Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Folksonomies Applied

In a previous blog entry, I was starting to think about folksonomies as they might apply to content management. Having lots of experience in topical classification, therauri, and related tools, I figured this would be a simple discussion, but it isn't.

What is a Folksonomy? "Folksonomy (also known as collaborative tagging, social classification, social indexing, and social tagging) is the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content. In contrast to traditional subject indexing, metadata is not only generated by experts but also by creators and consumers of the content. Usually, freely chosen keywords are used instead of a controlled vocabulary" (Wikipedia).

By their nature, folksonomies are created by the people. I think the key to a successful folksonomy is participation by many people -- we make up for the lack of a controlled, standardized vocabulary and it's application to content by sheer volume and enthusiasm from a wide-spread using community. In fact, complaints about this approach usually center around the imprecise nature of the tagging. Since users typically apply tags to content, the tags are often ambiguous, overly personalised and inexact. But, Guy and Tonkin make a persuasive argument that user applied tags are in fact converging -- that the overall universe of applied tags is becoming self-limiting. If so, then the universe of tags that are being created in services like Flikr and are becoming useful bases for classifications.

And in other, related developments, these services are beginning to categorize their tags. Especially at where there are now classification tags and action tags, among others. To me these seem like we gray-beards call facets.

But that's not really my point, though I think it is important. I think we need some tools that can work with content management to allow tagging, maybe even super tagging, wherein the tags are members of controlled facets. This isn't really hard. Virtually every content management system "knows" about content by a URI. And there are some very cool features in the service, including keeping my bookmarks and tags private, and retrieving them via an API later. So, we can set a bookmark in containing the URI of the content we want to tag with the tags we want for that content.

I tried this very simply by registering at, turning on the "private bookmarks" setting, and putting the buttons on my browser toolbar. Then I pointed my browser at a content item in a CMS (Alfresco) and clicked the "Tag" button. Added tags and saved it. I can see the tags and the URIs in my items on the website.

But, to actually use this information, we need to pull the tags and content URIs back out of XML to the rescue. Or, rather, XML and the API. We can fetch the tags we're using by using this URL: We can also see all of our content using this URL: And we can retrieve by tag:

Pretty cool stuff.