November 2, 2005

Folksonomy Definition and Wikipedia

Today, having seen an new academic endeavor related to folksonomy quoting the Wikipedia entry on folksonomy and I realize the definition of Folksonomy has become completely unglued from anything I recognize (yes, I did create the word to define something that was undefined prior). It is not collaborative, it is not putting things in to categories, it is not related to taxonomy (more like the antithesis of a taxonomy), etc. The Wikipedia definition seems to have morphed into something that the people with Web 2.0 tagging tools can claim as something that can describe their tool (everybody wanted to be in the cool crowd). I hope folksonomy still has value as a word to point something different in the world of tagging than the mess that went before it. It is difficult to lose the pointer to something distinct makes understanding what works well. Using folksonomy and defining it to include the mess that was all of tagging and is still prevalent in many new tools dilutes the value.

Folksonomy Is

Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one's own retrival. The tagging is done in a social environment (shared and open to others). The act of tagging is done by the person consuming the information.

The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object as well as. The people are not so much categorizing as providing a means to connect items and to provide their meaning in their own understanding.

Deriving Value from Folksonomy

There tremendous value that can be derived from this personal tagging when viewing it as a collective when you have the three needed data points in a folksonomy tool: 1) the person tagging; 2) the object being tagged as its own entity; and 3) the tag being used on that object. Flattening the three layers in a tool in any way makes that tool far less valuable for finding information. But keeping the three data elements you can use two of the elements to find a third element, which has value. If you know the object (in del.icio.us it is the web page being tagged) and the tag you can find other individuals who use the same tag on that object, which may lead (if a little more investigation) to somebody who has the same interest and vocabulary as you do. That person can become a filter for items on which they use that tag. You then know an individual and a tag combination to follow. The key is knowing who and what specifically is being tagged.

Social Tagging

There are other tagging efforts that are done for socially connecting others and others where people are tagging their own information for others. I have been to workshops where items on the web were tagged with a term that was agreed upon for tagging these objects across tools. This allows the person to retrieve information/objects connected with that event as well as others getting access to that information/object. Does it fall into the definition of folksonomy? This gets fuzzy. It is for the retrieval of the person tagging the information, so it could fit. It gets close to people tagging information solely for others, which does not get to a folksonomy, it is what Cory Doctorow labeled Metacrap.

Academics Quoting Wikipedia

Sadly, I have had 15 to 20 academic papers sent to me or links to them sent to me in the past year. No two of them use the same definition. Everyone of them points to Wikipedia. Not one of the papers points to the version of the page.

The lack of understanding the medium of a Wiki, which is very fluid, but not forgetful, is astonishing. They have been around for three or four years, if not longer. It is usually one of the first lessons anybody I have known learns when dealing with a Wiki, they move and when quoting them one must get the version of the information. They are a jumping off point, not destinations. They are true conversations, which have very real etherial qualities.

Is there no sence of research quality? Quoting a Wiki entry without pointing to the revision is like pointing to Time magazine without a date or issue number. Why is there no remedial instruction for using information in a Wiki?

Personal Love of Wikis

Personally, I love Wikis and they are incredible tools, but one has to understand the boundaries. Wikis are emergent information tools and they are social tools. They are one of the best collaboration tools around, they even work very well for personal uses. But, like anything else it takes understanding on how to use them and use the information in them.



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