Alex Wright


August 23, 2004

Just when I was starting to worry there were no new ideas left in the IA world, a great new meme has cropped up out in the blogspace: social classification, or what Thomas Vander Wal has christened "folksonomies." A folksonomy is a user-generated classification, emerging through bottom-up consensus, a la Flickr, Furl, and I'm still catching up on this thread, pondering these thoughtful posts by Victor, Jess, Stewart and Gene.

My main thought is this: While I'm all in favor of user control and freedom and a believer, more or less, in the wisdom of crowds, I also think self-organizing systems have real limits. Witness the great train wreck of Orkut communities, a cautionary example of putting too much faith in DIY classification.

I wonder if we could envision a middle ground, somewhere between the pure democracy of bottom-up tagging and the empirical determinism of top-down controlled vocabularies? I'm thinking of a scenario where end-users could freely create, adopt or reject terms stored in a distributed repository that gets administered by a representative authority that "owns" the vocabulary: normalizing terms, identifying and mapping semantic relationship (determining synonyms, related terms, parent-child relationships and such). A republican classification system? (that's republican with a small "r")

File under: Semantic Web

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