Following my reference to Shel Holtz‘s remark about intranet folksonomies the other day, a colleague directed me to de.lirio.us, a del.icio.us-like social bookmarks application that can run on intranets.
I have high expectations of intranet folksonomies as powerful alternatives to traditional search engines. However, as with all social applications, its success will depend on users’ participation.
Why are folksonomies, or social bookmarking, or user-driven categorization, so promising?
People search in different ways. Every person has their unique search strategy. We tend to organize things in our heads by creating mental maps. We invent categories, or labels, or tags, for ourselves. This is how we structure our perception of the world.
When we search information, we tend to use the mental maps and vocabularies that reflect how we understand the world. Since these vocabularies are so personal, it is an eternal challenge for designers of online content applications to categorize in such a way that most people are likely to find what they are looking for.
Folksonomies offer part of the solution to the problem that people search in different ways. By allowing readers to tag or categorize pieces of content, it is likely that similar readers will find the information they are looking for by searching with similar tags.
Let’s consider Wikipedia’s entry on ‘folksonomy’:
Folksonomy, a portmanteau word that combines "folk" and "taxonomy,"
refers to the on-the-fly classifications (called tags or keywords) that
Internet users freely invent to categorize the objects with which they
Social software makes these classifications available to other Internet
users, often by means of a tag cloud, a list of user-developed tags.
For this reason, folksonomy can be viewed as a distributed
classification system. Examples of folksonomy-enabled social software
include Furl, Flickr, and Del.icio.us.
[t]he term folksonomy has been attributed to Thomas Vander Wal.
Folksonomy may hold the key to developing a Semantic Web (Wikipedia entry – JS), in which
every Web page contains machine-readable metadata that describes its
content. Such metadata would dramatically improve the precision (the
percentage of relevant documents) in search engine retrieval lists.
In contrast to top-down controlled vocabularies such as Dublin Core (Wikipedia entry – JS),
folksonomy is a distributed classification system with low entry costs.
Since folksonomies are user-generated and therefore inexpensive to
implement, advocates of folksonomy believe that it provides a useful
low-cost alternative to more traditional, institutionally supported
taxonomies or controlled vocabularies. An employee-generated folksonomy
could therefore be seen as an "emergent enterprise taxonomy".
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of folksonomy and social
bookmarking, allow yourself to spend an hour or so on del.icio.us, listen to the ETech
2005 panel podcast ‘Folksonomy’
on ITconverstions with Joshua
Schachter (del.icio.us), Stewart
Butterfield (Flickr), Jimmy
Wales (Wikipedia) and Clay
Shirky, and read Bruce
Sterling‘s article ‘Order
Out of Chaos‘ on Wired.
Then start pushing for de.lirio.us on your own intranet.