Folksonomy versus Taxonomy

A client recently forwarded a blog post to me about folksonomies and asked if this is something we should consider.

Here is my take: Social Tagging (use of “Folksonomies”) has a valid place in the scheme of things. We can use them as a source for candidate terms or new term harvesting. They are also useful for content that is less structured that may be tougher to organize (discussion or blog postings for example) or material that does not justify structured tagging. (Obscure web pages). The fundamental issue here is that they don’t take the place of formal taxonomies but can be used to augment them. In some cases, user generated tags make a lot of sense. (A group of engineers working on a new product might come up with terms that are not yet in the formal taxonomy. They also speak the same technical language and use the same terms. Raytheon uses this approach of social tagging for what are called “featured results”. These appear along with the “officially” tagged content).

Here are the advantages to a folksonomy (or social tagging) approach: Adaptability – new terms can evolve quickly and be applied to new concepts

Lower cost – many hands make light work – by distributing the workload amongst a large number of people, there is not a lot of burden on a central group

Flexible – anyone can tag anything with anything so there are no rigid constructs

Takes into account multiple perspectives – you and I may use different words to describe the same thing. If we both tag according to our understanding, both of our points of view are taken into consideration

There are a number of disadvantages to this approach:

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Politics of terminology

One of the things that we get called in to help with is the set of governance policies and processes that are necessary to make taxonomy projects a success.

There are number of things that need to happen for organizations to be effective in this area:

1. Sponsorship: Someone with power and authority needs to understand the value of taxonomy and nomenclature governance

This person can help settle turf disputes and conflicting organizational requirements. The key is that they are truly engaged and really get it, rather than delegating authority.

2. Ownership: An operational champion needs to own the project. This is the person to whom ultimate accountability falls. They are the one that has to drive communication and get people to participate

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