May 5, 2009

Folksonomies

A review of the concept of folksonomy in First Monday [Wichowski, A. (2009). Survival of the fittest tag: Folksonomies, findability, and the evolution of information organization. 14(5)] shows that folksonomy is another concept that can help to quickly produce research, but it is not easy to answer why such research is needed.

Folksonomies are folk taxonomies, i.e., classification systems developed by "folks" or users. According to the article, the term was coined by Thomas Vander Wal in the discussion about the tagging system at Delicious. Wichowski argues that folksonomies are an evolutionary adaptation of information organization systems to the highly crowded information environment.

The evolution metaphor doesn't help to understand why folksonomies can be viewed as a next step in information organization. People have always been using some sort of folk taxonomies to organize their information. Boxes, paper folders, post-its, computer folders, etc. are often labeled to group stuff. What are the mechanisms of "survival" and "adaptation"?

The author suggests that it'd be interesting to see how small contributions of the masses can help to shape the information environment. "Long tail" is another metaphor that seems to be relevant, but it is not clear how. On Delicious people use tags to organize their own content. Similar to boxes and folders. And they probably find their information just fine. But the researchers are concerned that tags perform poorly in terms of search quality and suggest improving folksonomies by connecting them to thesauri and ontologies. However, it is not clear who would benefit from this. Are tags used for search at all? Do people use other people's tags? If I use my own tags for my search purposes, why would I need somebody to develop a better organization scheme for me? And if I use other people's tags, I wil more likely use them for browsing and I will appreciate their peculiar tag systems, because they can allow me to find interesting or weird stuff.

So, again, why do folksonomies need researchers' attention and how can they benefit from it?