Having just read Clay Shirky’s essay, ‘Ontology is Overrated’, I can say that I now have a much better understanding of how tagging is useful as a method of cataloguing information on the internet.
I agree with Shirky’s argument that traditional cataloguing systems are often unsuitable for organising digital content – unsuitable because these systems are based on the idea that there can only be a single ‘tag’ for each physical item because this tag serves to locate the item in a defined place on the library shelves. In the digital space, however, information can exist in many locations simultaneously and so can have multiple tags or labels. Because of this, the digital tagging of internet content is free from the limitations of traditional cataloguing – in the digital space there is no need to limit each piece of information to a single tag in order to locate it in a fixed physical position, or, as Shirky succinctly puts it, ‘there is no shelf’.
Obviously I don’t believe that tagging, with its haphazard and chaotic nature, could ever be a substitute for traditional online library catalogues, but I do think that a tag cloud could potentially be a useful addition to a traditional library catalogue as it could provide multiple supplementary access points to the information contained within the library’s resources.