Findability and folksonomies

I am blogging some stuff from the iainstitute mailing list, whose archive is currently not public, which is kinda ironic for an organization that focuses on findability.

Anyways. Peter Morville (with a new book on findability) and Thomas Vanderwal (who coined the term folksonomy) sparring over folksonomies:

Thomas, refering to an article Peter wrote:

“I really like most of the article. I agree with the Wikipedia section, but have more scepticism as the *folksonomy* entry is nearly always wrong these days with the definition and examples it gives.

I do start running into problems with your article in the folksonomy area. I agree that early on the Technorati folks coopted the folksonomy term, but they have shied away from its use of late as they realize it is not what it is doing with their tagging effort.

What Technorati is doing is what Cory Doctorow labelled Metacrap.

Technorati tagging is a gory mess, it adds little value, it captures a variety of tagging (and decidedly non-tagging — commercial weblog tools have their categories counted as tags by Technorati) practices with various points of view and gumbles them up. It could even be worse than Metacrap. I have talked with them a fair amount about how to approach fixing it and time will show if they have an interest.

It seems you have had blinders on with the folksonomy tools since the IA Summit in Montreal Peter. As the serendipity tools like have been growing up into fairly decent findability tools as their corpus of materials grows. The creator of has left his day job and has been focussing on the tool as a full-time job and has five other developers now making the product better. They built their own search engine which has just gone live and is permitting their corpus, which is based on their contributors’ point of view, to be used more easily.

Having just returned from Europe from the Euro IA Summit, I had a lot of discussions with people there about folksonomy. Many wished I had presented on that subject or were writing a book on the subject (hmm…). There is a problem in Europe and with the rest of the world
that folksonomies help resolve, it is a cross-cultural tool. It easily leverages the language of those tagging from one culture and uses the object being tagged as a pivot to find other cultures vocabulary for similar objects. Folksonomies are quite a popular tool in non-parochial Amerian eyes. They help greatly with findability.

The key piece is that the folksonomy tools are broad folksonomies so people can pivot.


Peter answers:

I’m glad you enjoyed (most of) the authority article, and I appreciate your thoughtful response. I do think folksonomies as an experimental subject are very interesting, and I don’t dispute that tagging can improve findability and refindability. I’m just not sure that most people most of the time will find it worth the investment in the long-run. I forced myself to try before the IA summit panel so I’d have something useful to say about it. I haven’t used it since. In any case, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on some (but not all) of these issues.


You really should try again, particularly since most of what you stated is has not been the case for many months and you are a voice of authority. You should also try Yahoo’s My Web. Yes, they do take a little time, but the pay off is quite grand.



When I get a chance, I will revisit and explore Yahoo’s My Web.
Then I will be much better prepared to criticize them :-) In the meantime, I
will maintain my skepticism, based purely on my problem with the following

“Yes, they do take a little time, but the pay off is quite grand.”

Google Desktop takes no time and the refindability payoff is arguably much

0 thoughts on “Findability and folksonomies

  1. Haha. Got to love the long comments….

    You’re right about technoratti tags.. are they relevant enough for spammers yet?!

    But you’re wrong about delicious. I’ve been using it PROLIFICALLY and the ability to recall information from it is amazing. I’ve never lost something I’ve tagged with That’s said I’m still experimenting. How many tags is to many 1000, 2000, 10000. I’m well on my way. Also, will it still work in two years, ten years? How does it scale? 20,000 bookmarks.. 100,000?

    Therein you can see the difference though. I’m tagging for MYSELF. Not to promote and market. What in the hell was technoratti thinking.

    What makes technoratti fail and delicious work is TRUST CIRCLES. Circles of trust, boundaries. It’s basic group psychology. Groups must have boundaries. Sure technoratti has a boundary, it’s the blogosphere. But ironically blogger, another google service is now getting spammed to hell (blogs created just for spamming) because the boundaries are so low. Blogger is not the problem though. Blogs should be available to all PEOPLE, emphasis on the people. Yeah, ok, so some of the problem is bloggers for not filtering out bots. But technoratti and google search are the real problems, also other search engines. They need to keep innovating to stay ahead of the spam, but the thing is they can’t with tags. Or.. it’ll at least be very hard. My suggestion would be putting more emphasis on verification that blogs are legit. Strengthening the boundary. But still this is only part of the problem. has 3 trust circles.

    1) me – I tag for myself first

    2) my friends and channels

    3) everyone on, minus people I can block

    It’s only because delicious aligns itself with our selfish interests, has multiple well defined boundaries to define trust and finally has a flag again spammers that it works so well for tagging.

    On the other hand technoratti sucks because it’s implementation of tagging is as a communal activity with poorly defined boundaries, no safeguards, and worst of all tagging doesn’t help ME, the tagger find things, it helps me push my things on others.

    Can technoratti tagging still work? Well, I’m surprised it’s lasted this long. But I think they might be able to get more milage out of it if they

    1) as mentioned, get a hold on verifying which blogs are spam and which aren’t. This should be infinitely easier that say, email. Because blogs are based on a subscription mechanism and all you have to do is verify the source, aka, the domain, or the individual feed. They could even put in a mechanism for reporting spam, and I’m betting the community will rally around them. That’s sort of point 3 though, provide a mechanism for reporting spam

    2) technoratti needs to put more emphasis on how individuals can use tags on THEIR blog. For example. I should be able to view all blog posts tagged with said tag on my blog. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m tagging to promoting my posts which encourages lying, but while their implementing it they can think of more ways to realign tagging with more “selfish” interests. Perhaps the only thing that’s kept people honest is that technoratti tags have to be visible. Oh, and I like that they work of blog categories for several popular blog packages like wordpress and typepad… more of that is what we need… thats proper alignment of interests because the tags are based of my own interests. Ironic though isn’t it… that blogger STILL does not have categories and it and technoratti are both owned by google? Once again google’s left hand is part of the problem with it’s right hand.

    3) Technoratti needs a system for reporting or flagging blog spam… See point 1.

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