Taxonomies and Folksonomies

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.

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