I was just reading an item in Dave Taylor’s blog The Intuitive Life called Technorati tags: Good idea, terrible implementation. There, Dave voiced this complaint:
“What if when I wrote weblog entries about General Motors, I included a special tag, a keyword tag, that let everyone who wanted to read blog entries about General Motors read my weblog article, without otherwise having to subscribe to my blog? Makes sense. Now, should it be gm or GM or generalmotors or general motors or General Motors or GM Corporation or … ?
“Therein lies the fundamental problem with Technorati Tags, as promoted by the popular weblog search system and utilized by a small percentage of bloggers.
…”With almost a half-million tags and with an online community that loves to engage in keyword and key phrase pollution to be more search engine friendly, I posit that the Technorati tags are a failed experiment and are just going to become increasingly irrelevant as the namespace continues to grow without bounds.”
I explained this in the following comment to Dave’s posting…
(This is a comment I added today to Dave Taylor’s blog posting mentioned above)
It seems to me that the concept of a folksonomy (which is basically what you see with Technorati tags, and also with services like del.icio.us and Furl, where users are free to create their own tags at will) is pretty different from that of a taxonomy.
A folksonomy merges, diverges, and evolves much the way language does, through usage and interaction. A taxonomy, in contrast, is more like a master plan, rigid and fixed to a certain extent.
In practice, taxonomies are often a pain in the butt to use. They require people to extend effort to abandon their own perceived context and connections (which is what any labeling scheme is about) and instead fit something into someone else’s (often) ill-fitting box.
Yes, the lack of standardization you find with folksonomies is a problem for people who want to do one search and find every relevant result immediately. So folksonomies are not a good idea for libraries, archives, some business systems, etc.
That said, the strength I find with folksonomies is serendipity. With Technorati tags (which I have yet to implement) and Furl and del.icio.us (which I use avidly) I am often pleasantly surprised with the connections I find through tags.
Generally, someone has applied a tag to a link I wouldn’t have, so I get to see how they made that connection and often my world gets a bit wider as a result. Or I locate individuals with tag lists that are intriguingly similar to or different from mine, and I use this as a way to start exploring their world.
So I guess, in short:
- Folksonomies enhance exploration.
- Taxonomies enhance searching.
…That’s how I look at it, anyway.
I wrote more about folksonomies here.
– Amy Gahran