Folksonomy: Friend or Foe?

Folksonomy was given a blurb recently in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” issue. I first heard about folksonomy from a professor of digital art who pointed to the democratic possibilities of del.icio.us and flickr. When I ask catalogers about this phenomena they just kind of blink a few times and point out the need for authority control. Fair enough. But with more and more “libraries” moving to people’s desktops, isn’t knowledge of tagging, even just for one’s own information, an information literacy skill? Might we use the example of folksonomy to teach about the need for standardized headings? Or is folksonomy another example of the chipping away of the authority of the librarian and another sign of the death of the old world and the birth of a new one, one that includes librarians less and less?

7 thoughts on “Folksonomy: Friend or Foe?”

  1. Standaardized headings and authority control are necessary for databases such as library catalogs and full text databases and A&I services but not for folksonomy or tagging. If there was a controleed vocabulary there it would not be a folksonomy. I look at it as a supplement not as a replacement for what librarians do. The world is not including librarians less and less. It is simply expanding.

  2. *blink* *blink* What about authority control?

    Actually, even though the notion of self-assigning tags gives my cataloger’s brain the willies, I think this is inevtiable. Unless we’re going to make everyone in the country get an MLS, there’s simply no way that information professionals can hope to deal with the ever-greater flood of content that the Web produces. What this emphatically does not mean is that this method should replace professional cataloging for the relatively finite and manageable world of printed books. I still firmly believe that the work that a trained cataloger does is crucial for speeding information retrieval, and can’t be replaced by keywords off the top of someone’s head.

    By the way, there’s no reason that there can’t be folksonomic authority control, using the same procedures that produce the tags in the first place. Either automated processes or the users themselves could identify clusters of terms that frequently appear together or are otherwise related in order to facilitate searching.

    One site I read that uses tags effectively is the collaborative blog Metafilter, and I particularly like this chart which graphically displays the most frequently used tags by making them larger. I suspect it has the effect of clustering tags by catching the eye of a user scanning for an appropriate tag for a post.
    http://www.metafilter.com/tags.mefi

  3. I’m a folk, too. If I want to use controlled vocabulary to tag, I can. This is America. We can do whatever [transmission of remainder of message interrupted by thought police–have a nice day]

  4. Interesting overview of this subject just popped up via Library Link of the Day – The Hive Mind by Ellyssa Kroski. The article goes over what it is, advantages, disadvantages, and prospects. Also includes a bit of information on how some libraries are using tagging. Well worth a read.

  5. People are organizing information in new ways. Cataloguers, and other librarians, need to observe at the very least, if not to participate. Traditional rule-based cataloguing may not be the route for the future, but the amount of information out there just keeps growing, and there will be a need for professionals to help in the organizing, if not actually tagging each item. I certainly hope LIS students are working on folksonomy assignments! By the way, the flickr folk were having a rather interesting discussion about interestingness the last time I looked.

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