May 3, 2005

Introduction: Jon Lebkowsky

The real zinger for me was realizing that tagging or folksonomy is yet another manifestation of our evolution from hierarchical systems to more later, emergent, and empowering network/grassroots approaches. Here we’re talking about a populist approach to taxonomy: rather than fit our thinking into authoritative closed classification schemes, we can create our own through tagging, and in social tagging environments we can negotiate new, more nuanced ways to map meaning and relationship through shared, emergent classification systems.

Louis Rosenfeld makes an analysis about folksonomies which, according to Clay, lacks economic sense.

The advantage of folksonomies isn’t that they’re better than controlled vocabularies, it’s that they’re better than nothing, because controlled vocabularies are not extensible to the majority of cases where tagging is needed. Building, maintaining, and enforcing a controlled vocabulary is, relative to folksonomies, enormously expensive, both in the development time, and in the cost to the user, especially the amateur user, in using the system.

Indeed. And the Dewey Decimal system and other established hierarchies for organizing information (or reality) won’t be replaced by tags, but through tagging we’re finding new ways to think about classifications and new applications for organizing and sharing knowledge.

It’s odd to be so excited about these little chunks of metadata. The concept of tagging, and the way the concept’s been applied so far, are deceptively simple. On the one hand, I can’t believe we weren’t doing this years ago; on the other hand, I have to admit that I didn’t get the value of tags when I first used What’s the value of an ephemeral label, I wondered, a category I’ve dreamed up for my own use? I was misunderestimating my ability to build systems of organization that are simple and effective, and I wasn’t thinking about the value of “gardening,” as we do with wikis where architecture is not enforced by the technology. I had an aha moment when I realized I could garden my tags – if I create a category that doesn’t ultimately work, I can just edit the items with that tag (usually just one or two, if the problem is applicability), replacing it with something better (by whatever criteria for “better” by tagsonomic thinking du jour defines), and when all references to that tag are removed, the tag disappears from my list.

Tags don’t scale if you’re looking for specific entries, but they’re not really supposed to. I don’t look at a Technorati’s page for a specific tag to find comprehensive knowledge about that category. I’m just looking for the latest blog posts. If I want something more specific, I can use Google or some other flavor of search, there’s jillions of ways I can search for and extract data from the vast universe of Internet resources. If you’re using those tools effectively, and tagging, and blogging, blogrolling, using wikis, posting to forums, using and logging chat spaces, etc. – you can be pretty damn effective. To me social software is about combining tools and approaches and orchestrating their use to fit your methods and quirks.


  1. Folksonomies and taxonomies are the same thing, and both have been around for 40 kajillion years

    Taxonomies and folksonomies are the same beast. Both emerge from the experience of a group of people and are recorded in some manner. They’re languages. The suggestion taxonomies are top down is crap. There’s no rule taxonomies are top-down…

    Trackback by Thinking and Making — May 4, 2005 @ 11:26 am

  2. It might just be me, but I think there’s a clear difference between spontaneous collaborative categorization by members of a network (”folksonomy”) and controlled taxonomies created by professionals. The think the latter are inherently “top-down.” I encourage you to listen to Clay’s talk, “Ontology is Overrated”.

    Comment by jonl — May 4, 2005 @ 2:17 pm

  3. Clearly there’s a difference between taxonomy and “folksonomy.” (Sorry, going to have to insist on quotation marks with that one for a while. Not sure it’s the right, er, tag…)

    The interesting part of the difference though I havent really seen mentioned anywhere. I dont think it’s the actual classifications that result from folksonomic participation (this being the standard distinction between culture and subculture). You say tomato, I say tomato…

    What’s interesting is that in a standard taxonomy, categories (associations) are meant to express an intrinsic relation. Folksonomies would, on the other hand, express a social relation. And a social relation ought to make social interests manifest, no?

    Shouldn’t a folksonomy thus capture the latent interest among members of a community in this, that, or the other, and render those interests visible? Make what’s subtextual, so to speak, legible.

    Tag, who’s it?

    Adrian Chan

    Comment by gravity7 — May 5, 2005 @ 1:20 am

  4. Tags are mostly added after a posting is made. I am developing this: Can you give me some reactions ?
    Thanks in advance !

    Comment by — May 6, 2005 @ 8:32 am

  5. hello, i am a student of Clay’s. there’s a distinction being drawn above between instrinsic definition and social definition of tags that is overly binary, i think. the two are interdependent. i already see several types of tags being used on flickr, for example – denotative, connotative, and complex (whole phrases as tag). you cant easily say that all these are automatically social just because they are used in a social atmosphere. denotative tags are meant to strictly describe an item – “dog”, for example. connotative often refer to something indirect, synonymish – “courageous”, if it was applied to the dog example. Both of these types of tags dont seem to be very much about social context, they actually do mean to describe something instrinsic to the content. BUT complex tags definitely are often meant to express something socially communciative – “i hate thesis” tag for example.

    Comment by goodness — May 7, 2005 @ 6:49 pm

  6. Not sure which you refer to as “above,” but if you mean my reference to “social tagging environments,” I’m not talking about environments within which ’social tags’ are created and used. I’m talking about environments within which tags are created and shared with others – i.e. “social” refers to the environment or, as you cal it, “social atmosphere: – not the tags themselves.

    Comment by jonl — May 8, 2005 @ 10:56 am

  7. Add a “STATUS” tag to your notes so you can search by status

    Adding STATUS tags to your notes allows you to search for everything that matches a given status. I keep notes on almost every task/project/etc. that I’m managing, whether it’s changing my mobile phone plan, figuring out what we’re doing for Mo…

    Trackback by James E. Lee's Blog — June 18, 2006 @ 12:38 am

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