Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Jan 9, 2005 8:49am

folksonomies and synonyms

Folksonomies are the current hot topic in information organization right now, but Louis Rosenfed points out an important drawback to their use:

Folksonomies are clearly compelling ... but they don't support searching and other types of browsing nearly as well as tags from controlled vocabularies applied by professionals. Folksonomies arent likely to organically arrive at preferred terms for concepts, or even evolve synonymous clusters.

Louis goes on to predict that Flickr, del.icio.us, and other folksonomy-dependent sites (uh, what other folksonomy-dependent sites?) will have difficulty scaling as volume gets out of hand. This is a moot point, volume is already out of hand, and they've scaled fine.

His point about synonyms is a great one, though, and is pointedly ignored in Clay Shirky's rah-rah response. Folksonomies are unlikely to evolve synonyms for the simple reason that people will usually choose just one of the many synonyms available. For example, self portraits on Flickr are usually tagged with me (15,396 photos) or selfportrait (2,150 photos), but who tags their photos with both? Right. So the overlap just isn't there to be able to infer that these two terms are synonymous, just like people tend to use one preferred name for a place with names in many languages, or one preferred name or nickname for a person in particular contexts. We just happen to be in the early stages of a project that hopes to use folksonomies and user-generated meta-data to make sense of free form conversation, so this is going to turn into a bear of a challenge.

(Addendum: there are a few words about this subject on David Smith's site)

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