knowledge. Rather than attempting to silence noise, tagging embraces it, for it is precisely out of that noise that knowledge emerges.

Sure, there are seemingly "miscellaneous" tags in LibraryThing that perhaps even rival the categories in Borges' Chinese Encyclopedia. A couple of my favorites are Pictures of Moses with Horns and Superfluous 9/11 references (I also once saw a tag that was something like "Misleading depiction of Wyoming", but I don't remember the exact wording). And yet, despite this "noise," if we look at the tag cloud for any book with a sufficiently large ownership, there is a clear preference for certain tags. Take, for instance, the tag cloud for the new Harry Potter book. There are, of course, some idiosyncratically personal tags in this list--each used by precisely one tagger--yet for which in most cases (but not all) we can guess at their meaning:

correct cover (1)
aaahhhhhhh (1)
Alan Rickman (1)
autistic-like character (1)
Bought at midnight (1)
choo (1)
halfway through! (1)
Kleenex (1)
locaton-harvey (1)
the end of Pottermania (1)
wisconsin (1)

A quick look at some of the most frequently used tags, however, gives us a set of terms that do a pretty good job of characterizing the book (albeit at a fairly superficial level).

fantasy (783)
fiction (563)
harry potter (456)
magic (232)
young adult (196)
series (134)
wizards (119)
2007 (85)
children's literature (54)
novel (54)
british (49)
hardcover (43)
witches (37)
hogwarts (33)
children's fiction/books (29/21)
J.K. Rowling (28)
adventure (27)
sff (23)
young adult fiction (22)
friendship (19)
juvenile (19)
boarding school (13)
coming of age (12)
good vs. evil (11)

To get an rough idea of what constitutes a tagging consensus, notice that the most commonly agreed upon tag (fantasy) has been used 783 times, whereas at the time of writing 3783 members have catalogued copies of this book within LT. Now, this discrepancy can be attributed in part to people waiting until after they have read the book to tag (as well as to the fact that a significant sector of members do not tag at all). What is of more interest, really, is the sudden fall-off between the handful of terms at the top of the list and the rest of the terms that stand out in the tag cloud. In fact, half of the tags that appear in my list are used by less than 1% of the members who own the book. There is so much noise in the Deathly Hallows tag set that finding ten or twenty matching tags is enough to make that tag significant. This is not a "problem" with tagging, in my opinion, but rather an indication of how tag knowledge will often emerge from fairly small sets of tagging consensus.*

Also among the tags that stand out from the cloud are some "personal" tags that nevertheless tell us quite a bit about the current impact this book is having upon the LT readership:

read in 2007 (64)
currently reading (23)
July 2007 (21)
favorite/favorites (12/11)
50 book challenge (11)
Green Dragon (5)

There are a few tentative conclusions that we can draw from this, I suppose. First and foremost, when there is a lot of noise in the local tagosphere, it takes relatively little consensus for mutual tagging to appear significant. If I and ten of my friends were to apply the tag erotica to the new Harry Potter book, that tag would currently stand out from the tag cloud as being significant.

On the other hand, where there is a clear consensus on a tag, it is probably based on fairly broad considerations (and therefore constitutes relatively superficial knowledge). Conversely, the most intriguing tags (autistic-like character, Kleenex, the end of Pottermania) are almost inevitably used by only a single member.

Does this render tagging ineffectual as a means for generating knowledge about a single book? Good question. I think the real strength of tagging comes into play when examining similarities in the tagging of different books--this despite the well-known ambiguities of language (Tim's "leather" example is a good starting place for this). For single books, however, tag-based knowledge may indeed sometimes be shaky. We must use it with realistic expectations, always remaining aware that this knowledge is provisional.

*the only "problem" per se is font size selection in the tag cloud (I'm guessing that this is primarily a problem for books that are owned by a fairly large number of people, yet have only had tags entered by a fraction of those that own the book). In situations like this (including the new HairyPooter book), the different levels of tagging consensus cannot always be discerned visually. Compare, for instance, the fonts used for the currently reading (23) and fantasy (783) tags in the Deathly Hallows tag cloud.

Jul 26, 2007, 1:03pm Top

How tagging contributes to knowledge
-- I now know that my personal locative tag, BOX 6, is also a common tag to other people's Andre Norton books.

That tells me that perhaps many of us have "outgrown" the coming-of-age messages that are most common in her books. So that tells me that many of us who have her books are older, probably Baby-boomers

Jul 26, 2007, 1:10pm Top

I love the tagmash, and find other people's tags generally more useful than my own -- this may be that my own library is rather small (only about 1500 books) while the universe of LT is very large -- generally I'll use tags in my own library to quickly find a book, but it won't remind me that said book exists.

The tagmash, on the other hand, lets me find books in whatever infinitesimally thin slice of parameter space I want to explore. And the best part is that it doesn't require there to be ANYBODY else interested in that same slice for it to work -- extensive enough social data lets people explore highly individualistic interests.

As an example, I've got a soft spot for fantasy about baseball -- think of W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, or pretty much anything else he ever wrote. With tagmash, unlike almost any other sort of taxonomic schemes, it doesn't matter if nobody else on all of LibraryThing shares this interest, and if I'm the only person who actually uses both tags on the same books -- as long as there are books that some people tag "baseball" and others tag "fantasy", I can find the baseball-fantasy books I don't have.

Jul 26, 2007, 1:40pm Top

tagging personalizes and contextualizes knowledge, and thereby infuses knowledge into social networks.

Edited: Jul 26, 2007, 2:02pm Top

I want the blue book too. So I need to post before reading all the earlier posts... well I managed to skim to 35 before giving up.

When I first filled-in my profile I had an idea in mind that I wrote this way (it's still on my profile, hidden near the bottom):

"I'm interested in finding ways to summarize the content of my fiction books, where subject does not really describe why we read these books... I would like to somehow capture the experience."

What bothered me was that I didn't have a good way to describe novels (maybe also some memoirs). Classifying novels by subject is, frankly, terrible (unless one is doing a research topic). Two novels on the same topic can be completely different; and reading one tells nothing about whether I might want to read the other. Style is better. But, since I'm clueless as to style terms, that doesn't help me much. So, I needed another scheme.

So, the idea that has evolved from this is that I need to group works to match my own mental schemes - that means tags. I'd like to claim that I've gone through all the novels I've read and have begun to do this. But I haven't. I only have one experimental tag, and the rest of the idea is on hold. That one tag is "Explores Aspects of Love (hope that link goes to the right place)

Also, I really like this idea from post #33 (cubeshelves) "Algorithms are a tool that, at their best, should enable humans to look at data in ways they otherwise can't, and enable them to make bigger, more important decisions.

