Real World Uses of Folksonomies

Joshua Porter

September 28th, 2005

Change is the only constant on the Web. Every day we’re seeing new technologies and techniques that promise to help designers do their job more efficiently. Most are just flashes in the pan. A few turn out to be precious.

One technique that we’re already finding valuable is folksonomies, a bottoms-up, user-driven way to bolster a web site’s information architecture. Folksonomies gained popularity after sites like Flickr and Del.icio.us started using them. They work by aggregating the tags that users attach to items in the system. In Flickr, users tag photos. In Del.icio.us, users tag bookmarked web pages. By aggregating the tags, the system can illuminate trends that aren’t apparent otherwise.

For example, by watching the usage of the tag “ajax” in Del.icio.us, we can find out if it is catching on (increasing in use), or if it is dropping out of favor (decreasing in use). This allows us here at UIE, when we’re doing our research into design topics, to feel more confident if we are talking about something that may be new to people. If we’re seeing a lot of other people using the term confidently, we can be sure that we’re not entirely out in left field, clinging to an idea that isn’t working. In this way Del.icio.us has been very valuable for us, and it’s all because of the folksonomy.

One of the problems with folksonomies is that it is hard to tell how they might help on different kinds of sites. Sure, they really make Del.icio.us worth using, but what about a retail site or a educational site? Can they be applied there with equal success?

Two recent articles address this issue by describing real-world uses of folksonomies:

Stories like these two are not just interesting stories to tell around the watercooler. They’re also useful in demonstrating to stakeholders how folksonomies aren’t just a new way to build an ad-hoc categorization scheme, but are also very good at tracking trends and possibly providing recommendations.

That’s really what trend-watching is all about: observing what is happening, and then making informed decisions about what people will find valuable in the future. Or, put another way, preparing for change.

One Response to “Real World Uses of Folksonomies”

  1. Alan Says:

    Educators spend losts of time manually creating web page lists of class resource lists- it is time consuming… tagging with a unique class tag in del.icou.us and using the providing feed as a JavaScript paste makes the process much more streamlined.
    http://jade.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/cdb/2005/08/22/little-bits-of-syndication/

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