Web 2.0: Social Bookmarking: Tagging Issues for Libraries

Note: This post was created for a graduate level class at the University of Alberta: EDES 501 Web 2.0 for Libraries.

Tag, you're it!

Tagging is no longer just a children's game, it is now one of the web 2.0 buzzwords aligned with social bookmarking.

What Is Social Bookmarking?
Social bookmarking is the process of saving your URLs to an online account so that you can look at your favourite websites later. Basically, social bookmarking sites are finding tools that organize and help the web make sense. Some examples of popular social bookmarking sites are delicious, digg, StumbleUpon, and Diigo. Subscription numbers for the top 20 most popular sites are listed here.

The real advantages of social bookmarking lie in its functionality. Bookmarks are stored online, and can thus be accessed anywhere internet access is available, meaning you are no longer tied to your personal computer. You can subscribe to feeds of popular or interesting subject tags, add RSS capabilities to tags, friends accounts or subscriptions to keep up to date with the latest new and popular content (Gilmor, 2009). And if you prefer to keep your favourites private, you can set privacy levels to your account (Fontichiaro, 2008).

Heavily bookmarked websites "can be an indicator of the quality of effectiveness of the site's content" (Fontichiaro, 2008), since "the more people have bookmarked something, the higher it will rise in search results. Since presumable people bookmark sites they find important, heavily bookmarked resources are usually the cream of the web." (Rethlefsen, 2007). Thus social bookmarking sites are like librarians: they not only lead people to popular content that interests them, but also to high quality online resources.

Tagging is the 'social' component of social bookmarking. Tagging occurs when "users classify their own or other people's data in the public sphere and the social, or community aspects arise from there as users share and seek out like-minded individuals" (Kroski, 2007, p.92). Creating tags "involves attaching descriptive keywords to digital objects for the purpose of future retrieval" (Kroski, 2007, p.91). Tags organize a users content, and users can also follow these tags to learn what similar content others have linked to, or to just browse other users collections (Kroski, 2007). User created tags are added together to create a folksonomy, which is like an online language or vocabulary.
Social bookmarking truly is the voice of the people.

Uses For Libraries
Using social bookmarking tools has many advantages for libraries. Anyone can contribute to an account because it is so easy, and the content linked to becomes more timely and current than editing a static webpage or paper guides (Rethlefsen, 2007). Distance patrons benefit from how a library uses social bookmarking, the same as local patrons would from paper copies of pathfinders or resource guides (Secker & Price, 2007). Additionally, one of the benefits is that patrons can help contribute to the content, thus creating and foster community and positive relationships in general.

A library could use social bookmarking to:
  • advertise new books by creating a 'new' tag and RSS feed.
  • organize and present reference links, pathfinders, research and other subject guides eg.Missouri River Regional Library, Nashville Public Library Teen Web ("Tagging and Social Bookmarking", 2007).
  • display recently added bookmarks or their tag cloud on their website or blog for greater visual appeal and streamlined patron access eg. Seldovia Public Library (Kroski, 2007),Thunder Bay Public Library (Rethlefsen, 2007).
  • compile a directory of libraries, organizations or local agencies for internal or public use eg. Aboriginal Libraries.
  • share professional resources with other librarians.
  • guide students to the most relevant and reliable websites.
  • stay current on topics of interest by using the RSS function or tag subscriptions.
  • create a common space for useful links for internal or system wide projects.
An excellent example of social bookmarking use in libraries is Penntags, from the University of Pennsylvania. After researching this topic I knew I had to include this example because it was mentioned in most of the scholarly references I used! The University of Pennsylvania created their own program for finding, organizing and sharing the online resources the students and professors came across during their studies. The bookmarks on Penntags are created by the entire university community, not just librarians.

All users can download a special toolbar for their browser that makes adding content even easier. Then, similar to delicious or any social bookmarking website, they can develop bibliographies, and research or reading lists that are shared across the entire community. I think it is an excellent way for an institution to build community, and improve the studies of all members collectively.

My Personal Use
I have been using delicious for a couple of years. I initially began using the social bookmarking site because I was getting a new computer, and wanted an easy way to save the bookmarks I had collected on the old computer. I was easily able to use the import function to transfer all my bookmarks at once, but then had to go through every link to add the tags that would be necessary to organize all the content. I also installed a browser toolbar onto my browser's bookmark bar so that saving links to delicious requires only one click. I highly recommend the browser toolbars, they are definitely a time saver! Feel free to visit my delicious page to see what I have been bookmarking.

