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.
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 del.icio.us. 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.