Originally published on May 31, 2017

36th in a series of 50 Knowledge Management Components (Slide 47 in KM 102)

Metadata and tags: information about information — data fields added to documents, web sites, files, or lists that allow related items to be listed, searched for, navigated to, syndicated, and collected

Metadata allows information to be found through browsing, searching, and other means. It defines the context of the information, how it is classified within a taxonomy, and how it is related to other information. Metadata may be applied automatically based on the origin of the content, assigned by the content owner when submitting it to a repository, or added by a knowledge manager or assistant to ensure it is done properly.

Tags are a form of metadata that can be applied by users to help them retrieve content according to their own view of how it should be categorized. Tags can be applied to web pages, documents, people, photos, music, and any other form of electronic content. These tags can also allow others to find content based on a folksonomy. The problem with a folksonomy as opposed to a taxonomy is that there are no imposed standards, and thus inconsistent tags will likely exist for information that should be tagged uniformly.

Metadata should be based on the standard taxonomy defined for the organization. It should be embedded in repository entry forms as mandatory fields with pick lists so that contributed content is correctly classified. Search engines should offer the option to search by the available metadata fields so that results will be as specific as possible.

Examples of metadata are customer name, industry, country, product or service, project identifier, technology type, date, revenue amount, etc. Whenever possible, metadata values should be supplied from a table, rather than entered as free-form text in an input field. The reason for this is that if, for example, each user is allowed to enter the customer name, then there will be many variations, and it will be difficult to search by customer name. If one user enters GM and another enters General Motors, the value of metadata is diminished. Offering a pick list containing the standard customer names will avoid this problem.

Definitions and Examples

1. Metadata: Structural — design and specification of data structures: data about the containers of data; Descriptive — about individual instances of application data (the content): data about data content

  • Example 1: HP
  • Example 2: Deloitte

2. Tagging: adding non-hierarchical keywords or terms to documents, websites, files, lists, or social media content — allows related items to be listed, searched for, navigated to, and aggregated

3. Tag clouds: visual depiction of user-generated tags attached to online content, typically using color and font size to represent the prominence or frequency of the tags depicted

4. Folksonomy: a system in which users apply public tags to online items, typically to aid them in re-finding those items. This can give rise to a classification system based on those tags and their frequencies, in contrast to a taxonomic classification specified by the owners of the content when it is published. Folksonomies also known as social tagging, are user-defined metadata collections. Users do not deliberately create folksonomies and there is rarely a prescribed purpose, but a folksonomy evolves when many users create or store content at particular sites and identify what they think the content is about.

5. Semantic web: a mesh of information linked up to be easily processed by machines, on a global scale; a web of data — of dates, titles, part numbers, chemical properties and any other data one might conceive of; RDF provides the foundation for publishing and linking data; and RDF triple is subject, predicate, object


1. The web works because it is broken and not owned by Euan Semple — written in reaction to someone rubbishing the semantic web and folksonomies

Yes, there is rubbish on the web, but the availability of relevant, accurate information at your fingertips has exploded in ways that even ten years ago most people couldn’t have imagined and which have never ever been delivered by “conventional” means.

There were naysayers then, and indeed there still are, but I would be cautious about assuming that the collective, applied intelligence of millions of people is more fallible than a small group of experts with the power to confer meaning.

2. Complexity-based change in knowledge management by Dave Snowden

  • from CoPs and the matrix organization to social network stimulation & crews
  • from taxonomies & ontologies to social computing, semi-constrained signification (not a folksonomy)
  • from “best practice” and structured documents to worst practice, fragmented micro-narrative and real time capture & deployment
  • from recipe books to chefs, understanding and applying principles
  • from thinking of knowledge as a “thing” to enabling the flow

3. Folksonomy Coinage and Definition by Thomas Vander Wal

Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one’s own retrieval. The tagging is done in a social environment (usually shared and open to others). Folksonomy is created from the act of tagging by the person consuming the information.

The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object. People are not so much categorizing, as providing a means to connect items (placing hooks) to provide their meaning in their own understanding.