Jul 26, 2007, 2:14pm Top

I already have Everything is miscellaneous and do not need another. That being said, I felt like contributing anyway.

I think the most interesting aspects of tagging, in a social networking context, are that

(1) All tagging is personal
and (2) All tagging is public

I say that all tagging is personal because even when someone tags a book "nonfiction," the tagger has choosen to tag it in this manner. Even if the book is non-fiction there is no law or rule that requires one to tag it as such.

More importantly, all tagging is public. When tagging is done in a social networking context, where tags are visible by all, even so-called "personal tags" have social value. Those looking to tags as a democratic method of categorizing objects(website, books, pictures) often call such personal tags "noise." However, unlike the noise in a crowded room that serves only to muddy the listeners understanding, the "noise" of tagging is actually relevant, additional information. And while it is often assumed that this additional information is only useful to the user of the tag and not some random onlooker, this is often not the case.

For instance, many users use "location tags" such as "on the bookself" or "on my desk." These tags, even when used for purely personal purposes, carry a large amount of information. There is a difference between the books "on my desk" and those "on the coffee table" and that difference is important.

Tagging is voluntary. There is no incentive for a user to include meaningless tags.

Jul 26, 2007, 2:45pm Top

As many have noted above what I find interesting about tags is their emergent properties. I think we are only beginning to see - in the interweb as a whole - the emergent behavior of tags and their users. Here they have certainly given me a new way to look at my library and follow threads of common interest through the libraries of others.

I am not convinced that these emergent properties/behaviors will be of great value but I also believe there is no way to predict where they are going and what we'll get from them in the future.

Jul 26, 2007, 3:24pm Top

Something I've found frustrating about the tags I find on books here is _sometimes_ nearly all the tags are personal. If I am looking for sci fi recommendations about Intergalactic Travel, well, very few people use that tag. In fact, a fair number of the sci fi books will tell me the main character, series, where people have stored it, etc. without telling me what its world-view/situation is (such as psi, alien encounters, culture clashes, intergalactic civilization, parallel worlds, etc.) Those were things I was hoping to learn from other people's tags, and, at the moment, can't always figure out.

Jul 26, 2007, 3:50pm Top

Textual islands rise up here and there, archipelagoes of quotations, aphorisms, fragments, and we sail from one to another, trying to connect the dots, to get something sweet to eat, to make love in the shade. That is what I am doing here and now: hopping from island to island, lily-pad to lily-pad, oasis to oasis, enclave to enclave. I am anachronistic, but what counts is: I am quick.

(Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, "Notes on Mutopia", in Postmodern Culture, Volume 8, Number 1, September 1997).

Edited: Jul 26, 2007, 4:08pm Top

Having followed this topic off and on today I've found a number of wonderful posts that have told me a lot about tagging.

I have concluded that one reason I haven't found more use for tags (even though all my books have at least one tag) is because LT is the first site where I used tags and only after nearly two years am I beginning to understand them. As one of our esteemed members frequently says "Tags are your friends."

Another reason is that we started out with with a rather rigid set and basically need to go back and add more tags to each book in order to ferret out those particularly interesting 'slices' of our library. I agree that related tagmashes sometimes turn out to be more interesting than the one I first looked at.

90n_morrell First Message
Jul 26, 2007, 5:53pm Top

What I most love about tags is using them, and how using tags changes my thinking. I don't find it easy to set aside controlled vocabulary, but it feels worth pursuing.

Jul 26, 2007, 5:55pm Top

For those of you who waded through my long posting at #80 and found it even remotely interesting, I've modified the second half significantly, taking a closer look at the tag cloud for Deathly Hallows. In particular, I look at how much of a consensus must be reached before a tag stands out in the tag cloud. The results were, for me at least, fairly surprising and should have some impact upon our understanding of tag-based knowledge.

Jul 26, 2007, 6:39pm Top

Not yet entirely convinced by tagging, coming from a background of classification and subject indexing but the statistical arguments look quite strong. I think my tagging so far has been a bit tentative and experimental. Just have to see how it goes on.

Jul 26, 2007, 7:07pm Top

Tagging helps me organize my digital content much easier than I possibly could in the physical world. I essentially just use tags as categories, and unlike say, a physical filing cabinet, multiple categorization is possible. It makes searching more intuitive, as the tags are already organized how I think, which may be very different than the content creators. The format of the content is mostly irrelevant—I currently use several different "Web 2.0" services for different types of media: video, photos, audio, text, etc. Also, much of the content isn't really content in a traditional sense, but metadata about physical objects like books, DVDs, CDs, etc., or merely links to other content online. Some of the services are "social networking" sites, so other people's and my tags—though intended for personal use—may help other people. Finally, I believe tags have greater potential to help computers understand content better than many of the overly-complex alphabet soup "semantic web" solutions.

94lmccoll First Message
Jul 26, 2007, 8:27pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Edited: Jul 26, 2007, 8:35pm Top

I'm glad to see this question - double bonus for me. I had a new thought (new to me) about tagging since listening to Tim Spalding's talk posted on the Library of Congress website. I have also been wanting to read Everything is Miscellaneous.

The language we use to tag is really going to be "of its time" isn't it? Words we choose could best express a work at the moment, but not necessarily ten years down the road. How useful will the tag 9/11 be if, God forbid, something else tragic happens on that very date? Suddenly more tags like 9/11/01 will pop up to distinguish it from our new 9/11 tag.

I remember being flabbergasted when I found out how long it took for the Library of Congress to change the subject heading "Vietnam Conflict" to "Vietnam War." Now it doesn't seem so ludicrous to me.

Even recognizing that LC Subject Headings and tagging achieve two different goals doesn't ease my mind about this. I cannot stand the thought of how muddy and increasingly useless much of Library Thing's tagging database will end up being in a very short time.

Jul 26, 2007, 9:12pm Top

This isn't really an answer to the original question, but I'm enjoying the thread :)

I like looking at the tag clouds for books. Post #80 was very interesting, and I think a good explanation of why personal tags don't somehow mess everything else up.

I have several categories of tags, myself.

1) Tags to categorize or to remind me about a book. I may never click on these, but it's nice to see them and sometimes I learn things about my reading or my physical library.

2) Tags for filtering. These may overlap with #1 (series or common character name, for example). Other tags don't tell me much: fiction/nonfiction, among others. Sometimes I want to see all my fiction books without anything else or filter out the fiction books when I'm searching my library.

3) Tags that are there for no reason except I felt like adding them :) Maybe I was curious how many X books I had, or I saw someone tag something Y and thought it would be a good addition to my catalogue too... any random thing that seemed interesting to keep track of. Some stick, but these are hit-and-miss because I rarely go through all my books and then I end up forgetting about them.

