Here are several items on the topic of how we categorize information (labels and metadata) which caught my attention today…
TOP OF THIS LIST: D’Arcy Norman’s Feb. 4 audio post on loosely bound metadata. (Right-click that link to download the MP3 audio file. It’s 3.7 MB and run just over nine minutes.) I’ve heard the neologism “folksonomy” floating around in various circles lately. It sounded vaguely interesting to me, but since I’m already suffering from chronic learning overload, I’ve been pushing it off my radar screen.
…Until I listened to what Norman had to say on the subject, that is. Now I’m totally jazzed and motivated to learn more about folksonomies. I even decided it was time to create a new CONTENTIOUS category called labels and metadata (this grab bag is the first entry in that category).
Here’s a brief excerpt from Norman’s audio post which got me all worked up:
“I love that people are really starting to think about loosely defined metadata in addition to (not to replace) the taxonomy-based metadata that librarians use. Most people don’t really want to enter metadata. They have trouble doing it properly. Now they shouldn’t have to enter it properly, that’s the point. Librarians are good at entering structured metadata, so that’s kind of people who should be entering structure metadata. People like you and me and the rest of the world are better at putting labels on things. Labels are tags, they’re keywords. If we can let people do that and then aggregate all of those labels and tags and keywords together, we end with something that approximates (not replaces, but approximates) the kind of structured metadata that librarians use…”
YES! I love the concept of metadata and what it can do, but actually working with formal taxonomies feels like I’m trying to force my brain to act like a computer. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but it just doesn’t feel human or natural. It takes a lot of effort, and it’s very picky, painstaking work. I can’t say I enjoy it, which means I don’t do it as much as I should. I think that informal, loose metadata systems (folksonomies) not only have greater mass appeal, but also a huge untapped potential. Writers and editors especially could benefit from this, since most of us are good at organizing information but bad at thinking like computers.
Read the rest of this list…
- Wikipedia on Folksonomy. Excerpt: “a practice of collaborative categorization using freely chosen keywords. This feature began appearing in a variety of social software in 2004. Some examples of online folksonomies being social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us and Jots (http://jots.com/) which are bookmark sharing sites, Flickr, for photo sharing, 43 Things (recently revealed – secretly funded by amazon), for goal sharing, and Tagsurf (http://tagsurf.com/), for tag-based discussions. Gmail’s labeling system is somewhat similar to the use of tags, but it is not a folksonomy as users cannot share their categorizations.”
- Folksonomies: Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata, an academic paper (like you’d never guess from that title) by Adam Mathes. Once you get past the stodgy introduction, this is a remarkably clear exploration of folksonomy and where it fits into the spectrum of categorization strategies.
- Wikipedia on Faceted Classification. For context, faceted classification represents the formal end of the labeling spectrum. It’s a practice of library science that has applications for information technology, content management, science, and many other fields.
- Pros and Cons of Folksonomy. Athough I’m very jazzed about folksonomy, I realized that it does have some drawbacks. It should exist to complement more formal categorization schemes. Together, formal and informal-collective categorization yield significant benefits. Nova Spivack explored this in his Jan. 26 Minding the Planet article, Folktologies — Beyond the Folksonomy vs. Ontology Distinction. Beyond that rather leaden title lies cutting insight. Excerpt: “Folksonomies (at least present-day ones) suffer from having too little formal structure — tagging systems easily result in metadata soup. Ontologies are on the other end of the spectrum they are particulary useful for accurately modeling the actual structure of the world, or of conceptual domains but admittedly in some cases their formal structure can be overly rigid and specific. The benefit of tagging is primarily the adaptive nature of the resulting taxonomies. The benefit of ontologies is the rich, and unambiguous, semantics they define.”
- Wikipedia on Ontology. Useful context for this whole discussion. While the concept of ontology comes from philosophy, it directly relates to science and other disciplines which use categorization as a key tool for understanding. (More about ontology…)
- Steal This Bookmark! Feb. 8, Salon, by Katharine Mieszkowski. This is an excellent, plain-language introduction to the concepts and uses of keyword tagging, with lots of real-world examples. Excerpt: “Tagging …is launching a revolution of self-organization on the Internet. You could call it the latest twist in the ongoing evolution of social networking software. Except there’s a difference: On social networking sites like Orkut or Friendster, people join, and then declare their alliances to each other explicitly. On sites that employ tagging, the networks emerge, implicitly, out of the shared interests of users. Order isn’t proclaimed, it just happens.”
- Folksonomies Tap People Power, by Daniel Terdiman, Wired News, Feb. 1. Another good introductory article in plain language.
- More on the pros and cons of folksonomy, from Random Walk in E-Learning, Jan. 8, by Albert Ip. Also, see Lous Rosenfeld (Jan. 6), Anil Dash (Jan. 17), and Nancy White (Jan. 28).
- Many-to-Many on Folksonomy: The Corante group weblog Many-to-Many Is an excellent resource for a variety of expert perspectives on the emerging field of folksonomy and how it’s being applied, especially to online content. Here are some articles there which caught my attention today:
- Jan 7: folksonomies + controlled vocabularies, by Clay Shirky
- Jan 13: Technorati Takes Tags Global, by Ross Mayfield
- Jan. 20: It’s the social network, stupid! By Liz Lawley
- Jan. 20: Social consequences of social tagging, by Liz Lawley
- Jan. 22: Folksonomies are a forced move: A response to Liz, by Clay Shirky
- Steve Rubel on folksonomy. In his weblog Micropersuasion, PR maven Steve Rubel has been posting a steady stream of useful and interesting links on this topic.
- Technorati Tags. I’m just learning how to use this fantastic tool but it’s something every online publisher (especially bloggers) should know about. Here’s Technorati’s explanation of tags: “Think of a tag as a simple category name. Bloggers categorize their posts, photos, and links with any tag that makes sense. Where do they come from? You! If you’re a blogger and would like to contribute, all you have to do is link to any tag page with rel=”tag” and it will automatically be included here.”
- Technorati Tag Drawbacks: On Jan. 18, Rebecca Blood discussed in detail some problems she spotted, and Technorati’s response. (More on this from Foe Romeo, Jan. 18.)
- Technorati tag page: Folksonomy. A great way to keep up on developments in this field. Bummer I can’t get a custom webfeed on this yet, but maybe they’re working on that…
- WordPress plug-in for Technorati tags. If, like me, you use the popular free open-source blog software WordPress, and if you’re into tagging, you might want to install this tag plug-in to simplify the process a bit. Here are some excellent instructions from the WordPress support forum.
- Feeding Tags into a Wiki? HELP!. Tagging isn’t just for weblogs and services like Furl. You can do it for wikis, too. The comments in response to this Jan. 28 blog posting by Nancy White offer some options. However, as with most things related to wikis, it isn’t terribly easy, especially for nontechnical folks.
- Folksonomy and wikis, Mundane Essays, Jan. 6. This is rather technical, but well worth reading if you’re interesting in tagging for wikis. Excerpt: “In a wiki, tagging can be substantially more useful than tagging under other contexts (e.g. email, bookmarks or photos). A del.icio.us tag is merely a grouping of bookmarks. Categories, that Jon mentions are no more. In the implementation I’ve done, a tag is a wiki entry (providing definitions, details) and it may itself be tagged further.”