I have mixed feelings about tagging. I use it in my LibraryThing accounts, particularly the one I’ve set up for the children’s literature class, because the students in the class need to find books of particular genres and types (mostly picture books), and there’s no easy way to search for many of those in our integrated library system (more on all this when I get to Thing 16). I use some labels (Google’s word for tags) in Blogger and Gmail for personal organization. I use them in Delicious (more on that in the next Thing) to help me find more links on a particular topic.
However, there are a couple places I don’t like to use them. I don’t use them here in my WordPress blog. I don’t like how WordPress applies tags (and categories) community-wide. For example, if I tagged this post with “tagging,” I would expect that clicking on that tag within my blog would ONLY bring up MY post(s) about tagging – but that is not the case. It brings up a list of posts from EVERYONE that has used that tag.
I also don’t use much tagging in Flickr. The reason for this is all the API-based applications out there that let people search for photos by their tags, but don’t distinguish (as flickrCC does) between those photos with Creative Commons licenses that allow others to use their images under specified conditions, and the vast majority of photos (including mine) that are posted in Flickr with ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (my emphasis). Since I don’t particularly want people using most of my photos without my permission, I do very little tagging there, to deliberately make my photos harder to find.
I also found it annoying that other people could tag my photos on Flickr, so I changed my Privacy & Permissions settings there to prevent that and to hide my photos from public searches on flickr.com and third-party sites. The only photos that don’t have those settings are those that I placed in the one pool (U.S. County Courthouses) that I belong to.
I have to agree with the Aggie Librarian about having mixed feelings on allowing user tags in the catalog. He says, “I guess I’d be okay with them if they were indexed separately from LCSH [Library of Congress Subject Headings] and could be excluded from searches at the user’s discretion. Those that want to find ‘something, anything’ will be happy, and more serious researchers will appreciate being able to tune out the ‘noise’.” I’d only amend his statement to refer to not just LCSH but whatever thesaurus/controlled vocabulary system is being used, and I would want the search system set up so one would have to opt-in to use user-generated tags, rather than opt-out (exclude) them.
Tagging can be tricky. Just as in helping library users do database searches, you have to think of synonyms to figure out how others might tag items that would interest you. Folksonomy is great, but there are advantages to controlled vocabularies too!