Do Folksonomies Belong in Your DAM?

Most of us rely on tags to organize our personal files on our computers and social media sites. I wonder, though, whether social tagging – the collaborative act of tagging digital content with user-generated terms – has a place in the world of enterprise DAM.

Social tagging is a contentious issue, especially in the DAM field. On the one hand, mob indexing (my favorite synonym for social tagging) encourages users to create and shape vocabularies in an organic way, often leading to the creation of folksonomies. This method is a cheap and quick way to build vocabularies that are in tune with the way subject matter experts refer to their digital content.

On other other hands, social tagging generates keywords that are confusing, messy, and incomplete. From an enterprise perspective, social tags lack interoperability, are linguistically chaotic, and are ungoverned by enterprise-wide standards. The terms can be imprecise and confusing to others using the system: they often include misspelled, ambiguous, esoteric and compound terms. A term’s context, that all powerful semantic attribute, can be muddled, left-out, or simply wrong. If I were to compare folksonomies to thesauri – with their hierarchically structured terms, scope notes, relationships, and synonyms – thesauri would win hands down. Controlled vocabularies, not folksonomies, are a must in any DAM system.

So do they have a use in DAM systems?

I believe so, but only if they are used to feed candidate terms into controlled vocabularies. I agree with what Guy (2006) writes, “optimisation of user tag input, to improve their quality for the purposes of later reuse as searchable keywords, would increase the perceived value of the folksonomic tag approach.” Why not allow beta testers to develop the basis for your controlled dictionary? Employing this approach, along with examining search logs and text analysis, is worth considering.

Considering the deluge of digital assets flooding our coffers, inviting users to participate in the cataloging process makes sense: many hands make light work. Using social tagging in tandem with a controlled vocabulary can enrich overall user experience.

How do you employ social tagging in your DAM?


Guy, M., & Tonkin, E. (2006). Folksonomies – Tidying up tags? D-Lib Magazine. Retrieved from

Rosenfeld, L. (n.d.). Bloug: Folksonomies? How about Metadata Ecologies? Retrieved April 30, 2014, from

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