I have also always wanted to add a bookmark button to my blog posts, and felt this would be the perfect opportunity to learn how to do so. Much to my surprise, it was very simple, and involved very little html code manipulation. After finding and viewing tutorials at Blogger Buster and Blogger Templates, I discovered bookmark buttons could easily be added using the third party widget AddThis. AddThis gives you the code for a bookmark button, instructions about how to install it on either the sidebar or below your blog posts, and tips on how to customize the buttons. AddThis will just give you the button code, or you can sign up and receive statistics about how often your bookmark buttons are used. I decided to sign up so I could see the statistics, and chose to put my button under my blog posts as opposed to on the sidebar to keep clutter off my already cluttered right-hand sidebar. I figured if someone actually made it to the bottom of my blog post, it must have meant something to them and they might actually want to bookmark it. Once I made these decisions, I only had to copy and paste the button's html code into my blog's html layout, and the instructions told me exactly where this was. I like the button. It gives readers the option to email, print, or share my blog posts over numerous social bookmarking and networking services. It was super easy to do, and hopefully will assist my blogs' readers with their own online organization efforts. I am glad I finally learned how to include this helpful tool in my blogs.

In general, I find that I am a disorganized and inconsistent bookmarker. I keep a lot of bookmarks on my browser, and only occasionally move them over to delicious. When I do save bookmarks, I find it hard to assign appropriate tags. The following is the tag cloud for my delicious bookmarks:
(click to enlarge)

My inconsistency can be noted by the fact I have a 'corblund' tag but no other musician/band tags - everyone else just get lumped into 'music'. You might also notice the I tag a lot of bookmarks as 'library' or 'techie' (as they are the largest words in my tag cloud). These two categories contain almost 100 bookmarks each because I can not think of other words I could use to describe my bookmarks - other words that I will remember and use consistently across all my content.

Also, I had never before subscribed to tags, but decided to add some subscriptions to my account. First, I added a subscription to the tag 'curling', because I am a bit of an obsessed curling fan. This presented one problem with tagging: the word 'curling' not only denotes my favourite sport, but also the act of styling one's hair, as well as the implement used to do so. Thus this subscription is not very useful, as all this different content is mixed together. I doubt I will ever have the time or patience to read through all the content in order to find what I want. Obviously synonyms are difficult to control within the tagging environment. I then added a subscription to 'library2.0', but I could have added subscriptions to 'web2.0', 'librarytools', 'librarytechnology' or other similar vocabulary. This highlights the lack of authority control present in social bookmarking.

The Tagging Issue
Obviously I consider the hardest part about maintaining my delicious account to be keeping authority control over the tags. Wikipedia defines authority control as "a term used in library and information science to refer to the practice of creating and maintaining headings for bibliographic material in a catalog." I consider my bookmarks my own catalogue, and I certainly have trouble assigning the same subject headings (ie. tags) to my bibliographic material (ie. links).

The main concentration of my research into this web 2.0 technology pertained to tagging, as I wanted to learn all I could about how I could maintain synonym and authority control over my own content. I hope to do this by studing how libraries maintained authority control over their content, especially in the case of user tagged online public access catalogues (OPACs). Most of the research echoed my lament: it is very difficult to maintain synonym or authority control over such content without having rules to follow. Moulaison (2008) notes users tag things differently depending on their purpose for bookmarking it: personal use, professional sharing, publishing, or advertising. Not only does the way tags are used change from user to user, but also within a single user's account, and tagging vocabulary changes over time, thus is is difficult to maintain any sort of authority. Also highlighted was that library science studies have not researched or published much on this issue due to relatively new appearance of the tagging phenomenon (Moulaison, 2008). Obviously more user research must be done to determine how libraries will approach tagging and authority control (Moulaison, 2008).

The lack of professional advice was disappointing, but after reading Social Media Explorer: The Practical Guide To Content Tagging In Social Bookmarking, I was able to gain a better understanding of how I could maintain better authority control over my own content. Suggestions given by the author include:
  • Keep it simple: use 2-3 words per link, and keep the words generic.
  • Keep it the same: use the same format (eg. spacing) for similar links.
  • Periodically review: remind yourself of your tags often, and take this opportunity to reorganize and tidy up your account.
  • Don't bookmark everything: save only what you might use later, and use RSS to stay current with new content.
  • Use a bookmarklet: add a shortcut widget to your browser window.
  • Use the bulk editor: this changes a lot of tags at once and saves time and effort.
Rethlefsen (2007) also suggests using the tag bundling function to help maintain authority control, as synonyms and commonly used vocabulary can be grouped together. The Moulaison (2008), Rethlefsen (2007) and Social Media Explorer articles were helpful for my own knowledge, and I intend to review my delicious account (especially my 'library' tag!) in order to organize it better.

