« Organizational Lessons from Burning Man - Spreading Memes | Main | Organization Centralization can be a good thing! »

August 30, 2004

Ethnoclassification and vernacular vocabularies

The latest meme to catch fire in the IA community deals with the folk classification tools found on systems like del.icio.us and Flickr. Users are able to freely tag content with whatever metadata comes to mind.

Headshift provides a good overview of the issues at hand, and Alex does his thing when making sure we appreciate the good and the bad of such approaches.

I just IMed with Victor about this for a while, and thought I'd chime in with my perspective.

I touched on this topic almost three years ago in a post titled "Vernacular Thesauri," based on a talk I saw at the 2001 ASIS Annual. Go read it. It's about porn.

Okay, you back?

First off, I think we should drop the term "folksonomy." No offense to Thomas -- it's a catchy term, which, I guess, is why it has caught on. It's also inaccurate. What bugs me most is the use of the word "taxonomy." Taxonomies tend toward hierarchy, and they tend to be imposed. Tagging does not a taxonomy make.

What we're talking about here is "classification." In rooting around, trying to find some prior research on this topic, I plugged "folk classification" into Google, it turns out that anthropologists have done some thinking around this, particularly with respect to ethnobiology, or how the folk approach biology, and ethnoscience.

This lead me to think that the appropriate term would be "ethnoclassification", and when I plugged that into Google, I found "Slouching Toward Infrastructure", a page for a 1996 Digital Libraries Workshop lead by Susan Leigh Star.

The practice of tagging on del.icio.us works because, at its heart, it's meant for the use of the individual doing the tagging. The fact that it contributes to the group is a happy by-product... But as a tool for group tagging, it's woefully insufficient. Del.icio.us has a very low findability quotient. It's great for serendipity and browsing, and an utter disaster for anything targeted.

This is where Alex's quest for a middle ground resonates with me. Being as wedded to the practical as I am, I wonder how we could put such ethnoclassifications to work in useful contexts. I'm thinking maybe an intranet, where people are free to tag documents as they see fit, but there is some librarian/IA role that attempts to provide some degree of robustness to such a scattered classification. If nothing else, this approach would be a boon to developing thesauri, particularly variant terms.

Posted by peterme at August 30, 2004 10:55 PM


I've been vaguely thinking around the idea of doing some research on an intranet project, looking at how people classify their email and the labels that they use. I'm certain that there would be a bunch of interesting consistency and a lot of interesting differences. I wouldn't use it as a research - solution step, just another way of looking at how a boundaried group describe a consistent bunch of material...

Posted by: donna maurer at August 31, 2004 03:59 AM

Sebastian Paquet's *Using an Ontology to Communicate Knowledge Across Disciplines* (http://radio.weblogs.com/0110772/stories/2002/08/05/usingAnOntologyToCommunicateKnowledgeAcrossDisciplines.html) may also be a decent resource. I have only browsed through the article and will be reading more fully on the train today.

Posted by: vanderwal at September 1, 2004 06:13 AM

Don't sweat it. I'm really only getting started on del.icio.us and will be adding a lot more to enhance findability and discovery.

I'll be adding a bunch of magic to tie all the different bundles of related terms together. Each user should use whatever they feel they are most comfortable with and I will do the rest behind the scenes.

Posted by: joshua at September 2, 2004 07:45 AM

...seems to me like "folksonomies" are just one way of widening the size of the committee that's deciding on the ontology to use... and hopefully using some automata to moderate the community.

The reasons why "ontologies" are so annoyingly hierarchical and fixed is that they are *simplifications* of language, destined to be used by machines (at least, in the latest incarnation of the term). So *someone* has got to put limits on the vocabulary. Instead of a small group of people, here you get a community to vote by consensus. You still end up generating an ontology at the end of the day.

The real issue, it seems, may be how to make ontologies adapt with time- for example, by developing evolving metathesauri?

Posted by: om at September 29, 2004 05:47 AM

LIVE SHOW: all our girls to your disposition.

Posted by: Anukis at March 22, 2006 01:48 PM

Without limits, 24HS / 24 the girls n ’ wait that your orders. There are also sexual games, erotic stories and more...

Posted by: Mesjenet at March 22, 2006 02:06 PM

Every day the whole sex. Galleries of free sex to enjoy.

Posted by: Enéada at March 23, 2006 07:53 PM

The best images and videos of hard hardcore sex.

Posted by: Hurun at March 23, 2006 08:02 PM

photo gratuite de celebrite nu , logiciel montage gratuit photo

Posted by: Theader at March 24, 2006 03:03 AM

windows media machine lavement movies ebony et boom meilleures

Posted by: grayson at March 24, 2006 07:23 AM

great site presonelle, enyoed!!

Posted by: douglaska at March 24, 2006 07:56 AM

Mozilla Firefox... The advantages of this navigator are clear: it is light, sure, compact and functional.

Posted by: Tatenen at March 25, 2006 08:22 AM

Mozilla Firefox...The principal difference is that it has been prepared by the system XUL and created to be multi platform.

Posted by: Uadyur at March 25, 2006 08:45 AM

ogiciel vga pocket pc , logiciel telecharger psp , editeur logiciel bourse

Posted by: Mc.Hiven at March 28, 2006 03:39 AM

great oportunity to discovere the meilleur materiel gratuit on the net, ici in the zone telecharger

Posted by: manathosh at March 28, 2006 07:48 AM

telecharger all version 01net, everithin is hear nex to the portal of sites on the net

Posted by: calinica at March 28, 2006 08:19 AM

WinRar 3.5... One of the best software of compression of files.

Posted by: Horajty at March 28, 2006 04:11 PM

DivX Video 5.2... Load the codecs of DivX to see the movies in DVD quality.

Posted by: Duamutef at March 28, 2006 04:32 PM

At Get Save on everything with coupons, we have come to know how to monetize intuitively.

Posted by: Coupons at March 30, 2006 03:12 PM

Mozilla Firefox ... it has been prepared by the system XUL and created to be multi platform.

Posted by: Hor Imyshenu at March 31, 2006 12:21 PM

Countervirus guarantees the safety of your PC ...*, * Passwords, * Encryption, * Exterminators, * Maintenance, * Alertness, * Firewalls.

Posted by: Astarté at March 31, 2006 12:44 PM

Le meilleur client des réseaux edonkey que l'on peut trouver.

Posted by: Lovely at April 1, 2006 04:29 AM

telecharger driver 3 , messenger telecharger , telecharger driver hp..

Posted by: yseult at April 3, 2006 04:15 AM

on the cd rom you find the best material on the net

Posted by: abhinan at April 3, 2006 05:02 AM

It chooses his girl and you chat about video with her in alive and in direct.

Posted by: Kematef at April 3, 2006 12:07 PM

Free video, is always learned of the new ways...!!!!!!

Posted by: Basty at April 3, 2006 12:33 PM