From Another Hand – “Folksonomies” & “Controlled Vocabularies”

Here follows a rambling response to a course discussion post relating to social-media-tagging and authority-derived-taxonomies in information resources (pros/cons, advantages/disadvantages, issues, etc.)…from my unedited perspective.  Perhaps it will interest some.

Option 2: Discuss issues surrounding social vs. professionally created metadata, citing examples from the readings. What are the problems and challenges as you see them?

“Naming entities in the world is a tricky business” (Mai, 2011, p. 116).  Socially-created metadata is a fascinating approach and response to the inherent ambiguity, flexibility and complexity of the human use of language and the co-ordination of communicating the range of contextual usages of information resources / objects in contemporary life.  I particularly appreciated Mai’s attention to the plurality and “heterogenous settings” (settings where there are “no unified contexts, goals, or objectives against which objects can be named and ordered…” p. 116) of networked global information resources.  “Naming, indexing, has its limits – it can only be done within a given context” (Mai, p. 116), and as George W. Trow pointed out long ago – we are in the “Context of No Context” once we’ve embarked on a world-wide web engagement.  The stimulating idea is that if you have those who are interacting with the resources “tagging” their meaningful engagement with those resources “in their own terms” – you are replicating the range and breadth and depth of ACTUAL human use and inference and representation of interaction with information.  Now THAT is FASCINATING!

On the other hand.  By now we are all mostly aware of the extreme subjectivity involved in perception, acquisition, attention, selection, and utilization or effecting of data-available-to-us (individually) in the experiences that afford us, expose us, enable us to actuate and in-form whatever available reality that resource represents for us.  This means that each individual organisms experience of a given interaction with an available resource is intensely situation-specific.  Which also implies that their report, account, or “tricky naming” of said interaction is apt to be highly idiosyncratic.  Which (OBVIOUSLY) presents an enormous problem for the stability or repeatability or findability or accessibility of the potential import of said resource for any other organism.  This, it seems to me, is where even collective or massive social input still engenders community-and-individual-sized gaps in findability and usability of digital information resources.

As I see it, the concept of “folksonomy” and social democratic tagging is a practical response to Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Uexkull, et. al.’s realization that any and all conscious human individuals will seek, access, perceive and select elements of their environment FOR THEMSELVES – limited by every aspect of their own physiobiology, neurobiology, social contextualization and environmental situation – if a WHOLE BUNDLE, an aggregate, a swath of humans “tag,” “name,” “label” a resource according to the meaning it gave rise to in them – we might get an approximately adequate representation of the (at least human) RANGE of meaning or import that resource might have for our species – the uses to which it might be put, the ideas it might give rise to, the practical effects it may indeed effect.  HOWEVER – it will by no means have overcome the inherent ambiguity, openness and possibility of said entity/resource/ordination of “information” for any further context / individual / situated need going forward, unknown.  This is where things like mathematical language, artistic form/contents, agreed-upon languages, domain-specific terminologies, “controlled vocabularies” SERVE our species – they give us COMMUNAL resources by which to evaluate and organize our experiences – and COMMUNICATE.  Private languages, really, tell us no more than the barking of a dog.  We infer and intuit, but then, that is OUR language imposing order on someone else’s expression.  Standardized, collectively agreed-upon terminologies and languages allow us to participate, interact and coordinate our experiences and understandings, while “folksonomies,” “tagging” and so forth allow us to nuance and extend or specify aspects of the agreed-upon discourse.  At least these are the uses I find compelling around both Controlled Vocabularies AND individual or privatized labeling.

It’s fascinating because it allows a democratic voicing which accounts for many more human facets to ANY and all resources, while “social” in a “societal” sense – domain-oriented, authoritative and agreed-upon terminologies allow us a way to flesh out, fuel and invigorate COORDINATED meanings – something accessible to us more like our own bodies – a corporate interaction – avoiding both solipsism (isolation) and equivalence (anonymity).  All sources seemed to agree that all things “con-” (con-sensus, co-llaboration, co-rrespondence and so on) are ESSENTIAL for our worlds to be useful and meaningful to us.

