Taxonomies and Tags

In case you missed this little nugget from Thomas Vander Wal, I thought I would point your attention to it now.

Folksonomy Provides 70 Percent More Terms Than Taxonomy

The result comes from the Steve Museum, an amazing project in which people apply tags to…art. The early results from their research suggest that the words people use differ quite a bit from what the terms a museum uses.

As Thomas suggests, lots of folks are going to use tags to supplement taxonomy…but I’m wondering if that’s not a fool’s errand. More specifically, I think a taxonomy might be too rigid a tool in many cases, where a flexible navigation system, fed by the terms exposed in a folksonomy, might be a more reasonable road. Call it a taxonomy if you want…but what I’m thinking of isn’t nearly as static as most taxonomies.

In case you missed this little nugget from Thomas Vander Wal, I thought I would point your attention to it now.

Folksonomy Provides 70 Percent More Terms Than Taxonomy

The result comes from the Steve Museum, an amazing project in which people apply tags to…art. The early results from their research suggest that the words people use differ quite a bit from what the terms a museum uses.

As Thomas suggests, lots of folks are going to use tags to supplement taxonomy…but I’m wondering if that’s not a fool’s errand. More specifically, I think a taxonomy might be too rigid a tool in many cases, where a flexible navigation system, fed by the terms exposed in a folksonomy, might be a more reasonable road. Call it a taxonomy if you want…but what I’m thinking of isn’t nearly as static as most taxonomies.

For example, if there is a new item introduced into a collection…say an iPhone…the navigation changes in response when the number of tags for that item reaches some threshold. It doesn’t need an explicit decision to happen. So, if people are talking about it, tagging it, then it’s in the nav system. If they’re not, then it gets weeded out over time.

This is one of those statistics that doesn’t really lend itself to direct implementation…we can’t say “Oh, we should change our site by doing X”…but surely has important implications for the design of social software.

Published: July 12th, 2007

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