Understanding tag functions in a moderated, user-generated metadata ecosystem

Publication Date14 May 2018
Date14 May 2018
AuthorAyse Gursoy,Karen Wickett,Melanie Feinberg
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Understanding tag functions in a
moderated, user-generated
metadata ecosystem
Ayse Gursoy and Karen Wickett
School of Information, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA, and
Melanie Feinberg
School of Library and Information Science (SILS),
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paperis to investigate tag use in a metadata ecosystem that supports a fan
work repositoryto identify functionsof tags and explore thesystem as a co-constructedcommunicative context.
Design/methodology/approach Using modified techniques from grounded theory (Charmaz, 2007), this
paper integrates humanistic and social science methods to identify kinds of tag use in a rich setting.
Findings Three primary roles of tags emerge out of detailed study of the metadata ecosystem: tags can
identify elements in the fan work, tags can reflect on how those elements are used or adapted in the fan work,
and finally, tags can express the fan authors sense of her role in the discursive context of the fan work
repository. Attending to each of the tag roles shifts focus away from just what tags say to include how they
say it.
Practical implications Instead of building metadata systems designed solely for retrieval or description,
this research suggests that it may be fruitful to build systems that recognize various metadata functions and
allow for expressivity. This research also suggests that attending to metadata previously considered
unusable in systems may reflect the participantssense of the system and their role within it.
Originality/value In addition to accommodating a wider range of tag functions, this research implies
consideration of metadata ecosystems, where different kinds of tags do different things and work together to
create a multifaceted artifact.
Keywords Information systems, Knowledge management systems, Metadata, Fan culture, Tags,
User-generated metadata
Paper type Research paper
The problem of search and retrieval requires clear, coherent subject keywords in order to
facilitate referencing across multiple sources. Preservation metadata, on the other hand,
needs to be descriptive and comprehensive in order to allow future preservation workers to
maintain the integrity of the record and to allow future users to understand the context.
User-generated tags are not quite like subject categories and not quite like archival
descriptive metadata. A tag like hang onto your butts teamor I have no idea what
Im talking aboutseems particularly worthless when compared against either of these
kinds of metadata. Instead, can we consider the case of user-generated tags in order to
develop a more complete picture of metadata purposes, including purposes previously
ignored? Within the information science context, research has been done on how
user-generated metadata, specifically tags, can add value to materials (Marshall, 2009;
Steinhauer et al., 2011). In most of these studies, however, the tags in question are either
sparsely descriptive, or considered to be not useful to others. Moreover, only a small
portion of research on user-generated metadata considers the special case of content
creators tagging their own content, rather than users tagging content made by others
(He et al., 2010; Kim and Rieh, 2011).
Fan fiction, on the other hand, has a rich history of tagging practices developed through
multiple intersecting communities. While the idea of creative re-imaginings of other stories
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 74 No. 3, 2018
pp. 490-508
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-09-2017-0134
Received 22 September 2017
Revised 3 January 2018
Accepted 3 January 2018
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
has an extensive history, fan studies scholars trace the origins of contemporary fandomto
the practices of Star Trek fans in the 1960s who exchanged stories of the main characters in
all sorts of imagined adventures (Jenkins, 1992; Russ, 1985). These early fan fiction writers
used specific metadata practices when distributing their works through in-person and mail
networks; character names were used primarily in combination to indicate primary
interpersonal relationships, and the author names were often pseudonymous. Ian Condry
(2013), taking a media studies perspective about a set of games, offers a view of characters
as generative platforms for fan interaction. Building on Jenkinspioneering work on fan
cultures and their use of remixing as a primary form of engagement, Handley (2010) argues
in a masters thesis that fan fiction is a kind of conversation between fans and writers:
writers and readers orienting themselves within a flexible, generative, dialectical system.
This paper suggests that elements from original works such as characters present not just
as generative platforms but as hooks for creators to pin down narrative possibilities.
Fan fiction today is similarly imaginative, remixing characters, settings, and plot points
from other works and engaging with expectations for narrative style. Metadata systems,
too, may reflect this orientation to narrative components in a way that supports the
generative flexibility that is idealized as fan fictions potential ( Jenkins, 1992; Condry, 2013).
This research focuses on the Archive of Our Own, an online fan fiction site that allows
authors to upload and tag their works with minimal management, and allows readers to
explore worksalong a variety of paths. The fan fictionsite functions primarily asa navigable
repositorywith a networked database structurethat relies on a unique combination of author-
generated metadata and backstage volunteer federation (Johnson, 2014). Authors upload
works to specificfan sub-communities, known as fandoms,and backstagevolunteers work
within these sub-communities. What theunique combination supports is one of the questions
this research seeks to answer:
RQ1. What metadata functions might exist that are visible here, taking into account
the history of fan fiction and the unique possibilities of this site with respect
to communities?
Finally, there are unique possibilities in the original works themselves that highlight the
functionality of fan fiction. This paper examines fandoms for three different digital games
hosted on the site, each with a slightly different level of openness. Critic and philosopher
Eco Umberto (1989) introduced the term open workto describe literary or artistic works
which invite the reader to complete them by making choices about what pages to read, or
where the story should not go next. Digital games are particularly fruitful examples of open
works as the objects themselves are designed explicitly around the players participation,
and can be experienced differently with each playing. For example, the first Mass Effect
game features a choice early on between two possible members of the players team.
Whichever person the player chooses to be on the team is there through the entire trilogy, so
there are effectively two versions of the team because of this choice. Each of the game
fandoms in this research project has a different level of openness, driving the development
of a nuanced understanding of how metadata can be shared across a community that may
have experienced very different games.
There are three specific research questions for this project, each exploring one function of
metadata use. First, specifically reflecting on the remixing heritage of fan fiction, what
metadata elements identify pieces from the original works? Second, stepping more broadly,
how do metadata elements such as tags reflect and comment on the authors creative
engagement with the original work? And third, imagining an alternate function, how do
metadata elements such as tags help fan authors engage directly with other members of the
community? In order to address these research questions, this paper constructs a typology
identifying different kinds of tags used in the fan fiction repository.
tag functions

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