4) Personal/administrative tags, which are generally abbreviated and tilde-d so they cluster at the bottom of my tag cloud.

I think all of them can be interesting. I like to check out the catalogues of people who use similar and less common tags. Sometimes it prompts me to add a few more tags of my own.

#87, I agree... I like seeing those too. They're the kinds of things that get lumped into my #3 category. I have 'parallel world' and 'alternate earth' tags, for example, but I doubt that all of my books that fit those are tagged, especially the older ones. If I haven't read a book for a while I may not be sure just which of my tags apply.

Jul 26, 2007, 9:57pm Top

52> Well said.
92> Tagging and ontologies can and will coexist. I will never advocate doing away with any meta-data that's created. Tagging is another way of organizing information in a personal way at relatively low individual cost, that sometimes* has social value.

Off topic: Is there a genre that has a low/no rate of tagging? Why would that be? How would one find it if it isn't tagged? "no tags" is used as a tag 6509 times! Are these 7 users opposed to tags?

* Some places more that others, LT a lot, Flicker medium, Amazon low. YMMV

Jul 26, 2007, 9:59pm Top

I'm not sure that I really get the point of tagging, at least for my personal use. I mean, I could go through and tag all my books with dragons in them with Dragons, but it's not like I would actually ever need to search on that because I already know that about my books. And if there was a book I had that I didn't remember if it had dragons in it or not, then I wouldn't be able to tag it unless I reread the book.

I can see the point of a location tag as long as I remember to update the tags if I decide to give the book a new home, but tags on the content of the book don't seem useful except as just a fun thing to do.

Now if I think about other people, then it might be useful if I tag all my dragon books so that someone else who isn't familiar with the contents of the book could find it. So I don't find content tags useful for myself but it is useful as a way to give back to the community. But that's contradictory because we're supposed to be tagging with what is meaningful to us, but what if I don't find tags meaningful to me?

Jul 26, 2007, 10:43pm Top

>Off topic: Is there a genre that has a low/no rate of tagging? Why would that be? How would one find it if it isn't tagged? "no tags" is used as a tag 6509 times! Are these 7 users opposed to tags?

Totally on-topic. How different books get differently sized and shaped tag distributions is a very interesting thing. Abby and I had a neat conversation over beer with two LIS students who had a way to compute how good a tag cloud was. Meanwhile Shirky's off the cuff description of one distribution as more "smeary" continues to tickle me. I want a smeariness index. Unfortunately, I don't store tag-to-work in some summary table, so calculating it would be hard. But certainly it would be interesting to know what book with more than X (250?) members has the smallest proportion tags/members.

Jul 26, 2007, 11:16pm Top

98> The point is, don't worry about it. It goes against my nature as a programmer too, but tags don't have rules and that's the point.

99> Will they publish? I find some "academic" things as interesting but with little practical use. Have you seen Cocovas clustering visualization? http://emislej.googlepages.com/cocovas

Jul 27, 2007, 12:45am Top

I am only just beginning to learn how to use tags. My tags now are keywords or subject headings. I want them to describe what the book is about. I understand that people use tags in many ways and that is fine, too. Later I will try to experiment with other kinds of tagging.

Tag clouds are fun to see. I have not yet catalogued all my books, but even now my tag cloud have given me some food for thought. Does my tag cloud describe me, too?

Jul 27, 2007, 2:20am Top

I don't even pretend that the tags I apply have any real use--I'm sure they might be helpful, but what really appeals to me is the possibility of ordering the chaos, sorting piles and stacks of real life books into their neat little separate categories. It just makes me happy.

Jul 27, 2007, 2:41am Top

More than pre-defined hierarchies ever could, tagging introduces and even 'institutionalizes' far more subtle grades of meaning which are far more receptive to overlap. Since so much of what we say we know depends on the way we categorize and sort things in our heads--'black' from 'white' (color or people?), 'us' from 'them', 'literature' from 'fiction'--the move from externally-defined to self- and community-imposed identifiers has the potential for an immense impact on the way we know things. Tagging promises more nuanced descriptions, more allowance for undefinability, and less capacity for easy dichotomies.

Jul 27, 2007, 3:42am Top

"no tags" is used as a tag 6509 times! Well 4,807 of those are mine so I guess I can speak for the majority.

I'm not a great tagger - it's on the 'one-day' maybe list. Months ago when I was trying to find out how search worked I found that * was a good wild-card but only for books with tags so, as a part of some long-forgotten experiment I made sure that all my books had at least one tag. Hence the bulk of these.

Speaking as a a 'big library' owner, I find tags very limited in value. Conceptually I can see the power and I prefer 'tags' over 'subjects' - but I can't do enough with them. I want tags to have the power of collections so that I can treat some sub-set of the collection as if it were a separate account.

There are some broad themes in my library: business, elt, psychology, music, maps, cookery, foreign language, fiction, programming, . . . I'd love to be able to pull out, say, the cookery books and use them to get suggestions or search for commonality. For me, using the whole library is almost completely ineffective for these parts of the site (and I'm d***d if I'm going to open up a dozen new accounts and shift the books around to get something like the same effect).

Jul 27, 2007, 5:34am Top

The tag clouds of well-tagged libraries provide great insight into their owners. It's almost as if they are naked, and you can see deep into their souls.

Edited: Jul 28, 2007, 4:22pm Top

Tags have the potential to not only rate the subject matter of a book but to reveal a bit about the readers, they can also bring about a objective understanding of subjective matter.
It's clear that tags rate and track the subject matter of a book this is their primary purpose. The Cat in the Hat is tagged Cat 31 times. This is a standard subject tag and is one of the few tags relating to the actual story; the tag mess appears once and fish or goldfish 3 times.
It is also tagged Children's (in some form) more than 200 times. These are the reader type tags they tell you about the reader or in one case the listener (read aloud appears once). Some tags reveal readers who are thinking too much for the book such as personification.
These two uses of tags are normal and standard. Standard uses of tags go beyond just subject matter and the readership to the literary style of the book. These tags don't reveal a whole lot about the book; they make it easier to connect the book to other children's books about cats and hats. They also make it easier to search for books about certain subjects while bringing the crowed wisdom to this search.

There is also the interesting use of subjective tagging. Subjective tags refer to a quality of the book based on a reader’s opinion. For example the Cat in the Hat has a few subjective tags, good, great book for boys, funny, highly recommended and possibly bored, nonsense. While these aren't a large number of tags don't serve much purpose as such coupled with other tags and information they can yield important results. Coupled with other data ranges in this case reviews we can begin to piece together what ratings certain words have. Not having easy access to all the data I’ll ask a few leading questions…we could learn what star rating it takes to mark a book as funny. We could also learn what subjective terms (good, bad, mediocre, great etc) go with which star ratings. This way we can begin to turn tags into other information. So when we see great book we will know that is a 5 star book and if a book is tagged funny it must also be at least a 3 star book. So in this case the tag alone isn’t much help but when paired with other parallel information the tag can reveal a wealth of information about the book, it’s readers, and it’s subject matter.

