Thursday, July 12, 2007


From a rival site's page on Lusy Lady a book about a Seattle peepshow.

Pretty impressive tag cloud! I guess lots of people have tagged it "female author." This must be the important thing here.

Wait, how many of their users have the book? One.

Folksonomy, meet fauxonomy. As Jamais Cascio (via David Weinberger) puts it, fauxonomy is:
"metadata added with the conscious intent to confuse or obfuscate," or to weight them for spammish reasons.
LibraryThing has 47 members with the book. And 53 tags. With numbers:

The moral: When you have a lot of data you can know what a book is about—note how big "erotica" and "photography" are. When you don't, pretending doesn't help.


Blogger Jacob said...

I agree, but doesn't LibraryThing do something similar? When I look at works pages for books that are only in my library, some tags are bold and some aren't--despite they're having been used an equal number of times (once) to describe the book. Here's an example.

7/12/2007 8:10 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

True, very true. There's a distinction, but I can see where you're coming from.

It's calculating the salience of the tag. We have talked about that before. It's the the relative share of the total times its tagged. True, that does make it seem larger, although we don't change the size of the tag.

I think there's a difference between making a tag larger and using CSS font-weight, but this is inside-baseball stuff now. It might help if they allowed you to inspect the actual numbers, as we do. Without that, and knowing that they skew things all over, how can you trust it at all?

7/12/2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger Jacob said...

I agree entirely that what the other site does is way out of line. The answer to your question is, of course, "You can't."

That said, I don't understand your second paragraph at all. I'm not sure what you mean by salience (can you point me to where you talked about it before?), and I don't also don't understand the difference between making something seem larger and changing its size. But I'm probably just missing something.

7/12/2007 8:29 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Let me clarify. Bold isn't larger, it's just bold. Yes, in some sense it SEEMS larger. But it's not. LibraryThing bolds tags to indicate "salience."

The idea of salience is best illustrated by an example:


You'll notice that fiction is large, but not bold. The book is fiction, but LOTS of books are fiction. By contrast, "hermaphroditism" is small, but bold. It's not tagged hermaphroditism very much (only 16 times, versus 806 for fiction), but that's a large proportion of ALL the times "hermaphroditism" has been used on the site. (Indeed, if you click on the tag you can discover that 84% of the time the tag is used, it's used on Middlesex!)

Does that make it clear?

7/12/2007 8:39 PM  
Anonymous cuerious cat said...

Curiosity made me look up the "rival site" (Shelfari just in case anyone is interested - I'll spare you the googling) . . . and interestingly, it has a blog too!

I suggest reading some of it for the self-congratulatory flavour of the set-up. A lot of hype and a lot of hip but not nearly there on substance. LT comes off as the plainly more intellectual and interesting cousin by comparison. More bookish, in other words.

And the blogs reflect this difference. I enjoy reading the semi technical disquisitions on catalogging and library philosophy here for example - something you won't find "over there" because they don't sound like they care for it (or if they do, only superficially). What results is an LT with more depth than any of its competitors because so much more thought has gone into it.

Maybe they're not such an 'ideas' set-up because they're catering to a different demographic (a hipper demographic?) but there's just something profoundly unbookish about that that I can't put a finger on. Probably just a vibe thing.

7/12/2007 8:42 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

But this just looks to me like sparse data, with no malicious intent, vandalism or deception. Perhaps a better example of a fauxonomy is what some taggers have done to Paris Hilton at

7/12/2007 9:28 PM  
Blogger Jacob said...

Yes, Tim. That makes it very clear.

7/12/2007 9:56 PM  

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