The Folksonomy Edition
On organization, tagging, and the changing ways we file away data
Noah here. Twenty years ago this coming September, the social bookmarking site del.icio.us launched (I’m impressed I still remember where the periods go). The conceit was pretty simple: instead of saving bookmarks to your browser, save them to the web and make them public. You could subscribe to the saved links of others, and generally, it was a fantastic place to discover interesting internet stuff. But what really made it work was tagging. Instead of providing a rigid taxonomy, users could “tag” their links with whatever made sense, and the system would then allow you to explore and subscribe to others with that tag.
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Tagging was the precursor to hashtags and became a widely adopted part of Web 2.0 design. (Del.icio.us was the first I remember doing it, but I’m hardly an internet historian, so feel free to correct me.)
Amongst the particularly nerdy (of which I count myself), this approach became known as a “folksonomy.” Here’s how Thomas Vander Wal, who coined the term, describes it:
Folksonomy is the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one's own retrieval. The tagging is done in a social environment (usually shared and open to others). Folksonomy is created from the act of tagging by the person consuming the information.
The value in this external tagging is derived from people using their own vocabulary and adding explicit meaning, which may come from inferred understanding of the information/object. People are not so much categorizing, as providing a means to connect items (placing hooks) to provide their meaning in their own understanding.
Why is this interesting?
For as long as we’ve had information, we’ve been trying to figure out the best ways to organize it. Card catalogs, file cabinets, and computer folders are all attempts to push order on our otherwise unwieldy data.
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