Jul 27, 2007, 12:09pm Top

URLs and tags

Re Message 56: sabreuse's surprise at Tim's saying URLs are an important benefit of tags:

It's a powerful feature to me. I'm more likely to follow or pass on something that looks like a permalink than a temporary search result. Also, I'm not sure (yet) of the tech here, but I *think* tag URLs are more RSS-able than search results (see my above message # 40).

Jul 27, 2007, 12:25pm Top

(note: not surprise that they're important, but that they'd be the top feature)

Jul 27, 2007, 12:45pm Top

Ah, thanks, sabreuse!

Jul 27, 2007, 1:29pm Top

In my case, I still make a mess of tagging. Thankfully, my book collection is not so large as to have become unmanageable, but it's still a mess anyway. I'm so indecisive when it comes to what tags to use to describe something. At least books are solid objects, things that can be categorized (hmmm... are they? some books defy categorization, maybe), but journal/blog entries? Nightmarish...

And I obsess about language-related issues: plurals, foreign characters, synonyms, misspellings... I can't help it *sigh*

Anyway, I do think tagging it's a marvelous thing. It's fascinating what it can do to bring people together... or to cast them apart (!). And as for what does it do to knowledge? Keep it organized. Of course, it will never be possible to catalog every scrap of knowledge in the universe, but at least we're trying. :P

In my case, having the book would help... ;P *wink wink nudge nudge*

Jul 27, 2007, 2:02pm Top

Just to clarify that I have nothing against the keywords we now call tags*, I recently discovered that I have entered 840 distinct tags into my catalog. Some have been combined at the global level, but they remain separated in my library.

I truly love to tag my books in an as many ways and on as many levels as I can manage. They're tagged for my personal use and for the use of LT as a whole.

I've even managed to squeeze a bit of social "protest" into my tags. I have a "humor and humour" tag to show my disagreement with the fact that those individual tags aren't to be combined, per Tim's wishes. Also, I use the tag "literary" on every book in my catalog, just because the use of the word to describe a genre of fiction bothers me to no end.

*Perhaps there is a technical difference between the terms, on that I concede. :)

Jul 27, 2007, 2:30pm Top

Is there a total tag counter for a specific work? Which book has the most tags on LT?

Jul 27, 2007, 2:44pm Top

For me, since I read a lot and don't always remember the details of every book I've read, tagging is a handy shorthand for jogging my memory. I can look at a book tagged "fiction, london, journalist" and remember that it was that novel about the news reporter covering British politics. This is particularly true for things I've read since joining LT as they tend to have more complete tags because I'm now tagging as I read instead of long after the fact.

On a social level, I'm actually most interested in the places where tags diverge. Why do some people tag a particular book "children's" while others use "young adult" and what does that say about the book? What makes one person consider something a "classic" while to someone else it's "literature"? There's meaning in all these distinctions, and I think it is something that you can explore with tags in a way that you can't with some other classification systems.

Jul 27, 2007, 4:20pm Top

Tagging personalizes knowledge. I can create my own structure for organization and I hardly ever lose anything now.

Jul 28, 2007, 2:38am Top

I have to admit, I never got really excited about tagging until we could search multiple tags. That ability has made me rethink how I tag things. I mean it is one thing to be able to look at books tagged "wizards," but quite another to look at books tagged, "wizards" and "fantasy" "historical." Seems to be just about as close as you can get to being able to tell a computer something like....Hmmm...do you have any books about wizards who have cats? And you might actually get an answer!

Jul 28, 2007, 12:10pm Top

The LT tagging scheme has also made me deeply unsatisfied with the way I currently organize journal articles - to the point that I'm desperately waiting for LT to implement something to handle this

Have you thought about investing in EndNote? It's a bibliographical software that is geared to organizing the footnotes & bibliography for theses, dissertations, journal articles, etc. (Available for both PC & Mac.)

It has a keyword field that works just like LT's tagging, except for having an auto-fill feature (in fact, when I put my collection in LT, I used the same tags as I had in EndNote). It is set up from the get-go to handle journal articles as well as books and many other formats.

Jul 28, 2007, 3:03pm Top

I use my tagging to help remeber what the book is about. I have even sorted my books using my tags. Obviously, I like tagging.

Jul 28, 2007, 3:54pm Top

When I fists started tagging my books, I mainly used tags for the genres of the book, its location, and for the series (is it was part of a series). I would also occasional tag books I really didn't like as crap (for fiction) or bullshit (for nonfiction). Now I've started to add other tags for the subject: vampires, witches, werewolves, etc. I find that this makes it easy to sort my library.

Unfortunately, since anyone can add any tag to any book, searching based on tags (including tagmash) can be annoying. For instance, I tried a tagmash for "fortean, fiction" and about half the works that came up were nonfiction works that people had tagged fiction for some odd reason. Even trying "fortean, -nonfiction" and "fortean, nonfiction, fiction, -nonfiction" didn't help much. I suppose there are always going to be people tagging things with tags I don't agree with, because all tags are by their very natures entirely arbitrary.

Jul 28, 2007, 4:25pm Top

One possible problem with tagging is that it has the potential to be an externality, where it's often much more efficient to just leech off of other people's contributions than to do your own tagging and gain benefits that way.

Tags are great for defining grassroots hierarchies, along with other benefits, but you have to get a large number of tags in the database (by a large number of contributors) for the system to work. And the main reasons you're going to get people to tag their own work are for optimizing their library's (or equivalent system's) organization, simple pleasure in the act of tagging, and sheer altruism--which don't always merit the hours on end it can take to tag a decently-sized collection.

This isn't a similar situation to, say, Wikipedia, where a small number of editors can make a large difference, because you can't tag (nor should you tag, probably) other people's books. It's more like voting, something that America, where LT is based, has had some serious participation problems with in recent years. Unless I'm missing something here, what can we do to make tagging more appealing to the non-die-hard librarians and Web 2.0 enthusiasts?

Edited: Jul 28, 2007, 4:55pm Top

I'm a bit loath to tag my books, just because it tends not to be the way that my head works to begin with. If someone mentions that they like William Gibson, I might naturally shove Neal Stephenson in front of them, but I don't think of books as "labor" books, or "boxer" books. If that makes any sense...

Jul 28, 2007, 5:14pm Top

>119 KilroyWasHere: -- I disagree that most of the reasons for tagging are social (at least, on-line social).

