Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Ethnoclassification and vernacular vocabularies (peterme.com)

Ethnoclassification and vernacular vocabularies

First off, I think we should drop the term "folksonomy." No offense to Thomas -- it's a catchy term, which, I guess, is why it has caught on. It's also inaccurate. What bugs me most is the use of the word "taxonomy." Taxonomies tend toward hierarchy, and they tend to be imposed. Tagging does not a taxonomy make.

What we're talking about here is "classification." In rooting around, trying to find some prior research on this topic, I plugged "folk classification" into Google, it turns out that anthropologists have done some thinking around this, particularly with respect to ethnobiology, or how the folk approach biology, and ethnoscience.

This lead me to think that the appropriate term would be "ethnoclassification", and when I plugged that into Google, I found "Slouching Toward Infrastructure", a page for a 1996 Digital Libraries Workshop lead by Susan Leigh Star.

The practice of tagging on del.icio.us works because, at its heart, it's meant for the use of the individual doing the tagging. The fact that it contributes to the group is a happy by-product... But as a tool for group tagging, it's woefully insufficient. Del.icio.us has a very low findability quotient. It's great for serendipity and browsing, and an utter disaster for anything targeted.

I'm not sure that I agree that there is no use for this sort of organizing. I think that it can be used to gather a vocabulary and help people be able find themselves in the searches they are doing.

Of course, I'm not sure exactly how I think this is useful -- perhaps as a test way of generating a series of important word to be added to a proper hierarchical taxonomy.