2 minutes estimated reading time

I wouldn’t have thought about tagging for community sense using the idea of the folksonomy if it wasn’t for my friend Uri. Uri introduced me to the ‘For Immediate Release‘ blog. The blog and podcasts focus on both PR and new communications technologies like podcasting and blogging. One thing of interest that came up was the concept of folksonomy, particularly with regards to web content. Folksonomy as a word is derived from taxonomy – where an item is strictly categorised into one area, think of a real book library where books are sorted by subject area and then sub-categories.

Intranet designers are keen to sort items into clearly defined areas and this is often forced on e-tailers who purchase an off-the-peg online shop – I remember hearing stories of a famous UK online retailer where customers could not find how to buy their mobile phones online, the reason being is that the company had set up its online venture in a rush not to lose ground to the pure play dot.coms and went with an off-the-shelf US e-tail solution that categorised the product only as wireless phones.

Folksonomy is about community-based classification, relying on the similar kind of goodwill that has made Wikipedia such a force.

A key example that Hobson & Holtz discussed in their For Immediate Release podcast and blog on March 17, was photo repository Flickr and community bookmark site, both of which use their communities to classify content. This cluster of classifications resembles the lexemes that linguists talk about that associate words with meanings. This attachment of meaning from a user point of view could be the key to true contextual searching.

At the end of the day Google is more like a savant, trying to use blind mathematics and processing power to compensate for its inability to establish meaning.

Imagine going to the supermarket and asking the assistant for an item, they run down the corridor and run back with their arms full of different stuff. They empty the stuff into your trolley and say to you ‘Your item is in there’. If you are lucky, the item is at the top of the pile, it you aren’t you may sort through it all and find you don’t have it anyway. You complain to the manager and he dismisses you with ‘Its your own fault, you asked in the wrong way’. The analogy is actually what web search engines are like today, Google is just a fool shop assistant that can hold a lot more stuff.

Yahoo! had previously tried to provide that context through a directory approach. This organised websites along a taxonomy approach. Categories had other categories nested in them, for example

Arts >Literature­ >World Literature­ >British >Renaissanc­e >Drama

This approach would be very familiar to librarians who would be used to every book having a categorisation. But sites can fit into multiple classifications and the average consumer has to know exactly the right classification.

Efforts to make a ‘semantic web’ seem to have have gone nowhere. Hence efforts put behind the idea of a folksonomy. More related content here.