Sunday, July 1, 2007

Dear Sister, what is user-tagging? I'm confused ...

I have heard about this thing called user-tagging in relation to museum objects. I too am confused about the terminology used - tagging, social bookmarking, keywords ... I'm also wondering how useful this is as a process of connecting people with objects?

Some things I've been reading shed some light. The Pew Research Centre have a post about Tagging Play:

"Just as the internet allows users to create and share their own media, it is also enabling them to organize digital material their own way, rather than relying on pre-existing formats for classifying information. ... Traditionally, search on the web (or within websites) has been done by using keywords. Tagging is a kind of next-stage search phenomenon -- a way to mark, store, and then retrieve web content that users have already found valuable and want to keep track of. It is, of course, more personalized ..."

Pew also report that taggers (at least in the US) are more likely to be early adopters of technology, under 40 years of age with higher income and education. Aside from age, these characteristics are also shared with museum visitors as explained on the AMARC website.

Also read an interesting piece about tagging (called in this post "social bookmarking") and marketing Social Bookmarking: pushing collaboration to the edge. This post helped explain social bookmarking to me:

"Social bookmarking leverages the popular social software phenomenon of tagging. Users can apply tags, or keywords, to the bookmarks they save. In social bookmarking, tagging creates a grass-roots taxonomy for the shared bookmarks. Users can search by tags to find bookmarks relevant to their interests. Taxonomies created through bookmarking are called "folksonomies."

What museums are doing interesting things with tagging? There is a paper from Museums and the Web 2007 by Seb Chan, Tagging and Searching – Serendipity and museum collection databases,as well as a research project reported here with useful links. The project, steve museum is an experiment in tagging art (and a very nice website too!). The Brooklyn Museum has many community projects, inlcuding a shared photo site, with a good set of guidelines and policy on uploading photos.

I will now retire to the vestry and ponder further these matters...

6 comments:

Sister Concepta said...

Have now had a good read through Seb’s paper Tagging and Searching – serendipity and museum collection databases. It’s a good read and I highly recommend it. I do have some reservations and many ideas about this thing called user-tagging.

But first to the take-away messages from the paper:
* Early online web access to collections often mirrored physical exhibitions
* Focus of the software used for collections is based on internal needs
* Tools such as open search will be increasingly accessed by users and therefore online collections need to be able to be searched this way
* OPAC 2.0 has resulted in a significant increase in public enquiries, yet the nature of the enquiries have changed – they want more detail
* The Museum also got new information about their collections
* The tags used covered 4 areas: Aesthetic; Material; Descriptive and Social
* Some tags more popular and some more specialist
* “None of the most tagged objects are on public display within the Museum.” (p.8)
* Need to allow for “... serendipitous discovery of closely and partially related content, [so] the user experience can move from one of dead-ends into one of many paths.” (p.10)
* Further research needed - with sharing of data about how users search and use the vast collections

My ideas/thoughts:
* I understand the idea of serendipity that enables a user to take many paths, yet is that what they want to do? Some will and some won’t in my experience.
* The way that tags have been established by the web community is very limiting. First it is confined to a text-only word or words, and how many users feel confident to produce them??
* I’m also wondering whether it would be possible to stretch the notion of “tagging” to allow for an image, audio or movie file to be added as a user-tag, or even a narrative?? For example, how would the members of the Maori community tag an object, such as those on this website?? Would a song be considered a tag?
* The way we are tagging, even user-tags, seem to me to still be based in current curatorial practices, and I think given the above example, that the definition of a tag needs to be widened.

Have also delved into one of the references in Seb’s paper, in particular the blog post about the Guggenheim collection project.

This is also a really useful paper with research findings, yet I still have the same issues:
* Analysing log data, while useful, is only one measure. I’m wondering about the user’s motivations and experiences - why did they choose to tag? What do they get from it? How often do they tag?
* The analysis reported in this paper takes the meaning, purpose and learning out of the equation. In one sense it is analogous to just doing a tracking study of an exhibition without seeking to understanding why visitors behaved a certain way and what the outcomes for them were. I think these methods are only telling us half the story, and are ripe areas for further research perhaps??

Father O'Flaherty said...

Sister, at the end of the Guggenheim paper, the author outlines areas for further research, including user behaviour and motivations, as well as information-seeking processes. She suggests focus groups, interviews, observations or surveys as potential methodologies. There seems to be a need here for someone (you perhaps?) to conduct this type of research with a range of communities of interest.

A conclusion worth noting is "If museums wish to broaden their audiences, from a narrow group of scholars to the general public, supporting searches in a more approachable manner ... might be more fruitful." (p.39)

Sister Concepta said...

Thanks Father, I hadn't actually got to the end of the paper when I first posted, so this is useful. I will consider these ideas further...

Sister Monica said...

Sister, I'm beginning to wonder whether the current focus on user-tagging is analagous to the early discussions of Web 1.0. Is it possible that in the very near future, perhaps through a formal investigation of audio and video tagging, that the conversation may move to taxonomies of experience?
Perhaps a moment of reflection on our upcoming day of celebration?

Sister Concepta said...

"Taxonomies of experience" - I like it! Maybe it is analogous to Web 1.0, I was still a novitiate when that was all going on.

I think we are the very beginning of something here, and an area ripe for investigation, both at the Holy Day of Celebration and on into the future...

Jonathan Cooper said...

"The way we are tagging, even user-tags, seem to me to still be based in current curatorial practices, and I think ... that the definition of a tag needs to be widened."
I agree. I believe there are ways other than verbally and analytically that people can engage with objects.