Off the Top: Language Entries

July 14, 2007

Understanding Taxonomy and Folksonmy Together

I deeply appreciate Joshua Porter's link to from his Taxonomies and Tags blog post. This is a discussion I have quite regularly as to the relation and it is in my presentations and workshops and much of my tagging (and social web) training, consulting, and advising focusses on getting smart on understanding the value and downfalls of folksonomy tagging (as well as traditional tagging - remember tagging has been around in commercial products since at least the 1980s). The following is my response in the comments to Josh' post...

Response to Taxonomy and Tags

Josh, thanks for the link. If the world of language were only this simple that this worked consistently. The folksonomy is a killer resource, but it lacks structure, which it crucial to disambiguating terms. There are algorithmic ways of getting close to this end, but they are insanely processor intensive (think days or weeks to churn out this structure). Working from a simple flat taxonomy or faceted system structure can be enabled for a folksonomy to adhere to.
This approach can help augment tags to objects, but it is not great at finding objects by tags as Apple would surface thousands of results and they would need to be narrowed greatly to find what one is seeking.
There was an insanely brilliant tool, RawSugar [(now gone thanks to venture capitalists pulling the plug on a one of a kind product that would be killer in the enterprise market)], that married taxonomy and folksonomy to help derive disambiguation (take appleseed as a tag, to you mean Johnny Appleseed, appleseed as it relates to gardening/farming, cooking, or the anime movie. The folksonomy can help decipher this through co-occurrence of terms, but a smart interface and system is needed to do this. Fortunately the type of system that is needed to do this is something we have, it is a taxonomy. Using a taxonomy will save processor time, and human time through creating an efficient structure.
Recently I have been approached by a small number of companies who implemented social bookmarking tools to develop a folksonomy and found the folksonomy was [initially] far more helpful than they had ever imagined and out paced their taxonomy-based tools by leaps and bounds (mostly because they did not have time or resources to implement an exhaustive taxonomy (I have yet to find an organization that has an exhaustive and emergent taxonomy)). The organizations either let their taxonomist go or did not replace them when they left as they seemed to think they did not need them with the folksonomy running. All was well and good for a while, but as the folksonomy grew the ability to find specific items decreased (it still worked fantastically for people refinding information they had personally tagged). These companies asked, "what tools they would need to start clearing this up?" The answer a person who understands information structure for ease of finding, which is often a taxonomist, and a tool that can aid in information structure, which is often a taxonomy tool.
The folksonomy does many things that are difficult and very costly to do in taxonomies. But taxonomies do things that folksonomies are rather poor at doing. Both need each other.

Complexity Increases as Folksonomies Grow

I am continually finding organizations are thinking the social bookmarking tools and folksonomy are going to be simple and a cure all, but it is much more complicated than that. The social bookmarking tools will really sing for a while, but then things need help and most of the tools out there are not to the point of providing that assistance yet. There are whole toolsets missing for monitoring and analyzing the collective folksonomy. There is also a need for a really good disambiguation tool and approach (particularly now that RawSugar is gone as a viable approach).

November 21, 2005

Language as a Divider

A wonderful piece about language and experience by Meg had me recalling recent language adventures. Having been in the Netherlands, Brussels, Berlin, and Boston in recent weeks the shifting of language (and jet lag) and its impact on communication was brought back to me.

While much of the Netherlands (particularly Amsterdam) is fluent in English, I always feel badly using it as my default. The downside is I really do not speak Dutch, I have a vocabulary of about 20 or so words (although this last trip thank you was about the extent of it) so I fall back on English very quickly. Being of Dutch ancestry is the driver for the guilt, I feel like I am letting down previous generations.

The trip to Brussels was a little more problematic as English is not spoken everywhere, but they do speak French (I know a little more French than Dutch)and Flemish (close to Dutch, but not my forte). I had to rely on friends (mostly Dutch) to navigate menus and other essentials. But, Brussels is a very English friendly city.

