Social Tagging – Questions Answered on Correction Tools and Vendors

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on taxonomy vs. folksonomy in the enterprise to the Deloitte Social Tagging & Taxonomy Community of Practice, thanks to an invitation by fellow taxonomy enthusiasts Annie Wang and Lee Romero.

It was a fun presentation (a variation on this talk) and the audience asked some great questions afterwards. I was only able to answer a couple of questions before time ran out, so I offered to answer the rest on my blog. Here are the additional questions & answers:

1. Are there tools for auto-correcting social tags?

I had mentioned the idea that folksonomies are considered to be “self-correcting” or self-tuning – through volume of tags and users, anomalies (like single-use tags, misspellings, etc.) tend to be pushed to the side and the majority will trend towards correct/useful tags.This is an idea that I picked up from a whitepaper on social tagging by Oracle:

All social input strategies rely on the good-graces of well-intentioned users habituated to provide input over time to succeed…  Social strategies will self-correct for this problem over time under the presumption that more users than not will provide “good” information.

While this is the case on the web, where there are millions of users and tags, it will not likely occur as easily or quickly in the reduced scope of the enterprise, where you have a tiny fraction of this volume. So the question asks whether there are tools available to help encourage good tags by auto-correcting things like spelling mistakes, plural forms, etc.

The short answer is…. not really.

In some ways, it kind of defeats the whole point of social tagging, which celebrates individual differences (but that’s a whole other blog post). More often then not, tagging tools have notoriously bad search… often lacking basic spellcheck, much less advance auto tag-clean up options. So there is no commercially available tool that I’m aware of to automatically scan and replace a tags with a preferred variants, fix spelling, etc.

There are some interesting algorithms that you can experiment with to cluster tag variants and present a simplfied view of tags (like Flickr). There are also bulk editors to think about: Delicious has one in Beta.

That being said, while you can’t plug in a “tag-fixer-upper” into your social tagging software, you can definately explore tag suggestions, whereby users are prompted through type ahead to select from pre-existing tags (a la Buzzillions or ZigTag) that are either taxonomy-controlled terms or simply tags entered by previous users.  Even presenting previously entered tags lowers the chance that someone will take the time to type in a variant spelling or different form of plural – they will more likely take the lazy route and just select what is presented.

2. What can information “gardeners”/gnomes do to assist the process of self-correction?

Training, training, training.  Assuming that you don’t want to get into the tedious business of cleaning up people’s tags manually, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – give people simple and clear guidelines on good tagging practices. Things like:

  • Conventions: does your organization prefer plural or singluar? Pick clear conventions and give examples to users
  • Keep it simple: 2 or 3 tags is probably enough, and encourage folks to use simple terms that you are more likely to repeat
  • Explain why tagging is not just about you: if users understand how their tags are intended not only to help them relocate info but also to help others to find valuable content, learn more about your interests, etc., the more likely folks are to use a less personal lens when tagging

3. What social tagging tools are available?

There are a lot more vendors out there than there were a few years ago, but here’s a starter list of both enterprise and open source social tagging tools that you can customize:

Cogenz: Enterprise social bookmarking (UK-based), integrates with LDAP

Connectbeam: Enterrprise social bookmarking

Connotea: Open source, originally developed for scientists & clinicians

Dogear: Part of the Lotus Connections suite, great if you’re in an IBM shop already

Freetag: Open source, for php and MySQL

Newsgator Social Sites: For SharePoint


3 Responses

  1. Why do you say that Dogear is great for IBM shops only? Dogear doesn’t rely on any IBM-specific hardware or software.In fact I know many Microsoft Exchange/Sharepoint shops that rely on Dogear heavily.

    • Didn’t mean to imply that Dogear was for IBM shops only… certainly not. can be used anywhere as you mention.

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