We have work to do in finding the dynamic balance in agreed-upon vocabularies as touchstones maybe not necessarily rules and the open source of additive description to equal something perhaps more in accord with human “reality.”  I sense that this is the dream of the Semantic Web…and of all communities worldwide.  I appreciate how the internet re-invigorates this ancient human process.


“In short – who will archive cultures in the future – the state, corporations, or the public?”

This article both combines and extends some of my favorite things to mull….

Archiving cultures – Mike Featherstone

Borges Aleph

coupled to concepts found in such texts as these:

“The archive fever is to attempt to return to the lived origin, the everyday experience, which is the source of the imperfect and distorted memories which are our archives and whose transience and forgetting makes us uncomfortable”

-Jacques derrida-


Recently, I have received several queries into either how I read as much as I read, or how I find or know what to read.  As I respond to these inquiries, it has interested me how in fact, I account for my reading history.  E.L. Doctorow explained he rarely knew what he believed until he had written about it.  Dostoevsky would start authoring a given scene, assuming he understood precisely what he believed about the issue discussed in it, only to have one of his characters convince him otherwise.  Frequently it is only through the actual act of creation that we locate what we really feel and think about a subject.” (Olsen, architectures of possibility).  That, coupled with “Authors frequently say things they are unaware of; only after they have gotten the reactions of their readers do they discover what they have said” – Umberto Eco…resulted in these self-observations:

Even from persons I deem much more knowledgeable than myself I often hear “you’ve read more than anyone I know…” and I have spent many hours a day for many decades – reading.  I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, so the concern for truth, authority and canon were socio-culturally inculcated in me from an early age.  When I began exploring music, philosophy and literature I found this concern ruling my approach: what is deemed canonical (attested by authorities), what came first?, and what rings true?  I remember beginning with anthologies of classical poets, then ancient scriptures, Homer and so forth.  Beginning with Plato/Aristotle then forward through those who claimed their influence.  Beginning with Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and then forward and back to origins and influences.  That has been my habit in exploring cultural artifacts.  Find references.  Correspondence.  Claims.  Follow them out.  And follow those out.  And follow those.  And….so on.

As to achieving the absorption of piles of books at a time – when pushed to claim a process – I was surprised at the simple methodologies.  I have referred to “transductive reading” from time to time in these posts – the interaction and co-constitutive commentaries that work provides to work.  So I read large amounts of materials over large amounts of time (though my wife insists I read speedily) – I find I read sections / chapters / pages from a multitude of books and let them interact in me forming tissues and connections, rather than singular voices or ideas straight through.  I read for differences – turns of phrase, terminologies, rhythms, in persons approaches to subjects, rather than reading for topical content or idea-information as data.  Where a voice, approach, or technique is unique is often what particular works have to offer, I have come to think.  And, depending on genre or reason for reading – as overlaps increase as the volume of “have-read” grows – one can often browse for summarizing sections to find the nuances each thinker or creator proffers.

reading a lot

Then there’s my personal history and approach to things.  Hard-pressed to learning from youth=26 straight years of education + 17 years working in or managing retail bookstores – in an effort to be an “excellent” bookseller – implying to me I had to know something of everything a reader might desire (first hand).  Publisher’s catalogs, reviews, recommendations, lists, histories, from the development of language to its variation in forms and contents.  And always that uncanny recognition of Grenzsituationen – or “Limit Texts.”

“It might be helpful to conceive of certain texts as Limit Texts – a variety of writing disturbance that carries various elements of narrativity to their brink so the reader can never quite think of them in the same terms again.  To the brink, and then (for most readers, at least) over.  Karl Jaspers coined the word Grenzsituationen (border/limit situations) to describe existential moments accompanied by anxiety in which the human mind is forced to confront the restrictions of its existing forms – moments, in other words, that make us abandon, fleetingly, the securities of our limitedness and enter new realms of self-consciousness.  Death, for example.”

