Social tagging

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, February 2018


  • collaborative tagging, folksonomic tagging, metadata, msocial bookmarking, social classification, social indexing


See also Citation management | Data science portal | Google Drive | Semantic web | Social media portal | Twitter | Web 2.0 | Zotero

Social tagging (also folksonomic tagging) is a way to attach words or metadata to digital objects. Tags are described as "non-hierarchical" informal terms or words that describe items on the web. The activity allows users to store, describe and classify documents and websites for future discovery and retrieval. By assigning tags to digital materials, web users can collate, catalogue, track and recommend content. It is also a form of marking one's footprint on the web and taking ownership of one's data management. Once a collection of tags have been applied to a group of websites, taggers can use the collection as a personal digital library or filing system. On social bookmarking sites, social tags are often displayed in weighted lists (tag clouds) which provide visual insight into the search habits of users. Similarly, a folksonomy (think folksy tags) is a web-based scheme of attaching simple natural language labels to digital content. Folksonomies are comparable, in some ways, to taxonomies; in addition to categorization of information, they make information easier to find. Further, a well-developed folksonomy should use the familiar vocabulary of a similar group of users which acts as its own non-hierarchical thesaurus. However, the general consensus among health librarians is that social tagging is no replacement for the proper indexing of digital materials. Some researchers suggest that crosswalks or linking user-generated social tags to controlled vocabularies would be a way to draw on the rich storehouses of metadata on the social web (Yi, 2010).

Tagging dates back to 1996 with the launch of Though tagging and bookmarking services are well-established, they have considerable competition from hybrid tools such as Twitter and Pinterest. Contemporary concepts of social tagging date back to the launch of the web site Oneview. While Diigo, Evernote and Flickr are widely-used social media tools, the latter is primarily a photo-sharing website. A popular scientific system is Connotea, which is used by clinicians, scientists and researchers. Connotea was launched as a scientific version of delicious in 2004 by Nature and was considered a new breed of social tool - tagging 2.0, as it were. Connotea is similar to CiteULike and Digg where users save links to websites. These sites boast numerous features and take them above and beyond what other tools provide. For example, they allows exporting of references to citation manager programs, reminiscent of EndNote Web, RefWorks and Zotero. With citation tools, it is possible to save references when working on computers and import them in an open, hassle-free fashion.

Advantages / disadvantages

  • Tagging systems have several advantages over traditional automated resource location and classification software
  • tagging increases access points; more entry points are helpful for findability of biomedical information; however, there is no explicit information about the meaning or semantics of each tag
  • tag-based classification is done by human beings who understand the subject content of the resource, as opposed to software which algorithmically attempts to determine its meaning; this will not create semantically-classified tags, and thus may not be easy to find with contemporary search engines
  • tagging is based on what a tagger is thinking at a given moment (Barsky & Purdon, 2006), which leads to inaccurate, inconsistent and sometimes inappropriate tags (“tag spam”)
  • web users bookmark resources they find useful, and popular resources are bookmarked by more users; such a system will "rank" resources based on perceived utility; this is arguably more useful for end-users than other systems which rank resources based on number of external links
  • classification and ranking are continuously evolving, many social bookmarking services allow users to subscribe to syndication feeds based on tags, or collection of tag terms; this allows subscribers to become aware of new resources for a given topic, as they are noted, tagged, and classified by other users.
  • by their nature, social tagging lacks standardization (keywords, controlled terms or vocabularies)
  • standards for tag structure are lacking (e.g. singular vs. plural, capitalization, etc.)
  • Mistagging due to spelling errors, tags with more than one meaning, unclear tags due to synonym/antonym confusion,
  • Highly unorthodox and "personalized" tags and no hierarchical relationships between tags (e.g. sites labelled cheese and cheddar have no way to be linked because cheddar is a more specific category of cheese).
  • Separate (but related) tagging and social bookmarking services are evolving and any shortcomings will probably be addressed over time. However, even if tagging can be improved, it still lacks the true benefits of hierarchical control (Gilman, 2012).

Tagging systems

Social tagging systems, such as Connotea and CiteULike, provide researchers with a means to organize personal collections of online references with keywords (tags) and to share these collections with others. Most of the following tools are either tagging systems or offer some element of tagging; many are also free to use unless a premium version is preferred which can be purchased for a fee. One of the benefits of tagging systems is the generation of large, publicly accessible metadata repositories that describe resources. In light of the expansion of information in the life sciences and the need to enhance its value through metadata, these repositories present a potentially valuable new resource for application developers.


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