Taxonomies and Folksonomies

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Thanks to Steve Wheeler (aka @timbuckteeth) for picking up the conversation I started on Twitter  where I defined a Taxonomist as:

One who organizes information in ways that make sense to content providers, rather that content users.

Steve’s riposte was to define a ‘Folksonomist’ as:

One who organizes information in ways that make sense to his/her own community of practice or interest.

I know that strictly speaking the role of a ‘folksonomist’ may not exist, since folksonomies tend to emerge through the collective process of individuals assigning tags to things and that the creation of a folksonomy is the bi-product. However, this misses the point; the key point is that the information is organized in a way that makes sense to individuals working collaboratively, i.e. members of a social network who tag content are acting (possibly unconsciously) in the role of a ‘folksonomist’.

Personally, I like the following description of the differences between taxonomy and folksonomy:

A taxonomy is predictable, whereas a folksonomy is flexible. Taxonomies are imposed, but folksonomies are democratic.

I also liked Steve’s final summary definition:

In a taxonomy, the community defines the content. In a folksonomy the content defines the community.

I might argue that the ‘community’ in the first sentence is likely to be corporate-led and vastly different to the community in the second sentence. But that’s being pedantic. I like the overall simplicity of the statement and will re-use it often. I hope that Steve Wheeler hasn’t got a copyright on it!One final point to allay any grievances from the guild of Taxonomists – I think that taxonomies and folksonomies can co-exist in the world of Information Management, and that they have complementary strengths.

About Post Author

Stephen Dale

I’m a life-long learner with an insatiable curiosity about life. I love travel, good food, and good company. I’m happy to share what I know with others….even the interesting stuff! My outlook on life is pretty well captured in this quote from a book about the legend of King Arthur: “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” ― T.H. White, The Once and Future King So much to learn, so little time!
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