Represented in Their Own Words: Understanding User-Created Metadata

Ayse Gursoy


I aim to explore fan works about digital games, to better understand what user-generated metadata can tell us about how digital objects are meaningful. I am interested in exploring how people form representations of and relationships with digital artifacts, and how user-created metadata illuminate these representations and relationships. Existing literature on metadata and information organization reveals how metadata can describe and enable relationships with digital objects, focusing on facilitating access and retrieval. There are also recent efforts within information organization and HCI exploring “user-generated metadata” that explore how metadata can be expressive (Marlow et al., 2006; Marshall, 2009). Within archival research, work on the construction of “archival representations” explores how preservation work depends on activities that build complex representations of events or documents (Yakel, 2003). I bring these strains together and position users and creators of metadata as co-constitutive participants in a communicative relationship. What does fan fiction metadata say about fan interaction with digital objects, and how does looking at fan fiction metadata help us understand how these digital objects are meaningful and maintained?

In previous work, I looked at fan fiction written about one game, Mass Effect. In my current work, I have expanded this to fan fiction written about three games that represent different kinds of character and narrative flexibility. I restrict this analysis to fan fiction hosted on one site that takes a moderated folksonomy approach to their user-generated tags (Bullard, 2014). Through a process of semi-open coding, I develop a framework for understanding these user-generated tags as key mechanisms of communicative, representational labor. Better understanding how fan creators leverage user-created metadata to support writing, browsing, search, and retrieval tasks can help archivists develop contextualized archival representations of complex digital objects.


Bullard, Julia. 2014. “Values and Negotiation in Classification Work.” In Proceedings of the Companion Publication of the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, 45–48. CSCW Companion ’14. New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/2556420.2556820.
Marlow, Cameron, Mor Naaman, Danah Boyd, and Marc Davis. 2006. “HT06, Tagging Paper, Taxonomy, Flickr, Academic Article, to Read.” In Proceedings of the Seventeenth Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, 31–40. HYPERTEXT ’06. New York, NY, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/1149941.1149949.
Marshall, Catherine C. 2009. “No Bull, No Spin: A Comparison of Tags with Other User Metadata.” In Proceedings of the ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL) 2009. Austin, TX.
Yakel, Elizabeth. 2003. “Archival Representation.” Archival Science 3 (1): 1–25.doi:10.1007/BF02438926.


Ayse is a PhD student at the University of Texas School of Information. She studies how communities preserve digital games by constructing representations of the artifact through mechanisms like in-person discussions and metadata creation. Her prior work touches on communities of criticism on digital games, and yes, she enjoys playing digital games herself.