Folksonomies in Japanese

OK, I need some help from people who speak Japanese.

This post is about folksonomies (tagging), and how it might be really hard in Japanese. This is mostly speculation at this point, please comment or email me if you speak Japanese.

On the Sigia-L list, Fiona Bradley writes: “I don’t know Cantonese, but I have just started to learn Japanese and it’s not necessarily that the definitions of emotions are different, just that they are a lot more complex than in English once you factor in politeness levels and directness. And then there’s all the complications that arise from having many Kanji to choose from and many readings for each. If you’re just assigning a single word to a photo for instance, with no other words to define context, that may make the system quite difficult to search.

Bear in mind I’m a total beginner and others may know a lot more about this sort of thing, and I could be completely wrong!

I do know a guy that has written a book on English idioms for Cantonese speakers because those parts of language are almost impossible to translate. I don’t know if many folksonomy sites are using idiomatic tags but if they are, it’s another level of difficulty.”

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On the Sigia-L list (the archive is broken), Billie Mandel writes:

“I studied Russian for a year or so at university, and what fascinated me most about it was the manifold ways of expressing the English verb “to go” – you can go once or multiple times, on foot or by vehicle, go directly there/back or permit yourself to meander on the way, and express all of this intent in one simple verb selection. So when a Russian speaker tells me “I’m going to the store,” s/he has comparatively given me much more information than the comparable English speaker (native Russian speakers, please correct me if you disagree – this was my impression as a non-native learner).
These issues seem quite relevant to taxonomies that are meant for international audiences, or in a localization context. Usable structure for information and the level at which a given category is perceived could vary between languages, because of this kind of language-based cognitive difference (though I did once have this conversation with a linguist who thought this was absolute crap). Interesting to think about what it means in the context of bottom-up folksonomy – how this kind of one-to-many/vice versa map will develop in the chaotic universe of international web users.”

I am considering organizing an information architecture workshop in Barcelona, and I’m looking for feedback.

A day should be good, maybe a Saturday?

How about half a day of basics (taxonomies, cv’s, …), then half a day of advanced topics (facets, i18n ia, …). Comments welcome!

Other questions.
– Should it be in English or Spanish?
– What would be a good location?
– Are there enough people interested in this in Barcelona?

Hey, I just had an idea. You know we do the Lola y Bobo puppet show, right? Send in a script and a movie with you playing some other puppet, and I’ll film the Lola y Bobo part, and then post it. Collaborative puppeteering! Send the video to petervandijck at gmail (the google mail) dot com.

Many-to-Many: Folksonomy is better for cultural values: A response to danah: “The entire alt. hierarchy in usenet came into being because there was a proposal to create rec.drugs, and there was concern that usenet, running in part over an NSF-funded network, would be shut down. The alt.* hierarchy was a compromise, to allow some face saving in suggesting that the *.drugs group was not ‘official’. And of course, alt. (an early folksonomy, albeit highly compromised by usenet’s hierarchical design) ballooned to many times the size of the ‘official’ usenet.)”

alex wright: “In The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco creates the cautionary figure of Salvatore, a fallen monk who “spoke all languages and no languages.”

Burningbird � Cheap Eats at the Semantic Web Caf�. Shelley on tags and folksonomies. Mmmm. I’m gonna be brief here: Shelley’s point seems to be: “tags won’t scale because they’re too easy and don’t contain enough semantic information” (flat namespace and all).

I don’t think that’s right. There is a LOT we can do to add semantics to tags: who created them, what namespace they come from (yes, most tags DO come from a namespace), algorythmical parsing of all kinds (related, …), mapping to controlled vocabs (use Wordnet to find synonyms or something). Look at the amount of innovation that has been done with search algorythms. The same can happen with tags.

That said, I do believe tags are strongest when tagging content that doesn’t contain text by and of itself (url’s, images, movies).

ecto blog

I am trying ecto for Windows XP with my WordPress 1.2 blog. It shows the categories of my blog in the ecto interface, so there is some communication with the WordPress going on, but when I try to post a new post, I get:

“Server error: Response from server does not contain valid xml. ”

Any tips? I tried searching for help but no luck.

The Maori versus Dewey

My series of posts on international information architecture:

  1. Translating taxonomies and categories
  2. Translating categories, translating terms
  3. Translating the Dewey Decimal Classification system
  4. Designing the relationship between content and locales
  5. Emergent i18n effects in folksonomies
  6. The Maori versus Dewey, and why limiting access can be culturally appropriate. (This post.)

While doing research on cultural differences in information needs, I came across the fascinating paper “Cross-cultural usability of the library metaphor” (Elke Duncker, 2002). It talks about how people from the Maori tribes have problems with libraries. There is a lot of good stuff in the paper, but the two things I want to talk about today are:

  • How Dewey subjects headings really don’t work for the Maori. (Really)
  • How sometimes, limiting access can be culturally appropriate.

Let’s get going.

Have you seen the movie Whalerider? Those are the Maori, a Polynesian culture with an oral tradition. Libraries are common to all written cultures, but oral cultures have other ways to keep their stories: songs, story gatekeepers and such. The paper describes the Maori way:

Traditionally Maori knowledge has been transferred orally. For centuries, Maori knowledge and skills have been handed down from one selected person to the next. While no individual knew everything, all knowledge was available within the tribe or sub-tribe at any given time. The keeper of the knowledge was seen as a living repository of this knowledge. He or she was supposed to ‘look after the knowledge’ which meant to memorize it in great detail, to use it for the best of the tribe and to pass it on to the next person selected to look after it. Genealogies were the core of traditional Maori knowledge.

