I’m not really a fan of social tagging. I suppose the whole phenomena can be compared to a popular-created index, except that complex information and objects tend to get downgraded into overly-simplified, and often wrong, single words. Tagging has a way of reinforcing and creating stereotypes about things. So, for example, a complex field such as Civil War causation can become oversimplified by the single word “slavery,” and probably the phrase “states’ rights” if popularly created. It’s especially true for objects of material culture, which can oftentimes be misidentified by non-historians. An omnibus might become a trolley, a machete might become a sword, and a tomato might become a vegetable (it’s a fruit!).
It’s true that one of the responsibilities of museums is ease of access, but museums are also supposed to help clear up common misconceptions and stereotypes about the past. Social tagging is a step in the wrong direction since it is in direct contrast to that important duty.
Yet, even if museum professionals do all the tagging, it still doesn’t ignore the problem of oversimplification.
On another note, I found the Maine Memory Network site to be very nice. I like how it allows user contributions, but with limitations. For example, it allows people to comment on a piece in the online collection, or share something they know about it, but those viewer statements are not open for all to see. Also the fact that you can create your own album on the site seems innovative and helpful.
So, social involvement and professional content on an online museum site are both good, but should be kept in largely separate spheres. When they interact too much (although a little is fine), the professional side is bound to become diluted and dumb-downed at the expense of knowledge.