The purpose of this paper is two-fold: to examine three models of subject indexing (i.e. expert-led indexing, author-generated indexing, and user-orientated indexing); and to compare and contrast two user-orientated indexing approaches (i.e. the theoretically-based Democratic Indexing project, and Flickr, a working system for describing photographs). Design/methodology/approach – The approach to examining Flickr and Democratic Indexing is evaluative. The limitations of Flickr are described and examples are provided. The Democratic Indexing approach, which the authors believe offers a method of marshalling a “free” user-indexed archive to provide useful retrieval functions, is described. Findings – The examination of both Flickr and the Democratic Indexing approach suggests that, despite Shirky's claim of philosophical paradigm shifting for social tagging, there is a residing doubt amongst information professionals that self-organising systems can work without there being some element of control and some form of “representative authority”. Originality/value – This paper contributes to the literature of user-based indexing and social tagging.