“If we carry this notion of Grenzsituationen into the literary domain, we find ourselves thinking about the sorts of books that, once you’ve taken them down from the shelf, you’ll never be able to put back up again.  They won’t leave you alone.  They will continue to work on your imagination long after you’ve read them.  Merely by being in the world, Limit Texts ask us to embrace possibility spaces, difficulty, freedom, radical skepticism.  Which writings make up the category will, naturally, vary from reader to reader, depending on what the reader has already encountered by way of innovative projects, his or her background, assumptions and so on…but the more Limit Texts one reads, the less one tends to feel the impulse to return to more conventional narrativity…”

-Lance Olsen, architectures of possibility

These situations are tattooed on my body (literally)…and include:

Samuel Beckett – Macedonio Fernandez – Paul Celan – Fyodor Dostoevsky – Ludwig Wittgenstein – Maurice Blanchot – Helene Cixous – Clarice Lispector – Franz Kafka – Fernando Pessoa – David Foster Wallace – Mikhail Bakhtin – Rainer Maria Rilke – Edmond Jabes – Federico Garcia Lorca – William Stafford – Egon Schiele – Vincent van Gogh – Johannes Brahms – Alberto Giacometti – Robert Musil – Friedrich Nietzsche – C.F. Peirce…

as you uncover these (your own personal) writers – your pantheon

of those who change your view of the possibilities of language and who you can return to again and again

without  really feeling you’ve been there before – they become coordinates – network nodes – whereby you

evaluate and expand, extend and engage new writings you are exposed to – forever altering your patience and expectations of literature or whatever cultural artifact-type you crave and are pleasured by…thus making your reading more efficient and your selections increasingly more challenging and compelling to you – as long as you continue to leap out and expose yourself to things that might be unexpected

Ben Marcus – Ronald Sukenick – Laurie Sheck – Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge – Lyn Hejinian – Denis Johnson – Laurence Sterne – William James – C.F. Peirce – Michel Serres – Bruno Latour – Jorge Luis Borges – Cervantes – Immanuel Kant –

your lists will spawn as you follow their correspondences, admirations, criticisms, references, citations,

and you develop your literary canon

more on that another time


Enough about Writing…


Came across this article…seems to jibe with many blog discussions/posts floating about out there just now…thought I’d like to share it.  It’s a bit dated in places, but the overall concept seems worth your ruminations….

Why Books?
Libraries 2000, a seminar to re-examine the function and future
development of libraries in Alberta, was held in 1983. A committee
consisting of representatives of Alberta Culture, the Alberta Library
Board, the Alberta Library Trustees Association, the Library Association
of Alberta and the Learning Resources Council of the Alberta
Teachers Association was set up to look into ways of following
up on the suggestions arising out of the seminar. This is the second
booklet commissioned as a result of these discussions.
Public libraries have long attempted to fulfil many functions and
roles in our society. As financial and human resources have become
harder to obtain, librarians and library trustees have had to give
more attention to examining these roles and assessing their relative
worth. In recent years, there has been increasing discussion of the
public library as an information provider, but less discussion of the
more traditional view of library service.
Sam Neill is a professor at the School of Library and Information
Science at the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.
This booklet is based on a speech delivered at the Ontario Library
Association Conference, Ottawa, 1984, entitled “The Role of a
Traditional Library in an Age Bludgeoned by Information.” The
opinions and ideas expressed are those of the author and do not
necessarily represent the view of Albe11a Culture, or the Alberta
Library Board. The assistance of the Alberta Library Board in editing
and printing this booklet is gratefully acknowledged .

Why Books? by Sam Neill

(click for full article, please)

dove-tailing ever-so-nicely with another book I stumbled across in the library (which also contains a fine consideration of David Foster Wallace in one of the chapters), and considers, I think, the same sorts of issues of humaneness and being alive meaninfully: