March 25, 2005 16:53 | Culture / Social / WebBlogging / WebTech

Let's expand on folksonomies

First of all, purely for background and some interesting ideas, the Wikipedia definition of "taxonomy".

Taxonomy (from Greek ταξινομία (taxinomia) from the words taxis = order and nomos = law) may refer to either a hierarchical classification of things, or the principles underlying the classification. Almost anything, animate objects, inanimate objects, places, and events, may be classified according to some taxonomic scheme.

and "folk taxonomy":

A Folk Taxonomy is a vernacular naming system, as opposed to a scientific naming system which is simply known as a Taxonomy or as a Scientific Taxonomy.

Folk Taxonomies are generated from social knowledge and are used in everyday speech. They are distinguished from scientific taxonomies that claim to be disembedded from social relations and thus objective and universal.

Anthropologists have observed that taxonomies are generally embedded in local cultural and social systems, and serve various social functions.

So, as I've said, I really think all this tagging stuff is great but will be much more interesting once we really start to do more integrating and more social stuff with them. Here's what I mean by that.

The current flat, one dimensionality of the tags-based info management tools we see today (, flickr, et al) is essentially "selfish" or "based on the individual"; the loner walking through the world ascribing his own names to the things he comes across. Sure the fact that those names are there for all to see and aggregated into intersected view (show me everything everybody marked as "funny"!) is neat, but not terribly useful for they lack context, increasingly, especially as the databases grow (and oh my are they growing).

The first thing I'd like to see are some basic true "folksonomies": taxonomies generated and maintained by folks. This of course creates a host of technological presuppositions, like personal tag management software/services and tag aggregation and dissemination. Even more tricky are the social and cultural ramifications, which we still suck at but can muddle our way through as always. ;)

Also, there are already a handful of folksonomic "tags" which are inherent to the system and/or the data in question: date & time stamps, media type, resource URI, ID3 tags (on MP3s)... any standardized-by-usage metadata really.

Key here is the understanding that nothing is forced; you either use the folksonomy or you don't, you either contribute to it or you don't. Up to you. Either way, it is very much like our transition from loose tribes to tight knit communities, with all the value - and headaches - that engenders. It is also consistent with the nature of true democracy, and social life: You have the right to not participate, but you have a duty to do so if you choose to benefit from it.