Thursday, January 11, 2007

Taxonomies vs folksonomies

Earlier this week I wandered into a cross-blog discussion of folksonomies vs taxonomies. These are the sites where this is being discussed:

Beneath the Metadata:Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy (Where it all got started.)
David Weinberger's response (I can‘t wait for his new book!)
Gavin's Digital Diner: Return to Beneath the Valley of the Metadata (Interesting post, but even more interesting comments.)
Beth's Blog: Taxonomy VS Folksonomy: Google Fight (Happy Birthday Beth! And thank you for the shoutout.)
N-TEN Connect: Taxonomies are for chumps (Holly wins me over!)

I wandered into the conversation in the comments on Gavin‘s blog where I asked the following question:

Is there any living, breathing example of a taxonomic approach working (scaling) to keep-up with the hyper-efficiency we see in peer-production systems? I'm being quite serious here. Can you point me to a working model.

I asked this question in part because of a visit I made to a national library in the early 90s (hint: it was not der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek). Yes, a very long time ago. This was long before the Web started to take off, and certainly before the current hyper-productive content creation that we have seen in the last three years.

During this visit we talked a lot about cataloging. I learned that they had a backlog of two years worth of materials in their queue. I also learned that a huge percentage of the content was never making it into their queue in the first place. Gray literature.

This visit was long before the days of things like Dublin Core. This was to be the light-weight metadata solution which was going to save us all. We just needed to disintermediate the cataloging bottleneck and all would be honky-dory. I drank the cool-aid. I was a fool! It wasn't until much later that we learned that most metadata was actually metacrap.

So I‘m perfectly clear in what I‘m asking- I‘m not wanting to see a taxonomic system on the consumption side. I‘m already convinced that a good taxonomy will beat a good folksonomy every time when it comes to discovery (search). I‘m convinced that a controlled vocabulary and professionally cataloged system is preferable. I won‘t argue that.

But, what I‘m wanting to see is a system that can deal with the deluge. Because that‘s exactly what we are dealing with, a deluge. It‘s a freakin content tsunami. The old way cannot begin to keep up. It didn‘t keep up 15 years ago, and it‘s failing miserably today. I cannot begin to describe in words the magnitude of the problem we are facing.

So don‘t tell me about the weakness of folksonomies unless you can show me something better that doesn‘t include off-shoring as part of the answer… I‘m waiting.

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