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!