I personally think that folksonomies are not here to replace taxonomies.
If Elaine fears the use of folksonomy for classifying Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs), she should not.
Folksonomies will (probably) never completely replace taxonomies since the science, understanding, principles and experience behind classifying items into a taxonomy are very extensive and cannot be overlooked.
The fact remains that it is hard to build a good taxonomy tree and it is even harder to classify a certain item in a single place in the taxonomy (according to the rules Elaine discusses in Beneath the Metadata – “A is not B”, etc).
Knowing when to create new sibling taxonomy nodes or split an existing taxonomy node is a very hard decision and even a trained and experienced cataloger that can find an answer to these decisions might not have the absolute one according to another cataloger’s opinion.
Dave says “Folksonomies exist—even terminologically—in distinction from traditional cataloging structures” and that is the key point in handling folksonomies.
Folksonomies are easier to use for a lot of people. By applying the way we think and search for information to various items we will, to a great extent, be able to retrieve this information very easily and intuitively.
While folksonomies have their drawbacks, pointed out by both Elaine and Dave, which includes spelling and grammar mistakes, the use of plural and singular forms as well various techniques to use multiple words tags, there are ways (which I hope to cover in a future post) on how to deal with these issues, which are mainly an implementation drawback. In my opinion, these implementation details should not be taken into the philosophical/ideological discussion, though they should be addressed in some form.
Folksonomies are not here to replace taxonomies, since there is an added value in cataloging items in a taxonomy, it gives the items a sense of location in the world. Seeing the taxonomy term “homo sapiens sapiens” not only tells me what this item is, but it also tell me its location in the biological taxonomy of species. Since objectivity, rules and some logic is used to build taxonomies and assign items to taxonomy nodes, these rules and objectivity can make it very hard for others to find things in the taxonomy (which is mainly, in my opinion, a function of the tree structure of the taxonomy – when it gets very wide and very deep it will be very hard to find anything at all without having to understand the logic of the taxonomy as well as its basic structure and design decisions).
Perhaps, as Elaine fears, using folksonomy for ETD sites instead of proper taxonomy is not the best solution since we will be loosing valuable information about the location of a certain ETD in the world of ETDs, but having both folksonomy and taxonomy together can and will improve both the lives of the users of the site as well as help the cataloger of the taxonomy and the taxonomy itself richer.
The users will be able to quickly tag and find items without prior knowledge of the structure of the taxonomy and without getting lost in it.
Given enough users that will tag items that are in the taxonomy (or even outside the taxonomy) and by using clustering techniques, similar to what is being used on sites like Flickr, catalogers will be able to better understand where people think various items should be placed in the taxonomy and may include this data into their decision of cataloging a certain item in a certain place in the taxonomy.
I do understand Elaine’s claim that by using folksonomy only in academic sites we will lose, to some extent, the unbiased and objective thought that catalogers tries to use while cataloging items and building taxonomies, but having both will help us enjoy both of these worlds as well as enrich one another.
People will tag items and find them quickly. Cataloger will be able to see the clusters form around various subjects. By then, people reaching certain items using folksonomy and tags will be able to see how the cataloger cataloged the item they were looking for and slowing and incrementally they will learn the structure of the taxonomy as well as the logic and rules behind it that the cataloger used.
There are various ways and techniques to catalog thing. Folksonomies are considered a valid cataloging technique with its own drawbacks and advantages (implementation details outside, of course). When people decide to use a taxonomy or a folksonomy or both at the same time, they need to understand the implications as well as the actual and accurate need that requires this use to provide with the best solution to both the users and to the knowledge of the world.
That’s my 2 cents on the subject.
What do you think on folksonomies and taxonomies? Do you think they can co-exist? Do you think one is better than the other?