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an online classification scheme in which users add their own keywords to particular websites as a way of categorising the information that they find there
'Folksonomy … adopts an ingenious strategy for imposing some organisation on the endlessly-rising flood of data online: persuade the internet's millions of users to do it themselves …'The Guardian 12th September 2005
'Folksonomists apply descriptive keywords, or tags to the objects they come across.'IEEE Spectrum 31st January 2006
'After mulling over the idea for the past few weeks, I recently got around to adding folksonomic tags to my individual weblog entries.'personal weblog March 24th 2005
In the context of increasing interest in collaborative information-sharing on the Internet, the term folksonomy has recently become a buzzword in online culture.
a folksonomy is the result of a process often called tagging, and involves users applying descriptive keywords to the information they come across
Folksonomies are ad hoc classification schemes invented by web users themselves to categorise the data they find online. A folksonomy is the result of a process which is often called tagging (sometimes referred to as folk/social/open tagging), and involves users applying descriptive keywords (tags) to the information (e.g. articles, photos) they come across. These tags are then made available to other users through social software – software that enables users to share information and collaborate online – so that they can be exploited when searching the net.
Folksonomies differ from other classification schemes in that they operate 'bottom-up', i.e. users can tag things however they want, and if enough users do this, patterns begin to emerge. This is very different from conventional taxonomies, which are usually imposed from above, or 'top-down', such as the Dewey Decimal system used by librarians for classifying books. Advocates of the top-down approach argue that an agreed set of tags makes for more efficient indexing and searching, and that the idiosyncratic nature of folksonomies makes them unreliable, since users might apply a range of keywords to refer to the same concept, e.g. articles about Holland could be tagged with the keywords Dutch, Holland, or Netherlands.
Folksonomies seem to work, however, because although users can choose idiosyncratic tags, most people tend to use fairly obvious ones most of the time. Harnessing the collective intelligence of web users, folksonomies are viewed by some people as the only viable way of categorising the billions of items of information on the net.
Joining the ranks of bloggers (writers of weblogs) and Wikipedians, those who create folksonomies are referred to as folksonomists. The term folksonomy has followed the same derivational pattern as the word taxonomy, spawning an adjective folksonomic (e.g. folksonomic tags) and an adverb folksonomically (e.g. folksonomically-organised).
Folksonomy is a blend of the words folk(s) and taxonomy. It was first coined in 2004 by US information consultant Thomas Vander Wal, who had observed the phenomenon at websites such as flickr.com. Flickr™ is an online photo-sharing application where users can communally view and label photos with descriptive keywords, thereby creating an ad hoc, bottom-up classification system for a gigantic photo library.
This article was first published on 1st May 2006.