When books come to a library they aren’t just put on the shelf for people to use. Resources in a library must first be described and input into a database so users can retrieve the item by performing a search. Social cataloguing is the exact same process except on a smaller more personal scale.
Social cataloguing applications, such as Library Thing, Discogs, and Flixster, allow the user to catalogue their own personal “library” of books, videos, and music. However, the “social” part of the social cataloguing process allows for users to share their catalogues and interact with people who have like catalogues or like interests. Social cataloguing requires user participation and collaboration to function.
When librarians catalogue items they catalogue them according to the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). LCSH are a set of terms, or subject headings, and rules on when to use those terms.
The rules for LCSH make sure that the terms used to describe items stay consistent. This makes it easier to retrieve the items out of a catalogue. This kind of system is called a taxonomy. Taxonomies are systems that use “controlled vocabulary” to describe material.
Social cataloguing is a folksonomy. Folksonomies, a term coined by Thomas Vander Wal, do not use controlled vocabulary but keywords, or tags, which are chosen and generated by users. Folksonomies rely on the collaborative creation of tags to categorize content.
Have you heard of the term “metadata?” Metadata is simply data about data and tagging is a form of metadata. Tagging is the process of assigning a keyword or term to information such as a picture, webpage, piece of music, or file. The tags are assigned by the user according to what they believe the information is about and how they will be able to retrieve it through searching. For example, take a look at this comic.
How could this be tagged? This comic can be tagged using these words: humor, comic, blogging, web 2.0, social software, and netgen.
However, the interesting thing about tagging is that everyone can tag however they want. Each item can be tagged in a variety of ways. How would you tag this comic? Your keywords may be very different from the ones listed but just as valid.
In social cataloguing applications, once something is tagged it can be retrieved in a search or can be displayed in a tag cloud. A tag cloud looks something like this:
One kind of tag cloud is one that represents by size the number of times a tag has been used for a particular item. Another kind of tag cloud represents by size the number of times the tag has been used on any item. This is a Library Thing tag cloud and represents the second style mentioned. The tags in a tag cloud are usually linked and will bring you to a list of the item(s) that are connected with that tag.
Social bookmarking uses the same principals and structure as social cataloguing. Social bookmarking is also a folksonomy and requires participation, collaboration, and tagging but, unlike social cataloguing, the user does not catalogue collections. Social bookmarking is the organization, describing, and storing of webpages.
Unlike simply bookmarking your favourite sites on your web browser, social bookmarking searches tags that people have used to describe a webpage. Once the user has searched and found websites of interest, they can bookmark them on a hosted site and share their favourite sites with others. Users can also tag the websites to add to the collaborative nature of the application.