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Thoughts on Folksonomy
Friday, January 7, 2005

Most readers of this weblog have probably already seen Del.ici.us, the social bookmark website. It lets people share and categorize bookmarks collaboratively. The categorization exists in what has come to be called a Folksonomy (which is a nice neologism). This is good but as the Wikipedia entry on social bookmarking says

Drawbacks of current implementations include: single word categories, no mechanism to define or refine categories, no synonym/antonym control or related terms & no hierarchy.

Some see this as a benefit

If I had to sum up the Web's effects on the world, I'd say "surprised by simplicity." Unlike most other technologies, we're witnessing a shift to simpler apps over time, as with the way million dollar CMS systems and collaboration via Lotus Notes shifts to weblogs and wikis. del.icio.us hits that same pattern - not a single wasted feature, it just works the way the Web does.

Wikis are nice, e-mail is nice, wood stoves are nice too. Nonetheless I get tired of chopping wood sometimes and of managing SPAM and of having to edit multiple pages to manage to-do lists and categorization. Web applications may not have wasted features (see also this peon for general simplicity) but they often seem to waste my time and mental effort.

The way I see it (from a distance, through a glass, darkly), the semantic web provides mechanisms for structuring the web but is not structuring itself. That requires the addition of categorization and structure (C&S). A few years ago, categorization was done entirely by humans, was private and only occasionally persistent (i.e., bookmark lists). Today, Google does a sort of on the fly categorization, Clusty does real clustering, Wikis and Del.ici.us provide persistent, human created structure. Life is better.

There are, however, at least two opportunities here:

1. Applying topic tracking, categorization, clustering and other AI techniques to the creation and application of C&S

2. Extending the sort of things one can say in C&S. For example, adding the mechanisms to "define and refine categories, synonym/antonym control, related terms and hierarchy. These are all the sorts of things that "real" ontologies / taxonomies should have.

Doing this right would be good.


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