Folksonomies, memes and misunderstanding

It all started with a message on Twitter from @stephendale who stated: "A taxonomist: One who organizes information in ways that makes sense to content providers, rather than content users." I thought this was a real gem, because it represented all that is 'corporate control' and 'top down' on the Web. I responded (as you do) with my own version: "A folksonomist: one who organises information in ways that make sense to his/her own community of practice or interest." It was retweeted several times by others and they seemed to like my definition. I was thinking about individuals tagging and organising their own content using tools such as Delicious, and then making them available to others. When we tag an object says Mike Wesch, we 'teach the machine'. In other words, the more we tag objects, the more they become visible to others who may be interested in them, and as Andy Clark has suggested, the more they become visible, the easier becomes the pathway to finding them.

@patparslow didn't like my definition though. Taking issue with it in his
blogpost he says: "A folksonomy loses its qualities as a folksonomy once you have someone 'organising' it, and will quickly become a taxonomy." I hear what he is saying, but this wasn't what I had in mind and what he describes sounds suspiciously like a meme to me. Memes are units of information or ideas that are transmitted from mind to mind through speech, written word or, more than likely in the digital age, through a social network. They tend to emerge without being planned and spread virally. Look at the trending topics column on Twitter and you will see what I mean. Folksonomy is not chaotic though, and does require some organisation by individuals - there is always some intelligence behind it, or as James Surowiecki has aptly suggested - the 'wisdom of the crowd'. There always has to be some organisation at an individual level, or there would be no folksonomy at the community level - all would remain chaotic.

Then @3quarks said my definition of folksonomist sounded a little like a 'spin doctor'. Well, it might I suppose, but for the fact that the community of interest I intended was one in which people were not trying to influence each other, but simply going individually about their personal learning through organisation of content. The Holistic Web blogpost Taxonomy vs Folksonomy says it all really - a taxonomy is predictable, whereas a folksonomy is flexible. Taxonomies are imposed, but folksonomies are democratic.

Here's my opinion on this for what it's worth: In a taxonomy, the community defines the content. In a folksonomy the content defines the community. So, I don't want to be misunderstood, but neither do I want to misunderstand. Are we all singing from the same hymnsheet, (or are we independently harmonising)?
Thanks to Stephen Dale, Pat Parslow and Mel Phillips for kicking this one off. :-)=


Anonymous said…
Is there such a thing as a 'folksonomist'? I don't think so. Folksonomies tend to emerge thru individuals assigning tags to things - yes, those people are influenced by the tags that others have assigned but they are still essentially just assigning tags, they are not explicitly creating a folksonomy.

Even in those cases where people try to explicitly steer the choice of tags (a meeting organiser suggesting the tag for a conference for example), which is the closest anyone gets to being a folksonomist, individuals can overrule them either wilfully or by accident and start to use alternative tags instead.

So I don't see any of us as being 'folksonomists' as such - we are just the taggers thru which the folksonomy emerges.
Dissident said…
Thanks for the mention Steve (re @stephendale). Glad to have stimulated some debate, and I do like your definition of 'folksonomist'. Will follow the blog in future via Google Friend Connect.

Popular Posts