Taxonomy / Folksonomy & Keywords

Web 2.0 is, in its typical usage, a completely nebulousterm. Yet remarkably its boosters will declare that it’s allso clear, you idiot – it’s “<INSERT THEIR OWNPARTICULARLY DIVERGENT INTERPRETATION HERE>“. I’ve seenthis play out in quite a few online and offline discussions,proving to me that it’s an amorphous/eye-of-the-beholder sort ofterm.

Tim O’Reilly and friends were one of the first to widely coinit, so his take obviously deserves attention, yet even it lacks anydegree of clarity. Really it appears to be nothing more than afreeze-frame of the web’s continuing evolution.

Nonetheless, one recurring attribute of the “Web 2.0” religiondeserves attention – Folksonomy, which isthe loosely-controlled user-base keyword tagging of content(usually contrasted against the taxonomy of a site likeYahoo, where a central group of annoited ones classify content,albeit really they’re just rubber stamping the classificationprovided by the website owner).

For instance I upload a picture to Flickr, keywording itflower and bee. Now people searching forrelated pictures can browse amongst pictures of bees, orflowers, or bees and flowers, and see my contentamongst everyone elses. del.icio.us follows the same model, withusers adding links and meta-data keywords that categorize them.Links can then be searched or related by keyword(s).

Everythingold is new again.

In the early days of search engines, the content parsers werereally quite dumb – they couldn’t read the content of a web siteand really figure out what the subject of the page was. As such theMETA tag was added, allowing website owners to attribute theircontent with a small, select group of keywords, and those keywordswould allow it to choose content appropriate for usersearches.

Of course what started as a good idea quickly devolved -nefarious website operators learned to put unrelated, popular termsin their keywords to earn additional hits: What started as a greatidea devolved into a tragedy of the commons as more and more peoplegot involved, and they started gaming the system for their ownadvantage.

The sort of things that work on small-scale, edge sites quicklydegrade as they become larger and more important. Already many ofthe “social tagging” sites are getting overwhelmed with spam andfalse hits, and of course errors, and more commonly errors ofomission, are extraordinarily common on these tagging sites.

Of course for photos there are no other options -we’re not at a point where an automated analyzer can look at apicture and determine what it’s about, so tagging is the best we’vegot. However for some attributes, like location, free-text taggingis terribly unreliable, which is why I look forward to theautomated GPS tagstalked about previously.

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