Now we get to Berlin. I speak some German (Deutsch) from years of schooling. I can get by with my remedial Geutsch, but it does not get me as far as I would like. I can ask, "what beer is she drinking" and then follow-up with "I would like a large one of those, please". Food is fine, but complex directions (particularly with a city whose parts I am not familiar nor the transportation systems) were lost on me. These needed English. I also found that nearly all of the channels on my television at the hotel were in Deutsch (except for a time slice of CNN interwoven), although others friends in the hotel seemed to have more English channel access (could be related to my horribly flakey WiFi, which they did not experience either). All of the newspaper options in the hotel were in Deutsch, which made the Financial Times not quite as wonderful as usual.

When I got to Boston and checked into my hotel I went out to go to the reception and passed a newsstand on Harvard Square that was selling the Financial Times I had been trying all day (18 hours already) to get my hands on. When I went to ask for the paper my English had failed me. I had lost all languages for a moment. Language quickly returned, but I could easily ask for the paper in Deutsch, as well as for how much, and say thank you in Deutsch or Dutch. This I knew would not get me far. I just sort of mumbled something in some language and tucked my paper in the back pocket of my Barber coat and went off into the night.

I usually have this problem in English as I can always think of the larger words, but always pause to think of the more simple words or the one that is more culturally appropriate. English is not one language, but many culturally loaded variants. The use of sofa rather than couch or supper rather than dinner frames who you are in other people's minds. Let alone various terms from cross professional disciplines, which can quickly alienate you or engender you to those to whom you are speaking. So I often pause to pull from the appropriate vocabulary, but most often I can only think of one term and just go with it, then hope I get called on it so I can explain I am not exactly the person they think I am (that rarely happens and inferences of who I am are sealed). C'est la Vie!

June 1, 2002

Success lost in the translation

Problems of information use are high-lighted in NY Times Op/Ed "Lost in Translation at the F.B.I.", which to me is a horrifying look at the lack of understanding of what information gathering and analysing skill are needed to do the job.

May 3, 2002

French phrases you did not learn

Helpful (?) French phrases that had me laughing this morning. [hat tip punkprincess]

March 24, 2002

Metaphor of Attraction

Beginning with a discussion with Stewart on Peterme and the encouragement of Lane in another discussion to look for a metaphor other than navigation that could better explain what we do on the Web. Seeing Stewart walk by at SXSW after I had seen some of Josh Davis visual plays I combined the discussion with Stewart with the magnetic attraction Josh showed, which began my thinking about a metaphor of attraction. Magnetism seems like what happens when we put a search term in Google, it attracts information that is draw to the term on to your screen.

Come see where else this metaphor can go in this poorly written for draft of the metaphor of attraction. This is posted to begin a collaboration to dig back and move forward, if that is where this is to go. The writing will improve and the ideas will jell into a better presentation over the next few weeks.

March 15, 2002

Based on descussions begun with Stewart, Peter, Lane, and others in, beginning in discussions about navigation as a poor metaphor for the interaction of humans and information on the Web (which really breaks down further when looking at other types of Internet information interaction), I am working on another metaphor that struck me while in Austin. Lane asked in another conversation for alternatives to the navigation metaphor. I will be posting a series on this site that will open the idea for discussion and help finding holes or coming to the conclusion the idea sucks. The postings will most likely begin next week sometime. I am going to put the idea past a few friends at the IA Summit and see how hard they laugh or like it. For me the concept is working so far and seems to have a decent reach into Web and non-Web Internet interactions with information. No I am not going to state it now, but I will soon.

November 23, 2001

One of the reasons that I love the Internet is its ability to be a conduit for exchanging ideas and discussion of topics. Not that this is not is new, it isn't. The comment tools in use on Web pages provides the ability to not only share ideas, but capture them for further use. Discussions are not lost in the ether as they can be at conferences, but they are stored for later reference.

This has been going on the past few days at Peter's site in a discussion about the term of use, Information Architect. The discussion has somewhat turned to the use of spatial metaphors to describe the Web and its use. None of the participants are really with in a short drive of each other. We are all sharpening our knowledge and ideas and changing perspectives to some degree. The Internet provides an amazing resource for life learners and bringing people of similar mind together to interact.

November 1, 2001

I really enjoyed reading Jef Raskin's "There is No Such Thing as Information Design". This takes me right back to communication theory class. To be specific Jef clarifies with, "Information cannot be designed; what can be designed are the modes of transfer and the representations of information. This is inherent in the nature of information, and it is important for designers to keep the concepts of information and meaning distinct."

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