Sunday, February 13, 2011

Week 6: Folksonomy

What exactly is folksonomy and how can we leverage it for education and business?  What are the current folksonomic platforms in web 2.0?

Some key ideas to consider during this class:
Folksonomy as social activity
The erosion or at least blurring of hierarchies and oppositions
The impossibility of identity
What are some current views about the emergence and diffusion of media?

Thomas Vander Wal, who coined the term, folksonomy, defines it as:

"Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one's own retrieval. The tagging is done in a social environment (usually shared and open to others). 

Folksonomy is created from the act of tagging by the person consuming the information."

The "f-word" (as Vander Wal puts it) allows "regular" folks to categorise or structure information in a way that is pertinent to them (i.e. personalised).

As the name suggests, it's a taxonomy made by the folks – user generated definitions and information structures. But folksonomy is just a part of a larger idea: tagging. Tagging is the tying of words to objects. I think Vander Wall explains that this method of tagging has less "cognitive load" for users because it’s about key words rather than some kind of overlying systemic planning. I see it more of a free–form way of categorising information – personalising it.

Folksonomy is a subset of tagging – identifying/categorising for personal use, “re–finding” information

This aspect of personalisation has important impacts for the business sector in that it allows businesses a view of their product from the customers' point of view.

Q1. Are their any drawback to employing a taxonomy created by the folks?
Especially if one considers the marketing of products (such as your own book).
Q2. I’ve shared with you my interpretation of what makes a *good* tag cloud. What makes a tag cloud good in your opinion?
Q3. Can tag clouds alter the perception of a text (think of Vander Wal’s Amazon example). Also have a look at Janet Harris’s use of Tag Crowd to analyse the MSNBC Democratic debate and how these tag clouds affect our thinking of the texts: (aside: isn't there loads of interesting stuff here...note who is the only person to mention women..also note the use of "America" but one candidate chooses only to say American, keeping it more personal?)


  1. Using a taxonomy created by the folks for marketing or even information? That's an interesting question.It could be interesting to go onto a site like Delicious and look at what tags are being used most frequently (the 90%) for specific content, context, objects. If you use the same 'tags' in your advertising you would be using tags that are commonly used by the larger western culture that identifies the tag with a specific experience. It could work very well.
    However, if you were going to look at a specific niche market you would be looking at the "long tail" of the tags. So if you wanted to market specifically to physicians or electricians you could look at the smaller cluster on the 'long tail' that they use in their professional culture for specific marketing terminology that would resonate with that niche group.

  2. I agree with you that a good tag cloud should make information accessible to those who are interested in the subject. Too many tags and you have more to cut through, which is what tags should be doing in the first place. What I mean by that is tags should be the tool that cuts through the madness, and not be the madness.

    What I have tried to do is keep the number of tags on my blog to a minimum. It is a challenge since there's so many topics I want to be a part of. Below is a link to my blog. On the right hand side I've displayed a tag cloud.

    I also think a good tag cloud should give the reader a pretty good idea what the blog or website is going to be about. Tag clouds usually determine if I will continue reading a site or leaving it.

    Tag clouds also change ones perception of the text. By having a general idea of what the blog is going to be about, we may focus only on the points the author has valued high enough to tag.

  3. You make a very good point Sunil, when you say that tags are a tool to remove the madness and not serve as the madness. So many tools that we have created were all meant to serve as a way to declutter, simplify and enhance our lives. Perhaps they do enhance but the simplicity and removal of clutter is a matter of question. Tags are meant to serve as a way to help us navigate through information, however if an article is not tagged properly then we are frustrated. Further, if we are overwhelmed by the number of items to look at online while searching for a particular topic-we are frustrated.

    Great job on your blog by the way. It is a great example of KISS-keeping it simple stupid, but certainly not in a negative way.

    I think we often see that there are certain websites that try to be the catch all for everything and yet they lose the ability to be the source for anything. This to me is the downside of the tools that people have at their disposal.

  4. Tag clouds-
    Jess I like the example that you used for the tag cloud. The use of tag clouds during the Democratic and Republican races as well as the Presidential election, made the tag cloud a term understood and observed by many. The first few times it was used, it really served to tell a story worth telling. The overuse of it lead to the value of it decreasing.

    The tag clouds definitely had a role to play in bringing important issue to the forefront. But they also worked to bring the trivial items to the top of the news cycle.

  5. I have seen "tag clouds" but did not know the terminology or what the use was for the clouds. The above comments and “Tags, Networks and Narrative.” by Mason and Thomas helped me to understand the purpose of the tag clouds. One of the most interesting and helpful information is that the font and weight of the text determines the frequency of the tags.

    I agree with all the comments above that tags should be simple and the information should be accessible. As a "newbie" to this, if a tag cloud is cluttered and hard to read, I would not want to continue on the site.

    People are typically in a hurry and they skim the site. If the tag cloud does not have words that appeal to their senses, they will move on to another site that does.

  6. Folksonomy is great way for individual users to organize information, but it gets problematic when multiple users in an organizational setting are using an informal system. With the City, there is very little in the way of formal organizational structure for files, photos, video and so on. This means that the sharing, referencing, and leveraging of work accross individuals, sections and branches is almost impossible.

    What makes folksonomy so personally relevant (using individual vocabulary, personal valuation in-situ, individual meaning) make it very difficult to manage on a larger scale as there is very little in the way of formal coding to create structure. One must also look at the differences between the sociological depth of knowledge and the actual business ability to organize and obtain information efficiently. I don't doubt most social scientists salivate over the 'natural' classification systems created by tagging, it's a rich field dense with publicly available unintentional data. Vast open fields of data are available to be studied without the care or real cognizance of those creating it. Unfortunately, this open season on formal classification over the past decade has meant that real data stores are almost impossible to tap by actual users. Tagging and informal classification are less than functional on an enterprise level when all users have the best intentions. One must recall that not all users are of the same generation, mindset or personal values - there are many that are quite protectionist of the information they create and maintain. Without a formal standardized information management policy enterprise assets are lost in the noise.