THE WEB | Ahmad Humeid explores the emergent â€˜taggingâ€™ phenomena
Youâ€™re looking at a picture of a black and white football laying on the grass. If I ask you to describe the picture with a few words you might say â€˜sportâ€™, â€˜ballâ€™ and â€˜black and whiteâ€™. If I ask another person other words might pop up like â€˜roundâ€™, â€˜grassâ€™ and â€˜greenâ€™. Ask yet another person and the words â€˜leatherâ€™, â€˜soccerâ€™ and â€˜footballâ€™ might be used.
What all these descriptions have in common is that they are all describe the picture in a â€˜correctâ€™ manner. If someone finds the picture boring, it would not be â€˜wrongâ€™ to label it as such, right?
The same thing would happen if I ask people to classify a certain bookâ€™s subject matter. Lets say the book is a political thriller novel that is set in England and involves a love story. While most people will classify it under the â€˜novelâ€™ category, the secondary descriptions might vary between â€˜loveâ€™, â€˜Englandâ€™, â€˜politicsâ€™, etc.
All of these descriptions become important when we want to categorize and classify our world. Categorization is human nature. We classify everything: objects, information, animals, plants and so on. The word â€˜Taxonomyâ€™ (Greek: taxinomia, from the words taxis = order and nomos = law) refers to either the classification of things, or the principles underlying the classification.
Without taxonomy, how would the shelves of a library be organized? It would be a total mess. Since ancient times, we have entrusted specialized people to classify the world for us. Remember Deweyâ€™s decimal system of library classifications?
Now fast forward to the internet age. When Yahoo first launched it was nothing more that a classified directory of links to the different sites that existed on the internet. On the web, the physical limitations of libraries disappeared. Thus, on Yahoo, a site could be put under more that one category. Itâ€™s as if multiple copies of the abovementioned novel would be distributed on multiple library shelves.
But Yahooâ€™s directory remained, more or less, a taxonomy of sites that was determined by someone or some committee.
Now, with millions of people on the net, the full potential of the internet as the human raceâ€™s collective library is being realized. The net democratizes the production and access to information. Shouldnâ€™t it also democratize the classification of information? Couldnâ€™t â€˜folksâ€™ like us, collectively and collaboratively classify the world the way we want to? Well.. thatâ€™s whatâ€™s called â€˜folksonomyâ€™!
It is classification by the people for the people. In other words: throw away the library shelves and send the librarian home. On the net any of us can â€˜tagâ€™ a book, a weblink or a picture the way want. Itâ€™ss grassroots classification. Suppose the picture of the football is part of an online image library. If enough people tag the picture I mentioned earlier with the word â€˜sportâ€™ then someone doing an image search with the word â€˜sportâ€™, he or she will quickly get the football picture. And someone searching for pictures related to â€˜leatherâ€™, â€˜grassâ€™ and â€˜boringâ€™ will also get the picture eventually.
Folksonomy finds its practical application on the web in the so called â€˜taggingâ€™ phenomena. Pioneering sites like Flickr (Flickr.com) for photos and del.icio.us for links are two leading examples of sites that use tags heavily. You can tag any picture on Flickr the way you want and you can explore these sites using so called tag clouds (see picture). The more popular a tag is the bigger it gets displayed in the tag cloud, reflecting the communityâ€™s current preoccupation with a certain matter.
Folksonomy is an aspect the emerging trend of social software, which is enabling the evolution of the web from a global library to a global, ongoing, fluid conversation between individuals.