Last week,Seth Earley blogged about the inefficacy of social tagging, but there’s one scenario in which social tagging will breathe new life into an esoteric, 200-year industry: book indexing.
I’ve written hundreds of book indexes, presided over the American Society for Indexing, managed an international indexing partnership, taught courses, established standards, built tools, and consulted with a lot of influential folks, so trust me when I tell you that it pains me to see this happening. I believe with every fiber of my professional being that the human work of subject indexing is and will continue to be superior in quality to every alternative ever imagined. Oh well.
There is just too much information to index by hand, period. Books, periodicals, websites, blogs, messages, and documents are being produced or transformed too quickly for humans to keep pace, regardless of training and tools. Perhaps in response, the use of search algorithms becomes ever more popular, while overly optimistic expectations of retrieval quality grows increasingly preposterous. A more realistic response would be an increase in subject indexers’ fees — after all, demand is outpacing supply at an astounding rate — but indexers haven’t experienced a rate increase since the 1990s. The truth is that editorial indexing and all smart hands-on tagging is disappearing in favor of automatic approximations. And it is a reasonable argument that the substandard tagging of millions of pages and documents is better than leaving most of them without any subject metadata whatsoever.
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