The marking of objects within a community with some marks/tags is called tagging. By this the users will acctually give the material the categorization and give it the ranking too. I friend of mine Hermann Keldenich has written an great blog entry about taxonomy and how it can be used.
Why taxonomy? The effects are that the educational power of the material increases drastically and new users can easily jump into a subject as you both have tags from users that no everything about the subject and users that no very little about it. Even misspellings will be covered somehow, as misspelled tags can still be used. No more clicking on "Did you really mean…?".
I like the idea as it really brings back the power to the users and really make sense for users that are not that technological orientated. Yesterday at the MIT-seminar the CEO of Feedster talked about being locked into an environment where everbody just agrees with you and that such an environment really stops the progress.
Isn’t that what they are doing when not listening to the signs of users having trouble finding information? Isn’t it worth looking if they are the ones that really have made the wrong turn? No news where presented yesterday at the MIT-lab acctually. Vertical search is not the solution to all problems, it is the way we are handling the users that want to search that is the problem.
Here is the blog entry originally submitted in the development environment for AroundMe (http://www.barnraiser.org) and it is written by Hermann Keldenich.
Addressing a Problem in Classification
An interesting change of handling metadata is going on since services like del.icio.us and Flickr have come out with a new approach to categorize items. Until now metadata had been top-down organization schemes. Services like yahoo hired a professional ontologist to develop their category schema. The classification by taxonomies yields an inflexible system. If you want information on painting a fence, should you look under "home and garden" or "household"? To work around this problem yahoo established the @categories, but this also won’t really fix the problem. Such classification systems, often copied by others, forcing users to view the world in potentially unfamiliar ways. Users often don’t understand highly specialized categorizations.
A further problem of taxonomy is its dullness. You’re not able to search for something that does not exist in the categorization schema. You always have to wait for the maintainers input. A dilemma in a fast growing information world.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against taxonomies, they make sense in many ways, but you only can search in ways someone else has determined. Masses of people depend on the few ones who have done the classifications. But those classifications are often bulky and baffling. The taxonomy structure may be too rigid to support user needs.
A promising way to solve the hassle with metadata is the semantic web. But the semantic web road map was originated by Tim Berners-Lee in late 1998. Now we write 2005. Seven years of struggling with standards and no end.
Giving the Power of Taxonomy to the People.
Now a grassroot solution is appearing. Very simple and very powerfull. What if the users’ thought processes on viewing the world can be mapped? By giving them the ability to tag (label) items we step out of the taxonomy hierarchy. The organic system of organization is called folksonomy, a neologism of the words taxonomy and folk coined by Thomas Vander Wal. One of the most important advantages of a folksonomy is that it reflects directly the vocabulary of users.
"Systems employing free-form tagging that are encouraging users to organize information in their own ways are supremely responsive to user needs and vocabularies, and involve the users of information actively in the organizational system."
– Clay Shirky
Tagging has a social component that gives it its power. Tagging is fundamentally about tapping the collective human wisdom, rather than relying on a computer algorithm, for search, said Ben Shneiderman, who teaches human-computer interaction at the University of Maryland.
Tagging gives you the ability to build systems of organization that are simple and effective and the value of “gardening” (Jon Udell) has a huge impact. If a category doesn’t work in the way you want it to, just adjust the tag by using a more reasonable expression. Step by step you come closer to what fits your needs. Sharing tags like you can do on flickr or del.icio.us empowers network/grassroots approaches. For the first time since computers came along, AI is the mainstream.
Folksonomy lowers the Barriers to Cooperation.
Individuals organize materials with their own vocabulary of terms. They now have the ability to tag their items with terms that will help them to organize things in a way that helps them to find these items later with much greater ease. By using self generated terms, the organizational scheme reflects the individual information needs.
Because of taking place in a public environment, the individual behavior is influenced by and related to other individuals with whom the tag use is shared. There is evidence of community forming through metadata.
A very good and quick outline is Jon Udell’s screencast
A must read
Ontology is Overrated by Clay Shirky
Also widely spread at the blogosphere
Folksonomies – Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata
Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies by Thomas Vander Wal
Very interesting to see what the BBC is doing
BBC Backstage prototype: social tagging
a blog on tagging