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Thomas Vander Wal: When Folksonomies Supplant Taxonomies

September 13th, 2010      

When you’re sharing photos online, posting to your blog, arranging books on your bookshelves, or organizing your recipes, you come up with your own categorization systems. While there’s a science of classification called taxonomy, Internet developer and information architect Thomas Vander Wal has dubbed the on-the-fly categorization methods used by everyday people “folksonomy.”

Tagging is one of the ways people regularly engage in folksonomy – whether tagging videos on YouTube, choosing tags for blog posts, or tagging friends in photos posted on Facebook. This type of categorization is quite unlike a rigid taxonomy, and instead is a quick way to mark something you (or others) might want to revisit later.

The advantage of folksonomies for digital text and media is that you don’t have to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole. There isn’t a master classification system to which you have to adhere. Instead, you can give any label to an item – or a multitude of labels so that it can be found in a number of different ways. The downside of folksonomies is that there isn’t a common language, so that if you’ve labeled a photo “Granny Smith,” and go back to look for “apple,” you won’t be able to find it. However, by allowing other users to add their own idiosyncratic tags to text or media, it increases the likelihood that more people will be able to find it.

The chances are good that you implement your own folksonomies when you use SpicyNodes. You either organize the information in a way that makes sense to you, or for public nodemaps, in a way that you anticipate will make sense to your visitors. The SpicyNodes advantage is that you can organize information in multiple ways within the same nodemap, so you’re not restricted to a single taxonomy. For example, IDEA’s “Poetry through the Ages” nodemap enables visitors to explore poetry by region or by era. The information contained within each of these two sections of the nodemap is identical, just organized differently. You can implement your own folksonomy within your nodemap, mirror nodes so they appear in different categories, and link nodes in a way that makes sense to you. And, of course, you and your visitors can use the SpicyNodes search box to locate every bit of relevant information in your nodemap.

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