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Folksonomies vs. Controlled Vocabularies


teaperson writes "Clay Shirky of NYU writes on Corante about how "folksonomies" (taxonomies created by social networks, like or flickr will often work better (and alongside) controlled vocabularies, because the costs are so much lower -- and non-librarians will use them BECAUSE the costs are lower."
We've run something on this before as well. Be sure to read Louis Rosenfeld's Take as well as Adam Mathes. Do folksonomies mean the end of cataloging as we know it?


I'm intrigued by the discussion that's playing out in the comments of the post about folksonomies and controlled vocabularies working together. Somebody explicitly draws the Wikipedia parallel -- for all Wikipedia is open, there is control. It's control by a band of consistent and dedicated volunteers, but control nonetheless. Open source software would be another good parallel. Anybody can contribute to the Linux kernel and distribute their own, yet community enforced standards make sure that the benefits of that collective and uncontrolled change aren't outweighed by chaos.

As online communities make it easier and easier for new concepts and tools (which require new taxonomies) to spread, this speed and cheapness of folksonomies are extremely compelling. Yet mixing that with some control would be great.

I would love it if livejournal would add a small controlled vocabulary to its "interests" list. As it is, 29 users and one community interested in "libaries" (sic). It makes searching for people with similar interests ... a challenge. But the user-development of it means that popular and yet bizarre interests have a chance to exist.

"Do folksonomies mean the end of cataloging as we know it?"Good lord, I hope not! I agree with the point that folksonomies are cheaper and easier to use. But that surely doesn't mean that cataloging is over, I hope and pray.I worked on a metadata project once for a library -- I was the only cataloger on it and it drove me NUTS to see the random terms people (mostly student workers and volunteers) came up with in the project to describe the content of materials. Just look at Deborah's example above of "libaries" in LiveJournal or the example of squirrel vs. squirrels in Flikr mentioned in one of the articles. Yes, the folksonomy gets the job done on the cheap, and it's good enough for a lot of purposes. But I hope for library catalog purposes we stand by the use of controlled vocabularies and good descriptive techniques, even if they are more expensive and harder to use. Controlled vocab provides for better access and is worth it in the long run for what we do.