E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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The Name Game – Where Folksonomy Meets Taxonomy

A few days ago, Dennis McDonald pointed me to a weblog post where a recent CIO article on tagging was mentioned. The article itself is titled The Name Game and it comes to talk about tagging in general with some special mention of how IBM is handling it within the corporation. Although it is a long read there are some really good points and would certainly be a worth while read, specially if you are into tagging and folksonomy in order to organise your content, wherever that may be. Here are some highlights from the article worth noting:

Tagging offers a potentially powerful way for a company to organize information by making fresh content immediately searchable, letting users designate terms that make sense to them and providing users with a sense of ownership. This ability for tags to provide so much content-describing power for ordinary folks has given rise to the term “folksonomy,” as opposed to the more restrictive sounding “taxonomy.”” (Emphasis mine)

What a great definition for what tagging is all about! I doubt there would be much better ways to define it than the one quote above. What I really liked about it is the fact that as you will be able to see in here tagging is all about the end-users, the knowledge workers, taking control of how the content will be stored and searched for at a later time using meaningful keywords that they could relate to as opposed to have to go through the ordeal of a fixed taxonomy that wasn’t rather created for them nor would it represent their needs. That would probably be the main difference between folksonomy and taxonomy.

“You can see what your colleagues are interested in,” she says. “From a collaboration and knowledge-sharing perspective, that’s what’s neat about folksonomies.”

That particular highlight comes from a colleague of mine, Maria Arbusto, while talking about an IBM internal offering for employees to drop ideas and work on them further. ThinkPlace. I must say that I have been using that application for a number of months and it certainly works in exact the same way as Maria describes it. People would just drop by, search for ideas that would match their interests, they would navigate through tags and find other people with similar interests and ideas, which would help them then to connect and, of course, collaborate from there. So you can see how tagging brings forward a more dynamic perspective as far as knowledge sharing and collaboration is concerned. It is actually a whole lot more proactive than having to work with fixed taxonomies that may not represent the needs from those knowledge workers and therefore make it very hard to use. Simplicity is key in folksonomy, if you would ask me.

But with tagging, users gain the flexibility to work outside the taxonomy

Perhaps one of the key aspects of every single piece of social software. That flexibility is perhaps what makes it so successful as it would try to fill in all of the different needs people would have about it. It may succeed or fail, but there is no doubt that at least it will try to meet the different expectations from everyone. And the good thing is that because of that social aspect it will probably be able to succeed in most cases.

Dogear was opened for use across IBM in November, and a mere 1,235 of IBM’s 329,000 employees have logged in to the tool more than once

I have been using Dogear myself for a number of months, in fact, if you remember, I have been weblogging already about Dogear several times already, and although it may seem like a small number of folks making use of it, giving the size of IBM (Over 320.000 employees) I must say that the focus is not on the numbers but on the actual technology and how a subset of those employees are exploring new ways of managing content through that dynamic tagging. As it is mentioned on the article itself as well you would only need a small portion of folks, yes, the well known critical mass, to make it worth while for everyone else. Just imagine the potential you would be having in your hands if when searching for content you would bump into the bookmarks that people may have shared, and tagged, and which may perhaps be even more relevant than the different results put together. And that with just a few folks making use of it. At least, at the very beginning.

We may indeed be at the early stages for tagging in the enterprise but there is no denying that the benefits are there, even if it is just for a small group of end-users. Chances are that as soon as those benefits are brought forward into the table and spread around through whatever means that more and more people would jump in to give it a try. And that is perhaps when we would be able to reach the tipping point where a combination of folksonomy and taxonomy would eventually allow every knowledge worker find the information they want it, when they want it and in the format they would want. Because after all we should not forget that tagging and folksonomy is not planning, by far, to replace the already taxonomies, but more to augment the already existing ones to make them much more meaningful, relevant, and specific to people’s needs. And that is a good thing, don’t you think so ?

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7 comments

  1. Hi, I am regularly enjoying to read your netry about Dogear. As a matter of fact, my blog is named after Dogear in Japanse. Appreciatte your continued posting on this subject. BEst regards.

  2. Thanks a lot, Sarada-san, for dropping by and for the feedback comments and the trackback ! Welcome to elsua! I really appreciate your feedback and I just wished I would be able to understand Japanese to enjoy reading some more of your weblog posts! Perhaps one of these days I will get busy with it. Who knows! Either way, thanks a bunch for the feedback. Greatly appreciated!

    Thanks a lot as well, Dennis, for dropping by and for sharing the web link. Actually, funny that you should mention that link to your weblog because that was going to be one of the subjects for an upcoming weblog post I am working on already. I saw the post earlier on this week and thought you had some great thoughts put together as well. So stay tuned because I will be adding some of my thoughts very shortly. Again, I appreciate your feedback and the mentioning over at your weblog. Excellent stuff !

  3. Luis, this thread is leaading to a solution for a problem that was (first) aired in the
    early ’80s in the IBM internal VM Forums – after IBM introduced ‘Enterprise Office’
    aka DISSOS) in 1979 we realised that electronically filing all the documents created in an
    organisation wasn’t much good if you couldn’t retrieve them easily. STAIRS/SearchManager were
    too much overhead as the document volumes increased.
    We started discussing the need for 3 levels of document metadata:
    1. document specific taxonomy
    2. system generated metadata (eg organisational position data from the corporate LDAP)
    and
    3. User generated metadata.
    Your Folksonomy and the developing tools such as Dogear etc. are heading in the right direction.
    All we need to do is to get the system generated metadata linked in so users aren’t asked
    to re-enter that is already known! (LDAP – Positional authority vs personal authority).
    Keep it up.

  4. Hi Peter ! Thanks ever so much for the thoughtful comments and for dropping by ! Welcome to elsua!

    Appreciated that trip down the memory lane, even though I haven’t been that long in the company it surely brings some good memories when I first got started working on a VM department and got quite an exposure to the good old VM Forums. Ahhh, those were the times 😉

    “Your Folksonomy and the developing tools such as Dogear etc. are heading in the right direction. All we need to do is to get the system generated metadata linked in so users aren’t asked to re-enter that is already known!”

    Funny that you should mention that because that is exactly what is happening and although I cannot say much, at least, not yet, I can say that same trend of thought is what is actually going on with several tagging tools available internally. They are all coming together to terms on how to get the most out of that tagging and how it would interact with that metadata already available so that if anything it would augment everything that has been put together so far in that particular space. Fascinating !

    As I have mentioned elsewhere already I am actually going to keep up talking about this particular subject as we go along as I am sure that plenty of people would benefit from some of the ideas and also get some interesting points of view ahead of us. Thus stay tuned because there is more!

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