Even today, Maori trace their ancestors back to a particular passenger of one of the canoes with which they came. This knowledge is tapu and not for public display.

The Maori that use libraries today are a bi-cultural elite: they grew up in Maori culture, but also had access to mainstream culture. Still, they have a lot of problems finding things in the libraries. One of the main problems is the Dewey classification system used to organize things.

melvin dewey Melvin Dewey was a white westerner, and his classification system is well known for showing western biases. For example, here is the “Religion” subsection:

210 Natural theology
220 Bible
230 Christian Theology
240 Christian moral & devotional theology
250 Christian orders & local churches
260 Christian social theology
270 Christian church history
280 Christian denominations & sects
290 Other and comparative religions

You can see how this taxonomy is somewhat western-centered, right? Just a little bit? Still, the Dewey system has survived, and is used in libraries throughout the world.

Now, apart from it’s obvious flaws, there are deeper, cultural problems with Dewey, or any classification system for that matter. It’s roots are so ingrained in us that it’s hard to see how someone might see the world in a fundamentally different way.

The Maori worldview is very much centered around the tribal world, and the backbone of the Maori tribal world is genealogy (ancestry). If a Maori wants to find information about their culture, a really important way for them to search is by genealogy, all the way back to that original canoe. Unfortunately, Maori genealogy isn’t represented in Dewey’s classification system.

From the paper:

Maori knowledge, when divided into subject areas based upon Anglo-American categories, becomes scattered across the library in a seemingly random way. Texts that belong together undergo an artificial division and end up in different places. Subsequently, it is difficult and tiresome to find them and bring them back together again. The following quote exemplifies

“I found that some of the cataloguing as far as themes [were concerned] wasn’t very good… I actually think that some of it should be focused in one area. So this is the collection pertaining to so and so, and I know that it doesn’t fit Dewey, but he is American. He aha?â€?

In other words, the Maori have their own way of classifying their knowledge. If you try to re-classify it into a western system, it looses most of the meaning and logic for a Maori. Suddenly, they can’t find anything anymore.

To address this problem, the maori subject headings committee was recently created to provide a new taxonomy that’s going to appropriate for this culture. They have developed a Iwi HapÅ« Names List (reflecting the importance of genealogy in Maori culture this was their first achievement), and are now working on a Maori subject list.

The second thing I wanted to talk about is how, sometimes, limiting access can be culturally appropriate. Most information architects don’t like the idea of limiting access – we’re all about findability, remember? Too often limiting access serves the powerful. In this case, it serves the relatively powerless.

A really important concept in Maori culture is “tapu”. From the paper:

The word is usually translated to ‘sacred’ and sometimes to ‘set apart’. The tribal meeting house is sacred, as is the tribal knowledge. People are set apart for being warriors or priests. There are many meanings and attendant conditions of tapu, which are difficult to understand, particularly for non-Maori. For our purpose it may suffice to understand that tapu foremost represents the power of the creator, but other gods endow things and people with tapu as well. Tapu can be good or bad. A whole system of sanctification and nullification keeps the various forms of tapu in balance and life workable.

Representations of people are very tapu, as are tribal genealogy, knowledge and ritual items. It does not matter whether the representations take the form of texts, pictures or carvings. They are only allowed to be used in their sacred, tribal, dignified environment with the attendant rituals in place and are treated with the utmost respect.

“Western” libraries contain a lot of the information and artefacts of Maori culture, and this open access is extremly frustrating for many Maori. The internet (including, perhaps, this article) makes things even worse. It may be hard to appreciate this desire for closedness, but it is an integral part of Maori culture. I am not sure how to deal with this, a big part of me wants to say “the Maori should accept openness, because it helps them find things”, but another part of me understands that this is, deeply, a part of their culture, and should be respected.

So not many answers in this post, just some thoughts around how some cultures have truly different ways of organizing the world than the western culture has, and how closedness is also a part of some cultures.

Now, Maori culture is, in a way, for webdesign purposes, an edge case. In that most of us don’t design websites or information architectures for the Maori. There are a lot of cultures like this, but you could argue that, for practical purposes, most of the websites we build are for mostly written cultures, and I wonder if similar cultural differences come into play there. Any ideas?

Follow up reading:

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Rashmi’s Blog: Google’s pragmatic, data-driven approach to user interface design: so at Google (being a data company with a huge customer base), they user test with data: make a small change, show it to a subset of users, and track the results. Amazon uses this approach too.

Also: “The “I am Feeling Lucky” button is not used much. But their focus group participants always tell them they like it, and ask Google not to remove it (even though these participants have never used that button, nor do they ever intend to use it!). So its not all rationality and data driven design at Google!”

Peterme also follows up.

alex wright: “Back in the 1970s, Sanford (Sandy) Berman, the head cataloger at Hennepin County Library in Minnesota, did something librarians rarely do: He started making up his own subject headings.”

An early tagger.

OK, I want to do Flickr-style related tags, but this is too hard-core techie for me to pull off, I’ll need some help.

Let’s say I have a database with a table TAGS, a table OBJECTS and a table TAGS2OBJECTS. If given the ID of a TAG, how can I find a list of ID’s for related TAGS, in other words, tags that have been assigned to similar objects? Is it just a query or should I add some table or field to the tables?