In a few conversations around folksonomy and tagging in 2004 I stated, “folksonomy is tagging that works”. This is still a strong belief that the three tenets of a folksonomy:

  1. tag
  2. object being tagged
  3. identity

are core to disambiguation of tag terms and provide for a rich understanding of the object being tagged.


  1. Taxonomy
  2. LinkedIn — MetadataTaggingSemantic Web
  3. SlideShare — MetadataTaggingFolksonomySemantic Web
  4. Understanding Metadata: What is metadata, and what is it for? by Jenn Riley
  5. Semantic Web
  6. Building the Web of Data
  7. Linked Open Vocabularies — MetadataTags
  8. The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative
  9. Earley Information Sciences — MetadataTagging
  10. Social Tagging and the Enterprise: Does Tagging Work at Work? by Stephanie Lemieux
  11. A Gentle Introduction to Metadata by Jeff Good
  12. Tags & Folksonomies — What are they, and why should you care?
  13. Folksonomies? How about Metadata Ecologies? by Lou Rosenfeld
  14. Authority by Peter Morville
  15. Sue Hanley — Breaking the Folder Paradigm: how to get more value from your SharePoint document libraries (how metadata can be used to replace folders as an organizing principle) — Metadata moderation: don’t go overboard! (you may be able to eliminate unnecessary columns by adding a column called Document Description to document libraries) — Metadata that checks in but won’t check out (9 site columns that you should not add to your SharePoint document libraries — unless you want to keep them forever)
  16. Heather Hedden — MetadataTagging
  17. Digital Asset Management Learning Center by Extensis
  18. Metadata Research Center at Drexel University
  19. Social tagging overview (SharePoint) by Microsoft
  20. Tagging: Five Emerging Trends — Boxes and Arrows Podcast
  21. APQC — MetadataTagsFolksonomy
  22. Martin Garland — Don’t Enhance SharePoint: Transform It Through MetadataSolving the Inadequacies and Failures in Enterprise Search
  23. Intelligent Search: Making the Most of Metadata by Seth Earley
  24. Solving the Metadata Mystery by Jan Rosi
  25. Folksonomy Folktales 2010 by Tom Reamy
  26. Folksonomies: power to the people by Emanuele Quintarelli
  27. What is the Semantic Web? by Geoff Keston
  28. Patrick Lambe — MetadataTaggingFolksonomy
  29. Matt Moore — MetadataFolksonomy/Semantic Web
  30. James Robertson
  31. How Tags Help Businesses Organize by Luis Suarez
  32. Thomas Vander Wal
  33. David Weinberger — MetadataFolksonomyTagsSemantic WebDissolution of MetadataEverything is MiscellaneousThe Dream of the Semantic Web
  34. SIKM Leaders Community — Fluidinfo: hosted enterprise metadata — presentation by Russell Manley
  35. SIKM Leaders Community — Semantic Web + Big Data = ? — threaded discussion


  1. Introduction to Metadata: Pathways to Digital Information by Tony Gill, Anne Gilliland-Swetland, and Murtha Baca (Amazon)
  2. Metadata by Jeffrey Pomerantz
  3. Metadata by Marcia Lei Zeng and Jian Qin
  4. Metadata for Content Management: Designing taxonomy, metadata, policy and workflow to make digital content systems better for users by David Diamond
  5. Metadata Basics for Web Content: The Unification of Structured Data and Content by Michael C Andrews
  6. Metadata: Shaping Knowledge from Antiquity to the Semantic Web by Richard Gartner
  7. SharePoint records management and metadata: Digital archiving in Office 365 by Alfred de Weerd
  8. Tagging: People-powered Metadata for the Social Web by Gene Smith
  9. Social tagging as a classification and search strategy: A smart way to label and find web resources by Serena Bonino
  10. Folksonomies. Indexing and Retrieval in Web 2.0 by Isabella Peters
  11. Deriving Ontologies from Folksonomies: An Integrated Approach for Turning Folksonomies into Ontologies by Alexander Gamper
  12. Harnessing Folksonomies with a Web Crawler: How collaboratively created tags can be used to index Web pages by David Oggier
  13. Common Sense and Folksonomy: Engineering a Model for an Intelligent Search Systemby Mohammad Nauman
  14. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger
  15. Semantic Web

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store