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2007-11-05

Taxonomy v. Folksonomy

A lot of ink has been spilled over the value of social tagging versus controlled vocabularies. Much of it has been couched in terms of cultural dominance, because taxonomies are imposed on a culture from the top-down by people somehow deemed experts, while folksonomies are created by the users of a system, thus emerging out of a culture from the bottom-up.

Proponents of taxonomies sometimes liken folksonomies to mob rule: chaotic, dangerous, and ultimately ineffective. Folksonomy evangelists counter that taxonomists exert cultural control by dictating how culture is labeled. Fair enough. How we name and organize information certainly affects the way in which it is understood. For proof, just notice my use of "proponents" and "evangelists."

The truth is that both methods taken to an extreme have serious shortcomings. Cultural stuff aside, taxonomies become sclerotic very quickly, because they require huge investments of labor to create and change. Meanwhile, pure folksonomies do tend to chaos unless they form around narrow topics. Most people are not exact enough in their use of language to recognize that a word with seven meanings might not make the best subject tag.

Therefore, taxonomies and folksonomies have much to learn from each other, and some blend of the two generally produce the most useful results. And it should always be about usefulness. That said, I think taxonomies will be more dominant than folksonomies, strictly from a practical perspective. Because when a folksonomy emerges that is so perfect that it gets wide use, what does it become at that moment if not a taxonomy?

1 comment:

Stephen said...

There is an old addage about how the losers of wars don't write history books.

Its the same principle with taxonomy v folksonomy, where as taxonomy will win the war and folksonomy will still refer to the Civil War as the war of Northern Agression.

To the victors go the spoils and that includes language, which is why we don't speak native american in America... Sorry Running Bear, have a casino, a drink, and a pox blanky

Yet, without folksonomy, to some point, we wouldn't have different vernacular... Snoop Dogg wouldn't have his 'izzle', LOL wouldn't be overly used in conversation, and DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUDE! wouldn't be as important as it is today.

Language is regional is both regional and for the masses, its about how we use that language to find a common groud that makes the difference