Folksonomy: social classification

Last week I asked the AIfIA members' list what they thought about the social classification happening at Furl, Flickr and In each of these systems people classify their pictures/bookmarks/web pages with tags (e.g. wedding), and then the most popular tags float to the top (e.g. Flickr's tags or on the right).

Thomas Vander Wal, in his reply, coined a great name for these informal social categories: a folksonomy.

I think folksonomies can work well for certain kinds of information because they offer a small reward for using one of the popular categories (such as your photo appearing on a popular page). People who enjoy the social aspects of the system will gravitate to popular categories while still having the freedom to keep their own lists of tags.

On the other hand, I can see a few reasons why a folksonomy would be less than ideal in a lot of cases:

  • None of the current implementations have synonym control (e.g. "selfportrait" and "me" are distinct Flickr tags, as are "mac" and "macintosh" on
  • Also, there's a certain lack of precision involved in using simple one-word tags--like which Lance are we talking about? (Though this is great for discovery, e.g. hot or Edmonton)
  • And, of course, there's no heirarchy and the content types (bookmarks, photos) are fairly simple.

Still, the idea of socially constructed classification schemes (with no input from an information architect) is interesting. Maybe one of these services will manage to build a social thesaurus.

Posted by: Gene Smith

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3 comments so far. Post your own.
alex wright
Pinged on Aug 23, 2004
Just when I was starting to worry that there were no new ideas left in the IA world, a great new meme has cropped up in the IA blogspace: social classification, or what Thomas Vander Wal has christened "folksonomies." A...
Read more in Folksonomies »
intruder's register
Pinged on Aug 24, 2004
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Pinged on Aug 25, 2004
Folksonomy, a new term for socially created, typically flat name-spaces of the ilk, coined by Thomas Vander Wal. In commentary on Atomiq, Gene Smith, who generally likes the idea, lists some disadvantages of folksonomies: On the other hand,...
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