Every book in my catalog has a tag (except the last few I've entered -- enter, tag, enter, tag, etc.). I do it to allow me to pull out subsets of my library.

Why do that?
Sometimes because I'm teaching a class and want to be able to easily recommend books in that subject area.
Sometimes because I'm researching something and want to see if I have further books on the topic.
Always because I need to know what is in particular slices of my library -- that's part of my nature.

Edited: Jul 28, 2007, 5:44pm Top

Tags related to today’s hot topics may appear in the tag cloud and then fade from prominence, perhaps to be revived at some future date, combining and recombining with related concepts into new tag clusters and facets. Because tagging is freeform, requiring no preconceived hierarchy of concepts, new ideas and themes can reveal themselves and spread rapidly—or fail to win acceptance. For a perhaps surprising parallel to this idea that flexibility in tagging releases vitality in meaning, we can look to Egyptian mythology—with its proliferation of gods, overlapping iconographies, and relative lack of detailed myth stories. The images and even the genealogies of the Egyptian gods were not fixed, but evoked a variety of expressions depending on the cult locale or the intended function of a ritual or story. The Egyptians were not confused by this. Likewise, the lack of an externally imposed categorization scheme need not obscure the layers of significance that tagging exposes.

Egyptologist Erik Hornung, in Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt (1970/1996), stresses that the fluctuating combinations of mythic characters and roles did not confound the Egyptians, who understood them as representations of part of reality, not its discursive totality. The tags that accumulate on social cataloguing sites, in their clusters and clouds, also do not describe the entire world of meaning. Instead, these tags reveal clues to the relevance of the items being labeled. As with the Egyptian gods, the linkages that these tags indicate are never absolute, but ever-shifting to show new connections. If the tag cloud seems chaotic at times, it is also entertaining and stimulating. Describing the Egyptians’ tolerance for confrontation and confusion in their mythology, Hornung writes that a certain amount of disorder was essential to stimulate the rituals that prevented chaos from overwhelming order and justice, via a partnership between the gods and humankind: “Through creation gods and men acquire a common task: to maintain their existence, which has an end, against the unending nonexistent and together to build a living order that allows space for creative breath and does not become atrophied” (p. 215).

One lesson to be learned from the balance between disorder and order achieved by the Egyptians in their religion is that the process of maintaining order is never-ending and requires the attention of the highest personages. Therefore, I am grateful to the skilled professionals and innovators who tend the temple fires behind the scenes at LibraryThing and other social cataloguing sites, constantly revising the applications that build tag clusters and other mechanisms for bringing coherence to the cloud.

Jul 28, 2007, 6:23pm Top

O.K., I'm game.

Samuel Johnson said that "Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." Not only does tagging enable these endeavors in wonderfully idiosyncratic fashion, it enables serendipity and it generates new knowledge.

Tagging permits a critical mass of outliers to accumulate and percolate.

Tagging is fun.

Tagging has gotten dedications, frontispiece quotations, chapter quotations, and blurbs onto the Internet. Theoretically you can now collect books dedicated to "Sally."

Tags rescue people from oblivion.

Tag clouds are clouds of witnesses.

Tags are signifiers which point to depositive things. (Here I wave my hand vaguely in order to denote Barthes, Wittgenstein, and whoever the head boffin of set theory is.)

Tags are grist for the mill of statisticians.

Tags are logical.

Tags self-organize.

Tagging permits me to see books as others see them.

Tagging is a data-miner's delight.


Jul 28, 2007, 7:42pm Top

>67 beatlemoon:.. I'm tipping that "farm boys with magical destinies' tag would feature The Belgariad series by David Eddings .. and a whole slew of traditional fantasy :-)

How about The Deed of Paksenarrion - "farm girls with magical destinies"? :-D

Edited: Jul 28, 2007, 8:38pm Top

Tagging allows me to work around some limitations caused by LT not handling non-ascii character sets. Which sounds like a complaint (and it is). But it is also a magnificent illustration of how encouraging free-range content creation, then increasing the value of that created content by allowing it to be merged (tag combination), gives users the tools to stop whining and get on with their lives.

I tag all of my manga with the creator's name, since the kanji pulled in from Amazon Japan leaves a blank hole where an author page should be. Meet Morimito Shuw. User mvrdrk, whose tag includes kanji, was separated from me until tag combining was enabled. Now our tags are BFF, baby.

Jul 28, 2007, 8:52pm Top

Knowledge is distinct from data in that the individual facts/statements involved are integrated into a context in knowledge versus almanac-style information which can and often does stand alone. Standard classification schemes do aid in retrieval, but because they are standardized they are by necessity authoritarian. Cognitive science has established that memories are personal context-dependent, meaning that matching factors in the environment which were present when a memory was formed helps in retrieving that memory. I find that the flexibility inherent in tags works along with my memory better, incorporating subtleties of context so that I can group objects more closely to the way I think of them.

As an example, I use the tag "English transitional" on LT, because that was the name of a literature course I took. But there's another tag I use that overlaps this tag and includes a state of mind at the turn of the century but doesn't correspond so nicely to a particular set of dates. In fact, I'm almost certain that my use of the term "fin de siecle" is sloppy and perhaps even downright inaccurate versus the way academia would apply it, but that tag reminds me of social reactions post-Darwin and Freud, increasing technology, and general fragmentation of a mostly mainstreamed society to sub-cultures willing to take diverse points of view on aesthetics and ethics.

Another example illustrates the strength of tags in the potential to more fully represent an item. I doubt that librarians would ever classify Pirsig's novels with a subject of "Quality," but his philosophical views are known as the "metaphysics of quality," and I have in fact used quotes from that book while presenting industrial quality control training. My books from him hold the quality tag. They also hold the "metaphysics of quality" tag; I had been the only user of that tag but now there are two others. It's possible that someone seeing this tag might be intrigued as to what exactly that was, and upon googling that tag might find a targeted treasure trove of material with a much more intense analysis without slogging through less interesting materials containing only Pirsig's name.

Since this is not a thesis, I will leave it at that....

Jul 28, 2007, 11:35pm Top

123> Tags rescue people from oblivion.

That is, when they don't suck them into the abyss.

Jul 29, 2007, 2:00am Top

I like tagging because I just finished a research project on the interaction between tags and LCSH on LibraryThing, and without tagging, I would have had no data for my paper!

Jul 29, 2007, 4:54am Top

I use mainly descriptive tags, such as non-fiction, european union, visions, to describe a book. They are fairly standard tags but I use an average of 7.12 tags per book, so that gives me a pretty good idea what the book is about. I have used a few personal tags, such as bastard-to-teddybear or going wild with a linemarker. They are fun, and give me the topic in a nutshell, but as "social" tags they are pretty useless.
I have been tagging in English all along. In a few cases I have used German tags, in the hope that others would use them as well: "DDR" (East Germany), "Deutscher Herbst" (1977 leftist terror attacks in Germany), "Kaventsmann" (freak wave), but I find them not very useful at this moment, since there are relatively few Germans at LT --and a lot of them are probably tagging in English for the same reason as me: To be able to connect with the larger group here at LT.

