Why We Can’t Compare Folksonomies to Search

Two illustrative examples of folksonomies in action. A good one from Jon Udell and a not-so-good one from Peter Morville. I explain why Morville’s Flickr vs. Google comparison just doesn’t hold water.

Jon Udell has provided what is perhaps the best example of both the usage and the issues within the del.icio.us bookmarking service. I highly recommend you check this out! Especially if you’re a folksonomy skeptic…

The more I use del.icio.us and observe other folksonomies, the more I realize that we don’t use them to find “stuff”. We use them to discover “personally-related stuff”, which is really hard to do with a search engine. As I mentioned yesterday, Peter Morville’s slides from the IASummit seemed to try to compare two representative services, Google and Flickr, with the implication that folksonomies can’t Search as well as, well, Search can. (Morville compares the services on the axes of “quantity”, “quality”, and “findability”) Anyway, I think he’s absolutely right about that. Search is the best Search…

However, I think that comparing them this way is like comparing a Humvee and a Corvette on gas mileage and speed. It doesn’t really tell us everything. I think he gets the usefulness of folksonomies wrong: we don’t use them to help us Search like we do with Google.

In Search, we have no idea who the results belong to before we get to them. They are simply the most relevant results to whatever words we type in. Highly useful, of course. But not Personal. In folksonomies, on the other hand, we get to discover content based on who is tagging it. This is powerful because now we can judge content in terms of who is tagging it, and not just how relevant it might be to some algorithm that doesn’t take into account who-knows-who. Just like the movies, we tend to value the judgments of people we know (or are familiar with online) more than people we don’t know.

Speaking of Google, their new customized news pages are going to change the way people get news. The idea isn’t new, just ask Yahoo. But what is different here? It’s the news, of course. Just news. All news. Your news. And they don’t even have RSS feeds yet!

Take a look at a personalized news page that I whipped up in about 3 minutes (easy as cake). I’ve got two customized sections, one for “blog” and one for “folksonomies”.

The Web is becoming the Aggregation Nation.

Published: March 16th, 2005