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.

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Podcast on Folksonomy & Taxonomy in the Enterprise

I had the great pleasure of doing a podcast a few weeks ago with Paul Miller, podcaster for Nodalities (magazine & blog), on hybrid approaches to folksonomy and taxonomy and their role in the enterprise.

We discussed the now tired debate of folksonomy vs. taxonomy, and focused on the strengths and applications of each approach. I covered how organizations are leveraging social tagging and what some of the pitfalls are in the enterprise context.

I also talk a lot a few of the hybrid approaches to taxonomy & folksonomy:

  • Co-existence
  • Tag-influenced taxonomy
  • Taxonomy-influenced tagging
  • Tag hierarchies

I cover some interesting examples and tools (ZigTag, Flickr & Library of Congress), as well as the new directions in “intelligent tags”, like MOAT.

You can hear more about these approaches at the Semantic Technologies conference next week, where my colleagues Paul Wlodarczyk and Richard Beatch will be presenting on the topic on my behalf. Listen to the podcast…

Follow me on Twitter: @stephlemieux, @earleytaxonomy

ZigTag Finally Launches Semantic Bookmarking

So, I seem to have not been on the right RSS feed, because I totally missed the memo that ZigTag finally launched at the end of 2008.  I had signed up for the restricted Beta some time ago (there were 500 or so participants), and was awaiting the live version anxiously. ZigTag is a tagging/bookmarking tool that uses “defined” tags, whereby users choose from a controlled set of tags (through auto-complete) with semantic distinctions managed in a knowledge base.

For example, if you start typing in “Ital…”, it will start populating a drop-down of choices asking you if you mean, Ital (Rastafarian food), Italy (the country), Italian (Culture of Italy), etc.  If there are multiple versions of one word (synonyms), they use parenthetical qualifiers to define them. Hovering over a term also brings up definitions (brought in from Wikipedia).

ZigTag Screenshot

ZigTag Screenshot

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The Hierarchies Are Flat (?)

I recently started reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. I know, I know. The book was published in 2006, and I’m only just now reading it. However, the ideas I think are very relevant to what is happening in the current economy and discussions around the future of taxonomy.

Tapscott and Williams write about corporations: “While hierarchies are not vanishing, profound changes in the nature of technology, demographics, and the global economy are giving rise to powerful new models of production based on community, collaboration, and self-organization rather than on hierarchy and control.” Since taxonomies are a reflection of the needs and culture of an organization, I apply this notion to the future of hierarchical vocabularies as well.
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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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Design for social tagging

A few comments in the feedback surveys from last week’s Taxonomy Community of Practice call on social tagging demonstrated a growing interest in design for social media. Part of Rashmi Sinha‘s presentation during this call covered some key elements of design for social tagging, leaving our attendees wanting more!

We are hoping to have another call on social tagging in the near future, given this interest, but in the mean time, visit Rashmi’s blog to get her views on findability in tagging applications. She talks about faceted browsing interfaces, clustering, and pivot browsing.

There is also an interesting presentation on social information architeture by Gene Smith from nform (a Canadian user experience firm), originally given at a Webvisions 2006. Gene covers three main ingredients for social IA: capturing user actions, aggregation and display, and feedback. On page 24, he shows an interesting diagram which illustrates user actions on an axis of social intent and engagement.

Join the mailing list at to be notified when we will run the next free social tagging call!