The Motive Web Design Glossary
A contraction of folk (person) and taxonomy, a folksonomy is a decentralised, social approach to creating classification data (metadata).
A folksonomic approach to metadata creation enables the personal classification (or tagging) of digital resources (webpages, images, music, etc.). For example I may choose to tag an image of the Heaphy Track with the labels: ‘great walks’, ‘tramping’, ‘South Island’, ‘New Zealand’ and ‘my holiday’. My classification would then be made available to a wider community either as a browsing option, e.g. to show all ‘New Zealand’ images, or to further describe the image, i.e. on the same webpage as the image. Other users may add labels such as ‘nikau palms’, ‘wet’ or ‘landscape’.
The labels provided above help to illustrate some of the issues faced by a folksonomic approach:
- colloquial phrases, e.g. ‘tramping’; in New Zealand tramping involves strapping a pack to your back and wandering into the bush/forest (usually following a marked track) in other countries you would be frequenting a red-light district
- localisation, e.g. ‘great walks’; in New Zealand the ‘great walks’ refers to a specific series of walking tracks
- personalisation, e.g. ‘my holiday’: walking the Heaphy Track was my holiday, but it is unlikely to have been yours
- subjective qualification, e.g. ‘wet’: receiving just over six meters of rain a year the West Coast of New Zealand can justifiably be described as wet, but there are other places ‘wetter’
Broad vs. narrow folksonomies
Folksonomies can be further explored in terms of the permission structures imposed upon the tagging process. Where a single object may be tagged by many users, the resulting classification can be described as ‘broad’: each user has the ability to extend the classification to include their own experience of the object.
Where only the contributor/‘author’ may tag an object, the resulting metadata can be described as ‘narrow’: the resulting classification draws only upon a single user’s experience of the object.
Examples of a folksonomy in practice include:
- del.icio.us: a social bookmarks/favourites manager
- Flickr: an online co-operative image library
Dublin Core, metadata, smart tags
References and further reading
Motive Web Design Glossary Trivia