Black Tree

Knowledge Sharing Blog

Folksonomy: – Social classification

Not so long ago, keen observers of the Internet (Vander Wal, 2004),(Sterling, 2005), (Mieszkowski, 2005) and inventors of social software (Shachter, 2003), (Fake and Butterfield, 2003) began to notice that people who don’t write computer programs were happily “tagging” with keywords the content they created or encountered. Of course, keyword tagging is nothing new; the interesting observation is that when these folks do their tagging in a public space, the collection of their keyword/value associations becomes a useful source of data in the aggregate. Hence the term “folksonomy” – the emergent labeling of lots of things by people in a social context.

Thomas Vander Wal, who is credited with the term, emphasizes that the resulting folksonomy is not a taxonomy or even a collaborative categorization (Vander Wal, 2004). At least that was the original observation and intent for the term. Today, tagging is a widespread phenomenon popularized by applications such as social bookmarking ( and social photo sharing (Flickr).

In these applications, the emergent data from the actions of millions of ordinary, untrained folk doing things for their own local interests is rather useful. For bookmarking, tagging helps to counter the spam-induced noise in search engines, and for photo sharing, tagging gives those text-based search engines a fighting chance.

Folksonomies – where users make the categories the next generation of search engines. Social search, that is search engines that let users get input into the rankings are the next hot thing in search.

All the big players, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft are all developing technologies that do this, and Jimmy Wales has announced his plans to develop an open source social search engine.

A folksonomy begins with tagging. On the Web site Flickr, for example, users post their photos and label them with descriptive words. You might tag the picture of your cat, “cat,” “Sparky” and “living room.” Then you’ll be able to retrieve that photo when you’re searching for the cute shot of Sparky lounging on the couch.

A folksonomy is a user generated taxonomy used to categorize and retrieve Web pages, photographs, Web links and other web content using open ended labels called tags.

Typically, folksonomies are Internet-based, but their use may occur in other contexts as well. The process of folksonomic tagging is intended to make a body of information increasingly easy to search, discover, and navigate over time. A well-developed folksonomy is ideally accessible as a shared vocabulary that is both originated by, and familiar to, its primary users.

Two widely cited examples of websites using folksonomic tagging are Flickr and, although it has been suggested that Flickr is not a good example of folksonomy.

If you open your photos and tags to others, as many Flickr devotees do, other people can examine and label your photos. A furniture aficionado might add the tag “Mitchell Gold sofa,” which means that he and others looking for images of this particular kind of couch could find your photo. “People aren’t really categorizing information,” Vander Wal says. “They’re throwing words out there for their own use.” But the cumulative force of all the individual tags can produce a bottom-up, self-organized system for classifying mountains of digital material.

Grass-roots categorization, by its very nature, is idiosyncratic rather than systematic. That sacrifices taxonomic perfection but lowers the barrier to entry. Nobody needs a degree in library science to participate.

Because folksonomies develop in Internet-mediated social environments, users can discover (generally) who created a given folksonomy tag, and see the other tags that this person created. In this way, folksonomy users often discover the tag sets of another user who tends to interpret and tag content in a way that makes sense to them.

The result, often, is an immediate and rewarding gain in the user’s capacity to find related content. Part of the appeal of folksonomy is its inherent subversiveness : when faced with the choice of the search tools that Web sites provide, folksonomies can be seen as a rejection of the search engine status quo in favor of tools that are created by the community.

Folksonomy creation and searching tools are not part of the underlying World Wide Web protocols. Folksonomies arise in Web-based communities where special provisions are made at the site level for creating and using tags. These communities are established to enable Web users to label and share user-generated content, such as photographs, or to collaboratively label existing content, such as Web sites, books, works in the scientific and scholarly literatures, and blog entries.




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