Maintaining control over tagging is a huge issue for libraries. It is one thing for librarians to maintain their own synonym and vocabulary control over their own bookmarks for their delicious or other accounts, but it is another thing for libraries to maintain authority over user added tags which are present in the next generation of OPACs. Caisey (2007) believes user-added tags are a necessary ingredients for these new OPACS, as tagging not only "harnesses the knowledge of users" but also "will aid discovery, increase usability, and is a low-cost alternative to customized local cataloging" (20). I do agree having users tag books and other resources with descriptions surrounding content, genre, as well as with their recommendations, creates a richer, more appealing library experience. I look forward to seeing, and using these new catalogues.

However, I do wonder how libraries will maintain control over all the different synonyms and vocabulary their different users might use to describe the books and other resources in the OPAC. I can't even keep control of my own tagging vocabulary, how is a library supposed to keep track of perhaps hundreds of different user generated tags? How does a library control spam? What about spelling errors or different forms of spellings? I intend to follow this issue as it becomes more prominently studied, and as these next generation OPACs begin to actually be used by libraries.

How do you organize your tags? How do you maintain control over them? How do you think libraries will handle the tagging issue in the new OPACs?

Casey, Michael. (2007) "Looking Towards Catalog 2.0." In Nancy Courtney (Ed.), Library 2.0 and Beyond: Innovative Technologies and Tomorrow's User, (pp.15-23). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Fontichiaro, K.. (2008, May). Using Social Bookmarking to Organize the Web. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(9), 27-28.
Gilmour, R., et al. (2009). Social Bookmarking for Library Services: Bibliographic Access Through Delicious. College & Research Libraries News, 70(4), 234-7.
Kroski, Ellyssa. (2007) "Folksonomies and User-Based Tagging." In Nancy Courtney (Ed.), Library 2.0 and Beyond: Innovative Technologies and Tomorrow's User, (pp.91-103). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Moulaison, H. L. (2008). Social Tagging in the Web 2.0 Environment: Author vs. User Tagging. Journal of Library Metadata, 8(2), 101-111.
Rethlefsen, M. L. (2007). Tags Help Make Libraries del.icio.us. Library Journal, 132(15), 26-28.
Secker, J., & Price, G. (2007). Libraries, Social Software and Distance Learners: Blog it, Tag it, Share it! New Review of Information Networking, 13(1), 39-52.
Tagging & Social Bookmarking. (2007, September). Library Technology Reports, 43(5):58-61.
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  1. I really appreciate you attention to the issue of authority control. Improving the Internet's overall practices in tagging will be important in keeping the Internet useful.

    I have some thoughts on this. Authority control, in the way that we talk about in libraries, may not represent the character of a workable solution. That is "control" probably doesn't work, even loose control. On the other hand, "social" might be the solution.

    Take a look at how (in)effective tags are in delicious, youtube, and flickr.

    In delicious the tags themselves are "social": they establish their own relationships. For example, I can tag a website "embodiment, cognitivescience, psychology, cool" and someone else tags the same website "robots, selforganization, embodiment, computingscience, MIT" and someone else tags it "robots, lego". In time, "lego" and "cool" develop a relationship and so do "cognitivescience" and "computingscience". I'll find cool robot videos easily even if I'm starting out thinking they are described by "embodied cognition" (findability is what this is about). This works because we all get to add our own tags to the same (unique) things. The people never communicated, never establish authority, but the tags find their own relationships that (more or less) work. In a way, the tag find their own friends: they are the social entities.

    Now, contrast that with Youtube. You can tag your own videos, but others cannot tag your videos. It's much harder for the tags to find their friends because I've got to guess what others would describe this as. More tags help, but adding more tags can also reduce the descriptive value of the tags as a whole. Authority control would seem to be very valuable here, but I would much rather allow everyone to tag things. A work around that many people use is to tag youtube videos using delicious and search for them that way. [In delicious more tags are not bad because you can filter them using various means including the built-in social network; I'm sure the filtering will just get better in time]

    Now consider flickr. It's the middle ground. You can choose who gets to tag your photos. It's a nice measure for those worried that someone might vandalize their tags. What did Library of Congress do when it put its photos online? It opened tagging up: more people can find those photos if they are tagged. No authority control needed. Consider someone who tags their photos on their own and doesn't allow others to tag them. Will you find their photos? Maybe. What if they let their friends also tag? Maybe more. What if everyone can tag them? A lot more. The problem with Flickr is you cannot filter things using tags and the social network (I cannot look for things that Jan tagged "cool").

    I'd like to see more system use a 3rd party for internal tagging. For example, what if Youtube didn't implement tagging at all, but incorporated delicious as its tagging system. Or what if they allowed 3 or 4 different tagging systems to exist internally?

    On the other hand, I think that general practices of tagging could greatly improved. I think all social bookmark users could understand and use simple rules like tags ended in "ing" refer to the activity (e.g. the indexing rule of "how many versus how much?") and to use plurals (this is tough sell because in data modeling, database designers have strict rules about pluralization that conflict with library indexing rules!).


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