Thursday, January 4, 2007

Taxonomy lite

I was reading this review by Michael Arrington: The Gather.com Issue on TechCrunch and came across this:

Fourth, Gather encourages tagging of news items and yet has a rigid directory taxonomy (meaning at the end of the day that they do not trust tags to create their directory). Bad idea. Go with the tags, drop the taxonomy and see what develops.

I have been stewing over this very issue myself. It‘s so tempting to want to apply a taxonomy. “Let‘s just throw a simple controlled vocabulary across the top level to initially get things in the right bucket.“ The problem is there is no such thing as simple, and before long your buckets are over-flowing. So you inevitably bring in more buckets, and unless you are professionals, or even if you are professionals, your “system” eventually becomes unmanageable and devolves to chaos. At which point you are pretty much screwed.

So maybe this is another of those situations where you have to trust the people and the process to get it right. When you try to impose a "lite" taxonomy on your community you break the very conditions that make folksonomies work in the first place. I‘m thinking we need to embrace chaos from the get-go, and trust that what comes out the other end will be meaningful.

UPDATE: I saw this in the comments from the above mentioned post. It‘s from Tom Gerace the CEO of Gather.com:

2) Tags v. taxonomy: We wanted to try both methods of organization because our members skew older than the MySpace crowd. We wanted to see how they reacted if we offered a choice. We have finished that evaluation Tags win even for this audience. More to come on that front with our next release.

That‘s very interesting. When given a choice the users prefer tagging- good stuff.

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