The “F” Word – Folksonomy

February 10, 2008 at 2:03 pm (social bookmarking) ()

When I first read about the importance of tagging at the beginning of this course I made note of it as I had no idea how to do this.  Every time I came across an option when blogging or at photo or video sharing sites I skipped it.  Now that I know that the tags are there to help me, or someone else if I chose to make the link public, it would be irresponsible of me not to tag!  Now I have to break what has become a bad habit of skipping the tagging step.  

Even though Terry Freedman’s article “Photo-sharing and clip-art” in Coming of Age: An Introduction To The NEW Worldwide Web focuses on images, he does stress the importance of discussing with students the most appropriate words and phrases to use when tagging.  My interpretation of this when I read it at the beginning of the course was that it would be another system that I would have to learn like cataloguing library books.  What I didn’t realize is that I have to think about what tags I add so that I can find it later!  I can’t help but be reminded of the most important lesson I took away from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.  You don’t have to remember everything or even where to find it.  You have to know who to ask.  Social bookmarking helps me with knowing who to ask.  Sometimes I will ask/search my own bookmarks and sometimes I will ask/search someone elses.      

Last week I watched two SlideShares about social bookmarking at Web 2.0/Video/PPoint.  The first was what Valenza calls a “reformed PowerPoint” by Jason Rhode that provided a general overview with images and minimal text of what social bookmarking is.  The other – “Tagging In Your Web World” by Thomas Vander Wal – helped me to understand tagging.  (Unfortunately, permanent links are not available.) 

Part of the reason that I kept skipping over adding tags is that I didn’t know how to do it and I wanted to ensure that I did it properly.  I thought I had to somehow limit the tags I added and select the best ones.  Those would actually be categories.  I was happy to know that I’m not the only one with this problem as I found it described by Rashmi Sinha as “analysis-paralysis.”  However, my analysis-paralysis didn’t only apply to categorizing as Sinha describes.  It also applied to tagging! 

What finally helped me to get past this was knowing that (a) there are no limits on how many tags I can add and (b) only I am an expert at my own tags or tag vocabulary .  They can be mashed together like socialbookmarking or an underscore can be inserted in the middle (social_bookmarking) and as Elizabeth mentioned, they are not case sensitive.  Lastly, (c) you are not locked into a tag forever like you are with a category.  You can add, delete and change tags as information needs and language changes.  You can even get other people to tag for you.  Some long time bloggers who didn’t tag to begin with can offer this option to their blog readers.  I think this becomes a symbiotic relationship.  The reader learns from the blogger and gives back in the form of comments and tags.  The blogger then alters their tag vocabulary to use terms that readers have used and may even revise old tags to meet reader needs.  This open collaboration is an example of what Jeff Howe first called crowdsourcing in 2006 (Journalism 2.0: How to Survive and Thrive).

So, what is this folksonomy thing?  When I first read the word on the blog of someone in our class I thought “boy that’s a strange word.”  In the 2006 Edition of The Horizon Report, it describes folkonomies like this:

“An emerging aspect of social computing developing alongside communities is the way that formal taxonomies for information are gradually giving way to “folksonomies.”  Instead of a scholar designing a taxonomy for, say, describing web resources on a given topic, a folksonomy–a collection of tags defined by people in the community of interest–emerges spontaneously from members of that community.  Simply by applying tags that make sense, using tools that allow commonly applied tags to float to the surface, the community develops its own sort of ranking and criteria for material of interest.” 

It goes on to say:

“Of interest for the near future is the potential of folksonomic tools to transform the way we label and find articles, resources and other materials.  Just as tools like Flickr, Facebook, and others have replaced taxonomies and ontologies in social networking contexts, it is anticipated that folksonomic tools will allow researchers to dynamically create coding and classification schema that reflect the collective wisdom of their community. “

This last bit reminded me of an article that I had read in topic one by Nelson that talked about how systems can become more efficient in helping people find the information that they want.  When I read the article I wondered if it was even possible.  Here I am two weeks later, learning about how it is already happening through a social system. 


“As the amount of material available on the Internet expands, it is increasingly valable to be able to quickly determine the relative value of any particular piece of information or media.  One way to do this is to review the opinions of trusted friends and colleagues; folksonomic tools make this possible.  By tagging the good and ignoring the bad, the community makes it easier to find useful material.” 

Why did I spend so much time exploring one little word –  tags?  At the speed and rate at which information and other content is growing on the internet I need to know how to harness the power of tags so that I can find what I need but more importantly so I can help my students and colleagues tap into this rich resource as well. 


1 Comment

  1. tldlblog said,

    It is so interesting you were worried about choosing tags. Joanne and I just jumped in and started tagging. Now that I look at my tags, and see what others are doing I am starting to see the

    information literacy

    I guess that as long as the search engine is getting all of those then I will be happy. I will probably go back in and change and add tags and I get more into it. I am thinking we need a TLDL tag and I am also working with another group to create a unique tag.

    Very interesting stuff.


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