Saturday, April 14, 2007

Clay Shirky on folksonomies vs controlled vocabularies

If you have any interest in folksonomies or taxonomies this Clay Shirky piece: folksonomies + controlled vocabularies is a must read.

A taste:
The advantage of folksonomies isn’t that they’re better than controlled vocabularies, it’s that they’re better than nothing, because controlled vocabularies are not extensible to the majority of cases where tagging is needed. Building, maintaining, and enforcing a controlled vocabulary is, relative to folksonomies, enormously expensive, both in the development time, and in the cost to the user, especially the amateur user, in using the system.

Furthermore, users pollute controlled vocabularies, either because they misapply the words, or stretch them to uses the designers never imagined, or because the designers say “Oh, let’s throw in an ‘Other’ category, as a fail-safe” which then balloons so far out of control that most of what gets filed in the junk drawer. Usenet blew up in exactly this fashion, where the 7 top-level controlled categories were extended to include an 8th, the ‘alt.’ hierarchy, which exploded and came to dwarf the entire, sanctioned corpus of groups.

Earlier this year I asked the 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 am still waiting for an answer. Show me the money!

1 comment:

Beth said...

I remember when you asked that question and there still no answer .. but someone just sent me some notes from a session he did with colleagues in Europe. I'll forward them -- interesting.