Jul 29, 2007, 9:08am Top

Tagging gives insight into the way groups of people use descriptive language.

Jul 29, 2007, 10:03am Top

The way I use tags is very formal, or rather my intent is to be very formal. I have two sorts of tag at the moment: one sort substitutes for a dimension of LT that is not currently present, which is the handling of series of works, and the second is an attempt at categorization.

There are two other classifications of tags that I am contemplating: physical location and anthology breakdown. Both of these present quite an overhead in time investment that I am not yet prepared to make. With any luck the second will be overtaken by the future development of the LT site.

The big problem that I have with tags is that they require ordering if they are to be used as a sort mechanism. This is quite frustrating because if I need to change my tag structure for any purpose, the power edit feature doesn't allow substitution of tags: add and delete are the only option, and they necessarily impose a re-ordering because add only appends at the end of the tag list.

Jul 29, 2007, 6:13pm Top

For research, tags are often better than a search engine because USERS have already decided an item is worthwhile ... whether a book, Web site, photo, or whatever.

Jul 29, 2007, 7:26pm Top

Tagging helps me see what categories of books I have.

Jul 29, 2007, 8:51pm Top

I really like the concept of tagging, especially here in LibraryThing. I like that many categories of books are just a click away, in easy-to-understand language established by thousands of users. It brings to light what people think is relevant about a book in ways that I may not have considered, and thus helps refine a search for any particular book. Tagmash is even more useful in this sense, because using the combination of tags yields a result even more specific to my needs.

In my personal library, I haven't used tags extensively, but I do enjoy cataloging by genre, among other things, and I find it useful to weed out one particular subject when I'm considering what I own. It also made me realize how many books of a particular subject I had, and which areas of my library I should probably expand upon.

I also think huge tag clouds look really cool, so there's some aesthetic enjoyment in there as well. =)

135dbigwood First Message
Jul 30, 2007, 11:18am Top

I think the best thing about tagging is the ability to move between the tag, the item and the tagger. To see how others have tagged an item, find an interesting tag, see other items with that tag, see who tagged it that way and what else they are tagging. A whole new method of browsing by pivoting on the 3 points.

Hope this is not too late to win a book.

Edited: Jul 30, 2007, 12:25pm Top

Tags are a source of endless amusement and frustration to anyone bitten by the classification bug. I foresee that, on the dreadful day when I've actually added all my books to LT, all I will have left to do is recursively refine the tagging. (Oh, and read the books, I suppose!)

Originally I avoided tagging books by location, because I preferred "pure" subject tagging. Then I realized that if I wanted to sort books by location, or edit location tags in bulk, they'd have to be tags. So I switched to tags. Then my profile started popping up with "living room" as the most common tag: yuk! As an interim move, I converted all my locations to abbreviations (so that when the book-thieves break in they won't know instantly where all the nicest books are!), and I am now engaged in finding ways of subdividing my location tags so that none of them outnumbers the top subject categories. But I'm recoiling from actually tagging books by shelf, since that would involve massive amounts of updating if I reorganized, and it would probably all end up horribly out of date.

I do find other people's tagging useful when trying to guess whether a book will interest me or not. For example, I've never read any Stephen King, because I don't like horror fiction; but I might consider looking at those which are tagged "fantasy" and not "horror".

So what does tagging do to knowledge? It classifies it in a fuzzy, family-resemblance kind of way, doing justice to multiple topics and interdisciplinary books in a way that the Dewey Decimal System could only do if it worked in four or five dimensions at once.

Jul 30, 2007, 2:12pm Top

Random tagging thought -- in all of my tagging sites (flickr, delicious, library thing) I find that I wish I could enforce a controlled vocabulary for myself. It would help me find everything much easier.

Jul 30, 2007, 3:07pm Top

I value tagging most for the benefits it gives me in ordering my own library. Even though it's small by LibraryThing standards (just over 1400), it is impossible to remember all the children's books, or all the thrillers I have.

It is also extremely useful in separating my paperback reading copies from my hardcover versions of the same books.

My only problem is that I need to remember to be consistent with the tags I apply to various categories. It would help if I looked over my tags before tagging something I'm unsure of ... but do I do this ... uh, no.

And oh yeah, I too want the blue book!!

Edited: Jul 30, 2007, 6:28pm Top

I'm interested in how application developers like Tim can help guide tagging to "the next level." People here have bemoaned the lack of standardized tags, even within their own libraries, and of course, one of the common arguments about tagging is whether tags can be declared as synonymous with each other or not. Clay Shirky likes to use examples like "movies/cinema" or "queer activism/homosexual agenda" to demonstrate that they can't, but I think it is grandstanding to suggest that by those examples, one shouldn't be able to declare "new york city" and "nyc" as synonymous.

I really like the way that LibraryThing makes it easy for users to merge authors and works, and I just realized that it also has tag merging. Wow, cool, I'll have to check that out some more. The next level would be to work out a way to export the merged-nature of the tags to other taggish sites. Hmm.

I also think that Machine Tags are very interesting, and would love to hear what the LT team thinks of the proposal at http://machinetags.org/wiki/Book -- I think it would be cool if "work" pages could pick up on people tagging at Flickr or Delicious and bolster the "Elsewhere on the Web" with more than just Wikipedia hits.

Just a few thoughts. This is a fun idea for a thread.

Jul 30, 2007, 7:47pm Top

If you are interested in combining you should check out the Combiners! group, especially for tag combining. Two tags would have to identical in meaning and association before they can be combined which really doesn't leave much scope for combining at all.

Jul 30, 2007, 8:56pm Top

Tagging is awesome! I use it mainly when I am trying to find pictures to utilize in presentations. I tend to utilize Microsoft's clipart on line and utilize the tagging information associated with the clips to locate what I need.

142tikitu First Message
Jul 31, 2007, 10:53am Top

If there are any blue books left, I'd love one (fat chance...).

For me tags are the start of my inevitable transformation into a cyborg. Seriously. They're a digital extension of my memory, that works the way my memory works. Whatever connotations a books has for me, I can use them as tags. And when I inevitably forget the title and author, I can daisy-chain along tag connections to find them again.

