In response to:
Svenonius, Elaine. (2000) “The intellectual foundation of information organization.” Cambridge: MIT Press. Chapter 8.
Bailey, Penny. (2007) “Always start with structure.” Library + information gazette, 19 October–1 November.p. 9.
Zeng, Marcia Lei. 2005. Construction of Controlled Vocabularies, A Primer (based on Z39.19).
In spite of my personal love for tagging, I’ve been developing a higher degree of skepticism regarding their long-term utility in information retrieval and am more prone to agree with Bailey in regard to controlled vocabularies. Of course, it still depends on what one is attempting to classify. The entirety of the internet, for example, is outside the possible scope of a controlled vocabulary simply because the domain expands exponentially every day. I doubt that the proposed librarian-vetted search engine Reference Extract will get out of the planning stages. Admittedly, this project isn’t really about creating a controlled vocabulary, but rather about automatically extracting keywords from a query and matching them to a body of ranked web resources. Still, the project will have to find a way to resolve the issues of automated keyword extraction brought up in the Svenonius chapter.
In other instances, a controlled vocabulary is key to information retrieval. Using the cutlery catalog project as an example, some knives have a special feature called kullenschliff or scallops. They appear regularly on santoku, though they are not a traditional feature of this style. The presence or absence of kullenschliff is not generally a searchable feature in online retail catalogs – there isn’t a standard for whether kullenschliff are even mentioned, just within the Sur la Table catalog. However, if it were indexed, the synonym ring would need to include kullenschliff, kullens, scallops, possibly other words, and there is the possibility that the understanding of “scallop” might not be the same for all customers. Some customers might think of a serrated edge rather than the kullens in the side of the blade. The term also touches on the issues of international vocabulary. The kullenschliff is German, and yet the feature appears more regularly on a Japanese-style blade. What’s more, it is a challenging word. If I hadn’t picked up a singular obsession with this term and feature because of the cataloging project, it is extremely doubtful that I would be able to remember it.
Incidentally, as of this post, flickr doesn’t have a single image tagged with “kullenschliff”, but the first image returned for “santoku” is of a blade with this feature.