Close enough for rocket science…

“Good enough for who it’s for.” That’s one of my favorite lines. Elaine Peterson’s earnest exploration of the shortcomings of folksonomic classification brought it bubbling up to the window in my Magic 8 Ball brain. Peterson criticizes David Weinberger’s essay, “Tagging and Why it Matters,” which is a year and a half old now and standing the test of Internet time quite nicely. (Dr. W. responds to that criticism in a blog post here.)

Elaine, she say,

Weinberger also mentions as benefits financial savings and elimination of bureaucracies of catalogers and indexers…

So there you have it. It’s fundamentally a rice bowl issue. All her Aristotelian window dressing and the heavy concerns she expresses regarding “philosophical relativism” and her concern for the “average user” pivot around the threat she feels that tagsonomies are somehow going to drive out card catalogs and the jobs of the catalogers.

Rest easy, Elaine. The authorial tagging of blog posts and the readership tagging of web pages, the gathering of the tags, the sifting of the tags, the serendipitous appearance of the Portland Rose Garden in a collection of photographs of Marilyn Monroe, all these things are good enough, more than close enough — one might say — for government work, were one to ignore the enormous accuracy required of government workers from the days of the Egyptian pyramids to the Apollo Project. I’ll submit that imprecision is the nature of the tagsonomic game, whereas accuracy and refined structure are the balance points for library classification schemata. Library classification work will be with us a while longer yet, I think.

In the average huge university library there are a finite and inventoried number of volumes and someone has been kind enough to categorize each one by author, publication date, title, publisher, topic, sub-topic, even by size. Each has a place on a specific shelf and a placeholder in a checkout system to track it if it has been removed from the shelf. That stuff works. The great cataloging and classification systems: Library of Congress, Cutter, Dewey and whatnot… they work. And they’re good enough for who they’re for… the patrons, the librarians, researchers, bibliographers. We know what’s available and we know how to find it, or how long we’ll have to wait for it to return from the bindery, or whatever.

The grand folksonomic systems, del.icio.us, FlickR, etc. don’t pretend to address those needs, don’t pretend to that level of taxonomic integrity, but rather function to collate huge volumes of stuff and leave it up to the user to address further curatorial issues.

All this stuff is good enough for who it’s for, indeed it all dovetails nicely card cataloigs providing access to the untagged world of dead trees and profitable eJournals… tags collecting work by new creators. I’m looking forward to tag based bibliographies… the oeuvre of Amanda Congdon, collated and published on DVD with technorati tags and unique google references driving out the old academic formats, ibid, op cit, say what?