They're also a lot of extra work, and need to be supported pretty heavily in the interface or I'll get lazy. LT (much as I love it) doesn't do enough here, and so I've gotten lazy (2.26 tags/book avg.). Del.icio.us is more my style, showing both my tags (all of 'em) and the article I'm tagging onscreen at the same time. (That's leaving aside the issue of 'suggestions', which I apparently value much more highly than Tim does.)

Hm... there should be a dedicated app for generic 'tag upkeep'. And a standardised tagging API that sites like LT can provide.

And a pony.

Jul 31, 2007, 1:57pm Top

No ponies.

Jul 31, 2007, 4:54pm Top

I have noticed the use of tags to rebut, ridicule, praise, or otherwise comment on elements of knowledge without having to put forth any cogent arguments or provide a basis for evaluation of the assignment of the tag. For example, someone could tag a book by George Bush or John Kerry, or anyone else, as "idiot". I might agree with the characterization, but I don't actually have any information to evaluate the claim. Knowledge (in this case, the tag) has been devalued. The result is that tagging is great for categorizing, but not so great for validating knowledge.

Jul 31, 2007, 5:28pm Top

Well, I think a good thing about LT is that we're much less prone to "opinion tagging." You have to have a book in your library to tag it. Compare any Anne Coulter book on LT to the same on Amazon. Amazon is basically just a nasty fight. On LT descriptive tags are on top.


146stheimer First Message
Jul 31, 2007, 7:53pm Top

tags are personal subject headings. I use them to show where the books is, if I have loaned it out. I also use them to separate the books by language

Edited: Jul 31, 2007, 8:26pm Top

I so want a copy of Everything is Miscellaneous, but I'll also take this chance to plug a paper I wrote a while ago in library school entitled "Tags and Subject Headings in LibraryThing": http://dystmesis.net/2006/11/17/tags-and-subject-headings/

148shadowtricker First Message
Jul 31, 2007, 10:47pm Top

I'm just starting to learn the usefulness of tags, as a way of organizing my own thoughts about what we own. Because the books I'm cataloguing are those of the whole household, there are personal tags to denote who they belong to, which are of little use to anyone else. I am adding other tags by subject, and adding more of those as trends emerge, but I realize I'm still not utilizing them to the full.
It fascinates me to watch trends about what we own emerge as I enter books in, revealing things about our interests that may come as a surprise.

As far as my own tags being of interest to others, certainly the more mundane ones serve only a basic utilitary function in sorting by subject (fantasy, science fiction, etc), but I like the idea that an illustration of our interests is out there, and I mean to keep adding tags to group why we have the books we do, what it is in their content that makes us read them.

Aug 1, 2007, 1:05am Top

I'll phrase my comments from the perspective of a student of education.

In educational studies, sometimes we talk about the differences between classroom approaches that are "teacher-centered" versus "student-centered." In student-centered learning, curricular direction and classroom policies come primarily from students themselves, and the teacher has a role of facilitation rather than instruction. Students CONSTRUCT their knowledge, rather than receiving it. In teacher-centered learning, what the teacher says, goes. And woe to those who "will not learn."

LT's tag system is similar in flavor to the student-centered approach. (user-centered?) My fellow users and I are in control. By tagging, we construct knowledge ourselves. We don't rely on a authoritative teacher-figure to tell us what our book is about.

Aug 1, 2007, 1:25am Top

AS much as i love tagging i fear having to go back and retag once things get more complicated...also a worry keeping tags consistent across applications to make cool things like TagsAhoy useful

Aug 1, 2007, 11:19am Top

Quite apart from the utility of tagging, how it is changing the way we handle and organize info, etc (all of which might be summed up as "tagging means never having to say you're sorry for the way you organize things"), I am absolutely obsessed by the visual phenomena of tag clouds. They remind me somehow of a humunculi (the distorted human figures drawn to represent the relative importance of various body parts to the sensory or motor nervous system) or phrenology maps while retain textual qualities as well. One of my LT obsessions is inputting a stack of books and checking to see how it has changed the appearance of my tag cloud, or checking out the appearance other LT users clouds -- "whoa, look at the size of `thai cooking' on that guy!"

Aug 1, 2007, 12:01pm Top

I have tagged more on LT than on any other site. I think it's because I am using LT primarily as a tool to track my own reading habits. It's important for me to tag things as "reading" or "librarybook" for my own purposes, tags that the greater community may not find as useful or accurate about a particular book. It's this personal use, beyond the idea of tagging as a way to create a true taxonomy, that I love about this site.

Aug 1, 2007, 6:39pm Top

How do tags contribute to knowledge? We don't know yet.

To my mind, tags are like the alphabet. First there were sheep and goats, and you knew how many you had by counting them.

Then there were little figures of sheep and goats inside a clay envelope, with the same number of figures as you had animals. It is easier to count clay figures that are not milling around than it is to count the real sheep and goats.

Then there was a mark on the outside of the clay envelope to say how many figures were inside.

Then there was just a clay tablet with marks.

Then there were different marks for parts of the words.

Then we had a means of taking sounds from the air and turning it into marks on papyrus.

It seems to me that tags are still the stage of marks on the outside of the clay envelope.

Edited: Aug 1, 2007, 6:57pm Top

I think part of the argument for tagging is (or could be caricatured as) that the marks on the clay envelope were useful. Everyone knew what they meant. They didn't have much ambiguity. They were cheap. You didn't need special education to know how to use them, etc.

Then Cuneiform came along and it required all sorts of priestly training, only wrote down what The Man wanted to say, took a long time to do, became mired in an antique form*, etc.

Writing? Who needs it!

*Eg., I studied Hittite, and very often you'd write the Hittite word for king with the LUGAL character, which is Summerian. The Hittites picked it up from the Akkadian system, which also used LUGAL although it was equally meaningless to them. Indeed, we don't actually know the Hittite pronunciation for some words—we just know what some Sumerian used a millenium or more before.

Aug 1, 2007, 7:07pm Top

And now I am using the electrons physically present in silicon three thousand miles away to find the books throughout my own house.

So I'm using sand instead of clay to fix the marks.

Wonder what the tag-equivalent of writing will be?

Question -- I am assuming that "tagmash" is the intersection of the two sets of tags, not union, yes? And that someone needs to have actually used both tags to describe a particular book before it shows up in the list (thus, some of my more esoteric tags are less useful in the mashup).

Aug 1, 2007, 7:17pm Top

Hey. It's the intersection, not the union, but it doesn't matter who does what. So, if I tag the Da Vinci Code as "templars" and you tag it as "junk" the tagmash "templars, junk" will surface it.

Aug 1, 2007, 7:26pm Top

So the same person does not need to have used the two tags? OK! Much more potentially useful. So far my attempts to use the feature have not yielded books, so I haven't gotten a feel for it yet.

