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BMC Bioinformatics. 2009 Sep 25;10:313. doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-10-313.

Social tagging in the life sciences: characterizing a new metadata resource for bioinformatics.

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  • 1Heart + Lung Institute at St, Paul's Hospital, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.



Academic social tagging systems, such as Connotea and CiteULike, provide researchers with a means to organize personal collections of online references with keywords (tags) and to share these collections with others. One of the side-effects of the operation of these systems is the generation of large, publicly accessible metadata repositories describing the resources in the collections. In light of the well-known expansion of information in the life sciences and the need for metadata to enhance its value, these repositories present a potentially valuable new resource for application developers. Here we characterize the current contents of two scientifically relevant metadata repositories created through social tagging. This investigation helps to establish how such socially constructed metadata might be used as it stands currently and to suggest ways that new social tagging systems might be designed that would yield better aggregate products.


We assessed the metadata that users of CiteULike and Connotea associated with citations in PubMed with the following metrics: coverage of the document space, density of metadata (tags) per document, rates of inter-annotator agreement, and rates of agreement with MeSH indexing. CiteULike and Connotea were very similar on all of the measurements. In comparison to PubMed, document coverage and per-document metadata density were much lower for the social tagging systems. Inter-annotator agreement within the social tagging systems and the agreement between the aggregated social tagging metadata and MeSH indexing was low though the latter could be increased through voting.


The most promising uses of metadata from current academic social tagging repositories will be those that find ways to utilize the novel relationships between users, tags, and documents exposed through these systems. For more traditional kinds of indexing-based applications (such as keyword-based search) to benefit substantially from socially generated metadata in the life sciences, more documents need to be tagged and more tags are needed for each document. These issues may be addressed both by finding ways to attract more users to current systems and by creating new user interfaces that encourage more collectively useful individual tagging behaviour.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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