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Tagging books

Tagging is a relatively new but increasingly popular way for Internet users to organize things by giving them personal keywords. Amazon added this feature in late 2005, and although it's not been widely used yet, advocates are hailing tags as "the new Dewey Decimal System for the Internet."

Tags might be best understood as a personal search system. For a book like Gone with the Wind, you might assign tags like "Civil War," "fiction," "epic," and "romance." If you were considering buying it as a gift, you might tag it "Joe's Birthday" as a pneumonic device for future reference.

Users create tags for their own reasons, but they can be used by anyone and can become an effortless, accurate recommendation system among people with similar tastes.

Besides books, you can assign tags to many other things on the Internet. Photos, for example. One of the first sites to popularize tagging, Flickr, is a social site where users can store, organize and (if they wish) share their digital photographs with anyone who cares to view them.

Instead of using categories to organize the photos - for example, a folder labeled "2005 Vacation" - users "tag" their photos with one or two words, say, "waterfall" or "solar eclipse," and perhaps the names of the people in each photo and where the photos were taken. This way photos can be organized in several ways.

Tags are a form of metadata, which means, literally, data about data. Tagging creates a folksonomy, a bottom-up method of categorization or labeling as opposed to the more top-down taxonomy, where categorization might be used in a library to show hierarchical relationships. Folksonomies can be useful for showing connections among books that aren't apparent by traditional categorization.

Tags aren't necessarily a replacement for top-down classification but a supplemental means of organization and order. A growing number of booksellers and readers are using tags to provide their own unique way of classifying books. Some online library online catalogs now allow users to use tags as a supplement to the hierarchical category system.

Book tagging allows people to assign trendy, granular labels to books, nuances that would escape the world's hippest, brainiest librarians. For example, there's no library shelf or Amazon category for steampunk, a subgenre of speculative fiction. But using tags, aficionados can dissect steampunk into all its subsubgenres, including timepunk, bronzepunk, stonepunk and clockpunk - all terms that are deadly serious to steampunkers.

Each of the 3.5 million books in Amazon's catalogue could be assigned its own unique category yet reside in thousands of other categories at the same time.

Amazon tags are publicly viewable unless users designate them as private. You can manage your tags through a "Your Tags" field at the bottom of every Amazon page.

In short, tagging is another method for booksellers to increase the visibility of their high-value items by adding the obvious keywords appropriate to their book. Amazon tags are indexed by Google and other search engines.

Here's more information on tagging from Amazon's help pages.

Using Search Suggestions and tags isn't something that will be worth your while for lower-priced commodity books; it simply wouldn't be worth the effort. But for selling your valuable titles, these new tools could provide a critical difference, and they certainly bear watching.

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