The Cross Blog Discussion of the NpTechTag has generated some comments and blog posts that I've summarized below.
Let's begin with big picture question that Gavin raised: What purpose do folksonomies serve? How are they different from taxonomies? Gavin's post does a great job explaining the definitions and the advantages of a taxonomy over a folksonomy. However, in the comments, readers point to the benefits of a folksonomy and suggest that combining the two approaches can lead to a best-of-both-worlds outcome.
Alf Gracombe (a relatively new in the nptech blogosphere and whose blog looks promising) suggests that the debate reflects the shifting paradigm away from the more traditional content
taxonomies to the emerging folksonomies on today’s “Web 2.0″ social
network and community sites. He observes that folksonomies are in the early stages of development.
I argue that while folksonomies are changing the way we interact with content, people, and organizations, they are still a long way from helping us optimize our consumption of the ever increasing amount of content and media on the Web.
But give it time. The new generation of social web sites coming online are only beginning to understand how to organize and present this content to users. The semantic web and the continued evolution of search, data design, and user interface design will help.
Laura Quinn outlines the process of how a folksonomy be developed into a taxonomy:
"So for instance, because it's so easy for users to tag things with free-form keywords, let them do so. A traditional rigorous taxonomy scheme includes "synoynm ring" - basically, just a bunch of synonyms mapped together - why not use that to standardize the tags(i.e. "nptech" = "nonprofit tech")and potentially aggregate them into buckets or paths that make them more browsable. This is also a great way to test and refine a taxonomy over time - an administrator can plan to look at the tags that don't map into anything in the taxonomy and decide if the taxonomy should be modified to include them."
In the comments of Gavin's post, Marnie describes how an emergent NpTech taxnomy might be developed. It would based on an analysis of all the "words" or tags that people have used to describe resources also bookmarked with nptech.
When the nptech tag started one of the ideas was to gather enough data to look and see what words people were using to describe, say, open source (open source, floss, foss, open source software) and then use those words to inform a taxonomy. It's a taken a long time but I bet there's enough data in the nptech tag on a combination of bookmarking systems to do a little crunching and get at some of those commonly used terms. Sort of an emergent taxonomy...
Michelle Murrain skipts the granular and goes to the big picture, pointing out a key benefit to folksonomies:
"Who is doing the categorizing? Taxonomies are developed by specific people for specific purposes, and as such, are limited by worldview and perspective. Gavin says: 'I'd recommend the wisdom of a few experts within that crowd.' Good point, except - who are those experts? What is their worldview, and how does that effect the taxonomy that they come up with - and how does that determine the effect of a taxonomy on people who are not the experts?
Perhaps the users can't find what the information they need. As Marnie notes, "I've often had a hard time inside a taxonomonical (is that a word?) system because I didn't know the *right* word and couldn't find what I was looking for."
About six months, my colleagues who work in KM for Communities of Practice for Development, shared some of the reflections and lessons from an experiment in using tagging for KM. I wonder what we can learn from them?
Let's cut to the practical low hanging fruit questions about how to improve the quality of information tagged nptech and make it more useful for consumption and to potentially help build an emergent taxonomy:
One of the main criticisms of the NpTech Tag as articulated by Gavin's original post is that the items are undifferentiated. "It seems to me that the tag is not that useful — either as a category of stuff or as a retrieval tool."
Michelle Murrain hints at a possible solution:
"I think that it is certainly possible to disseminate some guidelines (that some people will pay attention to) for the use of the nptech tag that could increase the signal/noise ratio."
What do those guidelines look like? Is it a vocabularly or adding sub-categories? Or adding another tag that indicates audience as Allan Benamer has suggested? Or does it mean something completely different like suggesting that people use more than just the nptech tag and to include a one-sentence description?
I'm also still curious about motivations why people are tagging items with the NpTech tag on a day-to-day basis, what they find useful, and what could be improved.
- How are you using the NpTech Tag?
- Do you subscribe to the feed to find resources?
- Do you read the summaries?
- Do you tag items with the NpTech as a form of promotion or outreach?
In the comments of Gavin's post Marnie Webb tells us:
On a day to day level, I do find the tag useful when I combine it w/ other searches. But mostly because the tag is a proximy for "people in the know". So I search on cms or outreach or events or jobs in combination with the nptech tag and find that I often get useful results. And, certainly, it's help me as a news feed to keep abreast of the flow.
What do you think? Leave a comment. Write a blog post. Tag it with nptech. Track back to this post. Join the cross-blog conversation!