Based on the epistemology of Immanuel Kant it is considered that adult human mind naturally organizes the knowledge that it gets exposed to in day to day life into some kind of tree structure. This is then used to track back the information as and when required. So, keeping that in mind we can say that taxonomy is not a concept which is new. It has only gathered more significance with the proliferation of information in this interconnected world.
But wait! Isn’t this about Folksonomy? Yes it is! But to understand folksonomy and its relevance we need to understand its evolution and that is what we will explore to begin with.
With the need for managing and organization information in a structured manner was need of the hour in the information age. Taxonomy came in as one of the most common way to organize and structure content. Taxonomy can be defined as hierarchical tree structure. If you remember the basic Biology lessons from school days, you can correlate this to the way scientific classification schemes were used to classify the living organisms. Like for organizing all living organism the following levels or taxons were used: Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. Remember all those tongue twister names used for the various levels. As I said the information is structured in a hierarchical tree structure so in this case say a living being or a species will be under a genus which will be under a family and like that it will go up till the top level.
Taxonomy was used by web designers to organize the content in their web sites. And with information constantly getting appended to their site, Taxonomy seemed to be a good approach for content management.
But all was not well with this approach, soon the problems surfaced and web architects were looking for other alternatives. The primary reasons were:
- Taxonomy worked well with classification of living organisms, as it was about dealing with the same kind
of information. However the case of websites was different. Every web site had different content
so there was no particular classification scheme possible for the web sites and it called for
unique classification schemes for different websites.
- It is difficult for the web architects to implement Taxonomy
- Taxonomies are difficult to maintain and they are very expensive
- With existing sites which already have huge data, it was more difficult for the designers to implement Taxonomy
- The language or code used for Taxonomy was not as user friendly as a system like this needs to be. This led
to user dissatisfaction and led to user being averse of using Taxonomy.
Arrival of Folksonomy:
With Web 2.0 came another new and better way of organizing the content – “Folksonomy”. Folksonomy had the following features:
- It is user driven
- Users are given the freedom to add tags to the information
- Links are created out of those tags to help find the users later.
One of the very well known examples of Folksonomy use is in Flickr. In Flickr allows user to tag the photos. They can assign tags which are easy to remember and with which they can associate. For instance you can tag your photos of the Goa trip as “Goa Trip”. Later you can go to the all tag section and click the tag “Goa Trip” to access the photos of the trip.
Areas where Folksonomy scores over Taxonomy:
Areas where Folksonomy is better with respect to Taxonomy are:
- It reduces the support and maintenance effort. This is because the folksonomies are organized and maintained by the
user. So the burden on the web architects is reduced.
- Users can tag the information in a way which is easy for him to recollect and use later. So it leads to a lot of
satisfaction. That is you can say that there is no confusion, the words used by the users are the words in the site.
Folksonomy supporters are of the view that it can be used in the enterprise where the employee generated folksonomies can be used as “Org-wide Taxonomy”. However there are few areas of concern with Folksonomy like: plurals, polysemy (i.e. capability of a sign to have multiple meanings), synonymy and specificity of tagging. If these issues can be handled with the use of some control like use of a controlled-vocabulary or suggestion based tagging, folksonomies can be used as a technology to promote workplace democracy!