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A folksonomy is a system in which users apply public tags to online items, typically to aid them in re-finding those items. This can give rise to a classification system based on those tags and their frequencies, in contrast to a taxonomic classification specified by the owners of the content when it is published.[1][2] This practice is also known as collaborative tagging,[3] social classification, social indexing, and social tagging.

The term was term coined by Thomas Vander Wal in 2004[4][5][6] as a portmanteau of folk and taxonomy. Folksonomies became popular as part of social software applications such as social bookmarking and photograph annotation that enable users to collectively classify and find information via shared tags. Some websites include tag clouds as a way to visualize tags in a folksonomy.[7]

Elements and types[edit]

Folksonomies consist of three basic entities: users, tags, and resource. Users create tags to mark resources such as: web pages, photos, videos, and podcasts. These tags are used to manage, categorize and summarize online content. This collaborative tagging system also uses these tags as a way to index information, facilitate searches and navigate resources. Folksonomy also includes a set of URLs that are used to identify resources that have been referred to by users of different websites. These systems also include category schemes that have the ability to organize tags at different levels of granularity. [8]

Vander Wal identifies two types of folksonomy: broad and narrow.[9] A broad folksonomy arises when multiple users can apply the same tag to an item, providing information about which tags are the most popular. A narrow folksonomy occurs when users, typically fewer in number and often including the item's creator, tag an item with tags that can each be applied only once. While both broad and narrow folksonomies enable the searchability of content by adding an associated word or phrase to an object, a broad folksonomy allows for sorting based on the popularity of each tag, as well as the tracking of emerging trends in tag usage and developing vocabularies. [10]

An example of a broad folksonomy is, a website where users can tag any online resource they find relevant with their own personal tags. The photo-sharing website Flickr is an oft-cited example of a narrow folksonomy.

Folksonomy vs. taxonomy[edit]

'Taxonomy' refers to a hierarchical categorization in which relatively well-defined classes are nested under broader categories. A folksonomy establishes categories (each tag is a category) without stipulating or necessarily deriving a hierarchical structure of parent-child relations among different tags. (Work has been done on techniques for deriving at least loose hierarchies from clusters of tags.[11])

Supporters of folksonomies claim that they are often preferable to taxonomies because folksonomies democratize the way information is organized, they are more useful to users because they reflect current ways of thinking about domains, and they express more information about domains.[12] Critics claim that folksonomies are messy and thus harder to use, and can reflect transient trends that may misrepresent what is known about a field.

An empirical analysis of the complex dynamics of tagging systems, published in 2007,[13] has shown that consensus around stable distributions and shared vocabularies does emerge, even in the absence of a central controlled vocabulary. For content to be searchable, it should be categorized and grouped. While this was believed to require commonly agreed on sets of content describing tags (much like keywords of a journal article), some research has found that in large folksonomies common structures also emerge on the level of categorizations.[14] Accordingly, it is possible to devise mathematical models of collaborative tagging that allow for translating from personal tag vocabularies (personomies) to the vocabulary shared by most users.[15]

Folksonomy is unrelated to folk taxonomy, a cultural practice that has been widely documented in anthropological and folkloristic work. Folk taxonomies are culturally supplied, intergenerationally transmitted, and relatively stable classification systems that people in a given culture use to make sense of the entire world around them (not just the Internet).[16]

The study of the structuring or classification of folksonomy is termed folksontology.[17] This branch of ontology deals with the intersection between highly structured taxonomies or hierarchies and loosely structured folksonomy, asking what best features can be taken by both for a system of classification. The strength of flat-tagging schemes is their ability to relate one item to others like it. Folksonomy allows large disparate groups of users to collaboratively label massive, dynamic information systems. The strength of taxonomies are their browsability: users can easily start from more generalized knowledge and target their queries towards more specific and detailed knowledge.[18] Folksonomy looks to categorize tags and thus create browsable spaces of information that are easy to maintain and expand.

Examples of folksonomies[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peters, Isabella (2009). "Folksonomies. Indexing and Retrieval in Web 2.0.". Berlin: De Gruyter Saur. 
  2. ^ Pink, Daniel H. (11 December 2005). "Folksonomy". New York Times. Retrieved 14 July 2009. 
  3. ^ Lambiotte, R, and M Ausloos. 2005. Collaborative tagging as a tripartite network.
  4. ^ Vander Wal, Tomas (11 December 2005). "Folksonomy Coinage and Definition". 
  5. ^ Vander Wal, T. (2005). "Off the Top: Folksonomy Entries." Visited November 5, 2005. See also: Smith, Gene. "Atomiq: Folksonomy: social classification." Aug 3, 2004. Retrieved January 1, 2007.
  6. ^ Origin of the term
  7. ^ Lamere, Paul (June 2008). "Social Tagging And Music Information Retrieval". Journal of New Music Research 37 (2): 101–114. doi:10.1080/09298210802479284. 
  8. ^ Berlin, B. (1992). Ethnobiological Classification. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  9. ^ Vander Wal, Thomas. "Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  10. ^ Vander Wal, Thomas. "Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies". Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  11. ^ Laniado, David. "Using WordNet to turn a folksonomy into a hierarchy of concepts" (PDF). CEUR Workshop Proceedings 314 (51). Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  12. ^ Weinberger, David. "Folksonomy as Symbol". Joho the Blog. Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  13. ^ Harry Halpin, Valentin Robu, Hana Shepherd The Complex Dynamics of Collaborative Tagging, Proc. International Conference on World Wide Web, ACM Press, 2007.
  14. ^ V. Robu, H. Halpin, H. Shepherd Emergence of consensus and shared vocabularies in collaborative tagging systems, ACM Transactions on the Web (TWEB), Vol. 3(4), art. 14, 2009.
  15. ^ Robert Wetzker, Carsten Zimmermann, Christian Bauckhage, and Sahin Albayrak I tag, you tag: translating tags for advanced user models, Proc. International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining, ACM Press, 2010.
  16. ^ Berlin, B. (1992). Ethnobiological Classification. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  17. ^ Van Damme, Céline; et al. "FolksOntology: An Integrated Approach for Turning Folksonomies into Ontologies" (PDF). Retrieved April 20, 2012. 
  18. ^ Trattner, C., Körner, C., Helic, D.: Enhancing the Navigability of Social Tagging Systems with Tag Taxonomies. In Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Knowledge Management and Knowledge Technologies, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2011
  19. ^ Steele, T. (2009). The new cooperative cataloging. Library Hi Tech, 27 (1), 68-77
  20. ^ Corey A. Harper and Barbara B. Tillett, Library of Congress controlled vocabularies and their application to the Semantic Web
  21. ^ M. Koivunen, Annotea and Semantic Web Supported Annotation.

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