The debate about the various merits of taxonomies vs. folksonomies will probably continue long after I’ve departed this mortal life; it’s the lifeblood of dyed-in-the-wool information professionals. Based on experience I’ve had in implementing enterprise search solutions, users presented with either a taxonomic organisation of content vs. doing a keyword or free-text search for what they are seeking, the vast majority of users will choose a free-text search. The reason being that users don’t want to spend valuable time trying to understand the taxonomy, and particularly where the new breed of search engine is able to return relevant results AND cater for the serendipitous nature of some search queries. Interestingly, Verity (since bought by Autonomy, which was itself bought by Hewlett Packard….are you keeping up?!) had developed a collaborative taxonomy facility for their K2 search engine, where common terms could be identified for taxonomy labels. Sounds to me that they had recognised the limitations of the inflexible top-down taxonomy approach and were heading towards the realms of folksonomies without realising it. David Weinberger once said:
Folksonomies are not only frequently more useful than top-down
taxonomies; they better reflect the bottom-up, messy, ambiguous,
inconsistent, social nature of meaning, despite Aristotle and the
tradition his genius spawned.
I couldn’t have put it better myself!
Stephen is Director and founder of Collabor8now Ltd, an organization focussed on developing collaborative environments (e.g. Communities of Practice) and the integration of knowledge management tools and processes to support business improvement. He is a certified knowledge manager with the Knowledge Management Institute (KMI) and the author of several published research papers on collaborative behaviours and information technology.