First person: ‘Folksonomy’ takes power from expert librarians, an article by David Bowen of Bowen Craggs & Co in the Financial Times‘s Digital Business section on November 7th highlights some of the advantages of having a well-crafted carefully structured taxonomy instead of relying on folksonomies. He says that folksonomies are great in some cases, but that really valuable information is by definition specialised and therefore doesn’t get read by enough people for mass social tagging to be helpful.
I think there are two key limitations to the usefulness of the folksonomic approach. Firstly, you need loads of people. If you don’t have a huge number of people actively tagging – and only huge mass market websites do – you don’t generate a large enough data set to get a decent signal-to-noise ratio. Secondly, it has to be of no consequence if chunks of your content are never found due to weird or bad tagging. This is fine for Flickr, say, where people just want any old picture, not to see all the pictures. It’s not so great if you want to make sure you have checked every one – that you’ve looked at all the relevant legislation, for example, not just the first couple of laws that happened to pop up.