Folksonomy Has a Big Year

Thomas Vander Wal is one happy man. Wouldn’t you be if you had been written up by Daniel Pink in the New York Times? Vander Wal, as many of you know, coined the term “Folksonomy”. He used it to describe what was happening on two up-and-coming web sites: Flickr and Del.icio.us. Now those two sites […]

Thomas Vander Wal is one happy man. Wouldn’t you be if you had been written up by Daniel Pink in the New York Times?

Vander Wal, as many of you know, coined the term “Folksonomy”. He used it to describe what was happening on two up-and-coming web sites: Flickr and Del.icio.us. Now those two sites belong to Yahoo!, millions and millions of dollars later.

It would be silly of me to suggest that folksonomies were the primary reason for the success of those sites. But it would be equally silly to say that they were non-factors. They were indeed factors. Big ones.

The reason is that folksonomies help us do something that taxonomies don’t. Back in January, when I started writing about folksonomies, I was grasping with what that was. I felt like they were really valuable, but I didn’t know exactly why. Remember these posts?

Yeah, me neither.

But now we know why folksonomies are valuable. It is because they do two things very well.

  1. One is that they allow people to remember things in the way that works for them. Someone tagging pictures in Flickr or bookmarks in Del.icio.us can use tags that they’ll remember. Instead of working twice to shoehorn a resource into and out of a taxonomy, folksonomies let users do both tasks effortlessly. Reduced cognitive load. Don’t Make Me Think. (if you didn’t read Rashmi’s A Cognitive Analysis of Tagging, you should).
  2. The second thing is that they easily enable a bottoms-up classification system. When folks tag multiple resources at the same time, it is easy to aggregate those tags and provide navigation and resources that expose them. This is the reason why popular resources by tags on del.icio.us (like Web 2.0) and Flickr Interestingness are consistently valuable.

It must be stressed, however, that over the last year that we’ve learned (nudged along by Vander Wal) that the first is much more important than the second. If something isn’t valuable personally, it will rarely be valuable for the community.

At any rate, folksonomies are now entrenched in the pantheon of design, in big part to Thomas Vander Wal. Congrats!

Published: December 13th, 2005

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