As metadata becomes increasingly important, companies are trying to find ways to encourage users to enter the metadata, such as when they create a document or a file. Users being users, however, and often in a hurry, this doesn’t always happen.

“People hate to upload a document only to find that there’s a half dozen fields to fill in before they can finish the upload process,” writes Joel Oleson in CMSWire. “Alternately, they take the easy way out and fill the fields with the first entry in the drop-down, resulting in metadata that is populated, but wrong.”

Instead, organizations are setting up various kinds of autoclassification and autotaxonomy features that create tags without the user having to do anything. (And the technology behind such systems can be fascinating.)

Great, right? The only problem is, sometimes the automatic tagging features are wrong—leading to embarrassing results.

For example, Yahoo!’s Flickr photo service recently started autotagging user photos. Aside from the fact that some people didn’t want their pictures tagged at all, some of the tags were offensively wrong, such as identifying pictures of humans as “ape.”

Not a huge problem, you might say. All these automated tagging and taxonomy systems have some sort of community editing method making mistakes easy to fix. Yes, that’s true, but if a mistake is particularly egregious, it’s going to hit the Internet, as Yahoo! and Google have found out.

Moreover, it turns out that some people are exploiting community editing measures as well. For example, Google has been fighting for years to find ways to prevent people from making inappropriate changes to Google Maps through its business editing function, ranging from creating dummy florist, payday loan, and locksmith companies to funnel traffic to other companies, to marking competitors’ businesses as closed.

“So say I’m a locksmith and I want a little more business,” writes Eric Limer in Gizmodo. “My ranking is too low when you search ‘locksmith near [my neighborhood]’ on Google Maps; no one ever clicks on me. If I find the right scammer, I can boost my presence with a couple more (non-existent) locations. Or even better, I can have a scammer change my competitors’ numbers so that the calls forward to me instead. All I have to do is pay a scammer $50 or so per call.”

Most recently, people have been using Google’s Map Maker, which is intended to allow people to use local knowledge to make maps more detailed, to create fake locations. Similarly, pranksters attempting to call attention to these issues have used other local edit functions in Google Maps to create a pretend office for former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden in the White House, as well as fake FBI offices that actually got calls from law enforcement.

“Google Maps, particularly when it comes to business listings, relies heavily on user-submitted content,” writes Hayley Tsukayama in the Washington Post. “So one could have easily made a listing for ‘Edwards Snow Den’ at a different address and then submitted an address change for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

In fact, Google finally had to shut down the service temporarily until it could be made more secure.

Obviously, the solution here isn’t to give up on metadata, or even to give up on autoclassification features. It is important, though, to check the classifications periodically, especially if they’re customer-facing, to make sure nothing egregious is slipping through.

And if there’s a community editing feature, it’s important to ensure that the people making changes actually have some authorization to do so, or that the changes are moderated or verified in some way.

Otherwise, you might be unhappy with some of the terms you find your customers associating with your company.


Simplicity 2.0 is where we examine the intricate and transitory world of technology—through a Laserfiche lens. By keeping an eye on larger trends, we aim to make software that’s relevant to modern day workers, rather than build technology for technology’s sake.

Subscribe to Simplicity 2.0 and follow us on Twitter. If what we’re saying piques your interest, head over to Laserfiche.com where you’ll see how we apply the lessons learned on Simplicity 2.0 to our own processes, products and industry.

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