Aug 1, 2007, 11:49pm Top

Tags capture individual perceptions of a work, data, and add that information to our knowledge of the work. That's a useful enhancement, but the variety offered becomes a disadvantage if they are used to find other works. Tags lack the precoordination necessary for efficient comprehensive searching. For example, the tagmash search for libraries, --fiction includes libraries and bibliotecas, but not bibliothéques,etc. Related works may have been lost. That interferes with one of Ranganathan's laws--it does not save the time of the reader.

Aug 2, 2007, 12:04pm Top

tagmash: tagging,knowledge

one hit:

Foucault's pendulum by Umberto Eco

Aug 2, 2007, 12:41pm Top

>Related works may have been lost. That interferes with one of Ranganathan's laws--it does not save the time of the reader.

Try figuring out the books in "chicklit, Greece" using traditional methods..

Indicentally, we closed the competition and found ten winners. (Cliff, a local college student did the random selection and emailed people or addresses.) I'd love this to continue, but I'm going to blog it soon, with quotes.

Edited: Aug 3, 2007, 2:48am Top

>Try figuring out the books in "chicklit, Greece" using traditional methods..

It can't be done, because tags lack a defined context. They are personalized, customized. Using traditional methods, listing some of the works there might even be considered an error. But they are not errors--someone has labeled them as chicklit, greece. To give them value, we must appreciate the personal aspects that they express. How can that be communicated to all users so that it can reused?

And, after a day's work, do all of these shortcomings belong to libraries? Some of the problems arise as computers are used to search and users have relied on simple pattern matching to find, ignoring variant spellings and alternate terms. Can computer programming be improved to solve some of this? (Which brings us back to a thesaurus to bridge terms. Could LT eventually cross reference, or coordinate, tags and LCSH?)

My 2 cents worth. It is a very interesting and thought provoking book.

Aug 3, 2007, 2:58am Top

Forget about what it does to knowledge for a moment (although it does shed some light on the matter).
Think of what tags are doing to my bank balance!
LibraryThing tags make it (too) easy to find books I reckon I'll like; factor in that I can easily see what people who have this book also have etc.
This is more useful than just browsing an OPAC (if that is in fact possible) or browisng through your local bookshop. This gives us a huge pool of peer-to-peer (booklovers) recommendations (ownerships and ratings) with some serious context (collection and tags)

Aug 3, 2007, 11:03am Top

>It can't be done, because tags lack a defined context

I'm confused. What? Do you mean it doens't work because there might be problems it—ie., that someone has their copy of Bridget Jones's diary tagged "Greece" because they read it while on a trip in Greece?

Aug 3, 2007, 2:53pm Top

Yes, tags give readers power to label works with their own words. But two readers, using the same term for a tag, aren't always communicating the same meaning. Still, by participating in tagging, each reader is expressing something connected to the work. Preserving, even organizing, those connections can be valuable.

The inherent ambiguity of tags may interfere with reuse and communication. Using traditional methods, librarians would negotiate any ambiguity in the reference interview. Without that we might recommend The sisterhood of the traveling pants to the reader who would prefer Nights of Rain and Stars. In comparison, the structure and meaning of terms listed in LCSH is predetermined and separate from a work or a reader. LCSH terms are listed in those big red books. I can look them up and view related choices.

Aug 3, 2007, 3:07pm Top

Tim: might be an idea to edit the opening post to note that the competition is now closed.

This doesn't prevent people from adding their new ideas, of course.

166kwill First Message
Aug 3, 2007, 3:07pm Top

Tags are first-and-foremost *my* tool for classifying *my* things. I regard the "social knowledge" created by them to be an intriguing after-effect. (Of course, I also use that after-effect to justify my insatiable cataloguing to myself. My self-gratifying classification has a useful social outcome? Cool!)

Thought 1: Environment-specific flags are still necessary. I think that LibraryThing would be improved by registering some or all of the following as flags rather than tags: wishlist, owned, read, unread, lent, borrowed. What is a flag? It could be a bit field in a database, or it could be a filter for a specific tag, the end-result is that the system should treat objects with these flags *differently*, as having a specific status, because they have special meaning in a particular that environment.

For example, the library-matching algorithm could be extended with the option to filter out "unread" works when comparing libraries. When you found someone whose reading taste matched yours, you'd know that it was talking about *books you'd actually read*. Similarly, filters could be applied for owned/ unowned/ borrowed/ wishlist items.

Thought 2: Tag aggregation. I'd like to see a system that sat on top of tagging systems like LibraryThing, del.icio.us, last.fm and showed me *everything* that I tagged as "feminism", "commentary" or "wishlist".

Thought 3: Well, this comment may not get noticed amongst the deluge of competition entries, but I'll use this an excuse to get my thoughts in order about something non-tag related. LibraryThing is about personal libraries, right? So, what I wanted to do from the very beginning was keep track of which books I had borrowed from and loaned to other people. You know, so I would add a book to my library, then type in someone's LibraryThing username or email address and it would be registered as being lent out to them. (Maybe it would be greyed out in my library and marked "lent to user42", and appear in a funny box in theirs and marked "belongs to kwill".) What are the chances of this ever happening? *

* Yes, I *know* I could kinda do this myself with tags, but system support would be so much better! (See Thought 1)

Edited: Aug 4, 2007, 4:17am Top

> 166 : kwill : Tag aggregation See Tags Ahoy from John McGrath who also helps out here (not sure what his official role is any more).

168jotter First Message
Aug 6, 2007, 9:16am Top

I hope others interested in tagging will take a look at tags as implemented at Daily Kos and comment.

There, tags are not owned by users, but are attached only to "stories" which are the primary text object at that highly active political community blog. Anyone can add or remove tags. There is an active group of self appointed "tag librarians" who have created projects to correct and improve tags on various subjects, and who suggest correct tag usage.

I maintain this system is a sort of "worst of both possible worlds" approach to tagging, in which you lose the benefits of both individually meaningful tags by not owning your own tags, and of community tags, by losing the concept of a tag count.

Against that, with such a high object count (the number of stories generated per day at daily kos regularly approaches 2000 per week), it may be that relying on a tag count is probably impractical in all but a few cases.

The tag system was initiated as an adjunct to search, before full text search covering each story was available. Now that it is available, is a tagging system worth maintaining?

169botanica First Message
Edited: Aug 10, 2007, 1:12pm Top

I tag a book cooking, the next cookery, the next cookbook. For the absent-minded some sort of prompt (or automatic correction style filling in of the rest of the word) would work wonders. The prompt should be personal based on previous entries.

Aug 11, 2007, 2:08am Top

And now I am using the electrons physically present in silicon three thousand miles away to find the books throughout my own house.

So I'm using sand instead of clay to fix the marks.

This is a wonderful way to put things. May I quote you?

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