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Tim Spalding at LibraryThing has introduced a new wrinkle in the tagosphere…and wrinkles are welcome because they pucker space in semantically interesting ways. (Block that metaphor!)

At LibraryThing, people list their books. And, of course, we tag ’em up good. For example, Freakonomics has 993 unique tags (ignoring case differences), and 8,760 total tags. Now, tags are of course useful. But so are subject headings. So, Tim has come up with a clever way of deriving subject headings bottom up. He’s introduced “tagmashes,” which are (in essence) searches on two or more tags. So, you could ask to see all the books tagged “france” and “wwii.” But the fact that you’re asking for that particular conjunction of tags indicates that those tags go together, at least in your mind and at least at this moment. Library turns that tagmash into a page with a persistent URL. The page presents a de-duped list of the results, ordered by interestinginess, and with other tagmashes suggested, all based on the magic of statistics. Over time, a large, relatively flat set of subject headings may emerge, which, subject to further analysis, could get clumpier and clumpier with meaning.

You may be asking yourself how this differs from saved searches. I asked Tim. He explained that while the system does a search when you ask for a new tagmash, it presents the tagmash as if it were a topic, not a search. For one thing, lists of search results generally don’t have persistent URLs. More important, to the user, tagmash pages feel like topic pages, not search results pages.

And you may also be asking yourself how this differs from a folksonomy. While I’d want to count it as a folksonomic technique, in a traditional folksonomy (oooh, I hope I’m the first to use that phrase!), a computer can notice which terms are used most often, and might even notice some of the relationships among the terms. With tagmashes, the info that this tag is related to that one is gleaned from the fact that a human said that they were related.

LibraryThing keeps innovating this way. It’s definitely a site to watch.

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5 Responses to “Tagmashes from LibraryThing”

  1. on 26 Jul 2007 at 7:08 amNathan


    You might find this interesting. One point that goes back to your “Why we need librarians” post:

    I brought up with Tim the issue of whether order mattered with tagmashing.

    For example,

    History — Philosophy


    Philosophy — History

    are two different things.

    He replied:

    Yes. That’s a good, simple example of when [terms matter a lot]. Order does NOT matter on LT. It’s key, however, not to think of tagmash as a truly separate scheme. It’s based on regular tags. So, in this case, you have to ask yourself “why would someone tag something ‘history’ and why ‘philosophy’?

    In fact, “philosophy, history” produces three mostly distinct groupings:

    *History of Philosophy (A history of western philosophy by Bertrand Russell)
    *Philosophy of History (What is history? by Edward Hallett Carr)
    *”Old” philosophy, or philosophy that also sheds light on history (The Republic of Plato by Plato)

    It’s a good example of how tagmash can perpetuate (or even increase) ambiguity, rather than driving it out. (end quote from Tim)

    Just an interesting point a librarian would emphasize. :)


  2. on 26 Jul 2007 at 11:05 pmmxt

    As of 2007.07.26 Google only finds one other page with the search “traditional folksonomy”, see

  3. […] Library 2.0  LibraryThing has just introduced a feature called “tagmash” that is, as David Weinberger puts it, “creating subject headings from the bottom […]

  4. on 14 Aug 2007 at 7:15 pmPhil Wolff

    Folksongomy: Where we sing what a song is about, each of us singing simultaneously our own spontaneous description of the song, instead of singing a song’s lyrics.

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