The Hostile Tagging Phenomenon

(The November 2006 timestamp for this article is fake. That’s when it was included in the ILRT‘s internal newsletter, but I thought it was worth archiving here for historical reasons -MLP) 

In a number of different meetings I’ve been to recently, the Web 2.0 meme, especially tagging, has come up. Let the users tag each resource with a word or phrase which goes into a searchable database, they say. These tags are crucial to sites like the music database last.fm, where an obscure musical term like “electroacoustica” can be applied by an army of users to relevant music as it emerges, or where the labelling of something as “relaxing” or “heavy” is the aggregate of thousands of judgements rather than one person’s. This system also brings out the emotional associations of the music, such as “winter” or “shimmering”.

But in other news, I’ve been reading about Kevin Federline. Until yesterday as I write this, K-Fed (as he likes to be known) was happily married to Britney Spears and, as a case-study in sexually-transmitted celebrity, has managed to release a hip-hop album. It hasn’t been well-received.

Looking at the tags on Amazon, “Playing With Fire” scores high on the tags “talentless”, “loser” and “wannabe”. Some users have used the tag function to write micro-reviews, including “excrutiating dreck”, “every track ought to be hidden” and “music to make you long for the sweet release of death”. Over at last.fm, K-Fed is tagged “the worst thing ever to happen to music” along with more obscene tags. “Failed at musicianship and life in general” is a tag that K-Fed shares with the Republican broadcaster Ann Coulter and the RnB musician R. Kelly.

From one perspective, this is an argument for professional cataloguers who give meaningful labels. Who searching on “landfill” is going to be grateful for finding K-Fed in the results?

On the other hand, would professional cataloguers ever be inspired to use “vogon poetry” as a label? The move from ontology to “folksonomy” is like a lot of internet changes: it reveals more of what people actually want to see, though that might be more obscene and disgusting than what we anticipated. People who want to open up their sites to tagging should be warned, though.

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