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The early tags are in at Flickr+Library of Congress (=Library of Congrss?)

Poking around the photos the Library of Congress has posted at Flickr shows some of the strengths and weaknesses of social tagging.

For example, take this 1940 photo of two kids gathering potatoes in Maine. There are about 80 tags, ranging from potato, maine, and boys to rural, bucolic, plaid, browen, and pommes de terre. The comments include people appreciating the aesthetics of the photo, recollecting their own lives on farms, and nattering on gaily about the cute hats the kids are wearing. For example:

I grew up in southern Minnesota in the 50s. I was probably 5-6 yrs. old. In the fall after the potato fields had been harvested, they allowed people to come in and collect the potatoes that the machines had missed. I can still remember the cold cloudy day, playing with my brothers in the furrows of the field, throwing clods of dirt at each other, instead of picking up potatoes, and getting yelled at by my Mom.


this ‘human interest’ is really ‘awesome’ during the world war ll eras, you can survive eating potatoes in the whole year, wthout rice. potato a native of pacific slopes of s. america, in 16th c., with roundish or oval starch containing tubers used for food. batata or sweet potato, is widely known in the philippine island, brought to table and used for food. biggest plantation of potato in the philippines is in northern luzon.

Three people have played with Flickr’s feature that lets you draw a box around a portion of a photo and add an annotation. All three are wastes o’ time (obviously in my opinion): “I love these barrels” is not worth the visual interruption. (You only see the boxes if you move your mouse over the photos.) So maybe Flickr will turn these off for the LC photos. Maybe not. We’ll see.

Nevertheless, this is some very cool stuff. Sure, some of the tags are oddball. So what? In the great wash of tags, they will lose significance. Meanwhile, that photo of two children harvesting potatoes, which had been locked away behind brick and paper walls, now is in the world, gathering meaning, memories, and connections.

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