Understanding tag functions in a moderated, user-generated metadata ecosystem

Ayse Gursoy, Karen Wickett, Melanie Feinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate tag use in a metadata ecosystem that supports a fan work repository to identify functions of tags and explore the system as a co-constructed communicative context. Design/methodology/approach: Using modified techniques from grounded theory (Charmaz, 2007), this paper integrates humanistic and social science methods to identify kinds of tag use in a rich setting. Findings: Three primary roles of tags emerge out of detailed study of the metadata ecosystem: tags can identify elements in the fan work, tags can reflect on how those elements are used or adapted in the fan work, and finally, tags can express the fan author’s sense of her role in the discursive context of the fan work repository. Attending to each of the tag roles shifts focus away from just what tags say to include how they say it. Practical implications: Instead of building metadata systems designed solely for retrieval or description, this research suggests that it may be fruitful to build systems that recognize various metadata functions and allow for expressivity. This research also suggests that attending to metadata previously considered unusable in systems may reflect the participants’ sense of the system and their role within it. Originality/value: In addition to accommodating a wider range of tag functions, this research implies consideration of metadata ecosystems, where different kinds of tags do different things and work together to create a multifaceted artifact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-508
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Documentation
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Fan culture
  • Information systems
  • Knowledge management systems
  • Metadata
  • Tags
  • User-generated metadata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Library and Information Sciences


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