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Folksonomies vs. Taxonomies

In talking with Lee Rainie of Pew (see previous post), I realized that I don’t have a good answer to an obvious question: What are some good examples of how folksonomies have improved taxonomies? In fact, with my poor powers of recall (and given how imprecise I am, I would make a terrible search engine), I can’t even think of good examples of sites that present a standard-style taxonomy and a tag cloud. I know they’re there. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about them. I may even have been married to one during a brief period in the ’70s. But I’m blanking on them… [Tags: ]

9 Responses to “Folksonomies vs. Taxonomies”

  1. That’s an interesting question.

    I’ve not totally bought into the idea that folksonomies and taxonomies can coexist. I’m thinking some of the cultural and organizational issues of control required to make a taxonomy work are the very elements that would kill a community trying to create a folksonomy.

    So maybe that’s why you don’t see any? Just speculation.

  2. I abandoned the word folksonomy because of its implied connection to taxonomy. Collaborative non-hierarchical categorization is what people are generally talking about and there’s nothing taxonomy about that.

    When tags are used to categorize there isn’t anything to build a taxonomy from. I think it boils down to the definition of a category being used.

    The rationalist/objectivist definition says things are either in or out of a category universally and absolutely. Something is a dog or it isn’t and you can find universal rules to figure it out.

    The nominalist/subjective definition says something is in a category if your mind says it is, end of story. Things labeled by the same term have nothing in common but that label. A dog is a dog because I label it a dog. I think this is likely much closer to how the human mind works and explains why I can keep track of thousands of links in but only dozens in my browsers Bookmarks pull-down.

    A taxonomy uses the objective definition, folksonomy type things use the subjective and as such folksonomy is a confusing word.

  3. I don’t know whether this works for anyone else, but I think it is a good blend of taxonomy and folksonomy. I certainly have spent time looking through the collection using categories and tags…

  4. (warning: ad hoc analogy ahead)

    I think comparing taxonomies with folksonomies is a bit like comparing access to apples at grocery stores with access to apples at picnics. One can make apple to apple comparisons, but the contexts, in both cases, are very elaborate (both as infrastructures, and as processes). Understanding what’s really going on with access in each case requires a comparison of grocery stores and picnics, not so much of apples and apples.

    There are plenty of information system universes where both grocery stores and picnics can coexist. And, in cases where both are happening, in my own experience, there’s ideally a dynamic between them that allows each to evolve in relation to the other.

    (btw, a tag cloud probably isn’t an inherent feature of a folksonomy / a tag cloud could be a feature of a taxonomy. . .)

  5. I’m having similar discussions on my blog…asking for concrete examples of scalable taxonomies and/or usable folksonomies.

    I think the hype (of which I was a part) is waning, and we’re here to ask the important questions…what’s working and how?

  6. Please, please, please stop saying that folksonomies and taxonomies or that folksonomies and the semantic web are two different, diverging world.

    I’ve been following Joshua blog and web seminars. I’ve talked with David several times about this topic (the wikisomies post and the taxi in Paris, David). I’ve discussed it with Grant Campbell.

    I’m talking and writing about this since the beginning of 2005. Quite since the birth of folksonomies and I’m pretty sad to see that people are still discussing if something like that can exists at all.

    It exist. It’s already here! It brings huge benefits! It’s not me saying this, it’s a number of examples already online that give us the proof. A few people call this marriage a middle ground, a metadata ecology (me too).

    A few examples:

    Etsy is a wonderful example of how taxonomies (a flat topic set) and tags (used as user generated sub topics) can be mixed together. But probably the most interesting part is that Etsy is providing a complete set of different access dimensions to their information through amazing flashy visualization clues. These dimensions are implicitly Ranganathan facets for space, time, material, topic, colors, owners, etc.

    RawSugar is a great social bookmarking tool, a sort of on steroids, with a powerful blogging integration tools, ajax and a hierarchical organization of tags. The result is a forest of tag trees than can be used to support wayfinding both in search and navigation.

    LibraryThing and PennTags let users catalogue and tag books. Here subject headings are shown side by side with people assigned tags. Again, you can browse using a top down approach or fly horizontally leveraging tags. LibraryThing also has user generated synonyms..

    WineLog is a “collaborative wine rating, sharing and tagging site designed to help you keep a record of wines you’ve tried and discover new wines”. Wines are organized and can be browsed through facets (varieties, regions and wineries) and user submitted tags.

    And finally we have, the project I presented at the EuroIA in Berlin and now at the IA Summit in Las Vegas. Probably the fist attempt to integrate bottom-up tagging and top-down traditional classification schemes (hierarchical facets).

    Why doing that? Will users ever participate? How could the user interface look like? You can find our work on the site, but the main idea is that the actual flat tagging paradigm is basically useless when the system scales. Our approach can limit the impact of polysemy, homonymy, mistypings, basic level variations, singolars/plurals, while improving serendipity, browsability, usability, scalability, etc. How? Introducing a little bit of hierarchies and facets to tagging while maintaining an usable and easy to learn interface. A sort of easy Flamenco + tags.

    And I think Facetag is only one of the 1000 possible tradeoffs between the old and the new world..

  7. Thanks for the examples, Emanuele. Of course we’re going to find useful hybrids and augmentations; it would be a silly dogmatism to maintain that all top down taxonomies are without value or that only bottom up folksonomies have any value.

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  9. There’s certainly a lot to learn about this topic.
    I like all of the points you made.

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