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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Monday, November 20, 2006

Folksonomy debate

Lots to say on MCN conference but for now just a note on a debate on the MCN list right now. Nick Poole responded to an article by Elaine Peterson on D-Lib (doi:10.1045/november2006-peterson) with the following:

I was really interested in the post around the 'Beneath
the Metadata' article.

I actually think the article has some pretty deep flaws.
First of all, it is not entirely clear why you would apply these philosophical
constructs to Folksonomy in the first place and secondly I don't think it helps
to further the understanding of what Folksonomy and 'traditional' cataloguing
are and how they might work together.

The article essentially says that classification is about
absolutes - this horse is white, that box is empty - whereas Folksonomy is about
subjectivity and relativism. It goes on to compare classification with
propositional logic and states that Folksonomy by its nature gives rise
logical contradiction. It strikes me that this misses a significant part of the
real value of the approach.

In her article, Elaine Peterson says that when we
catalogue, we are asking the question 'What is it?'. I couldn't disagree more.
What we are really asking is 'What are we going to call this thing (and things
relevantly similar to it)?'. In this sense, 'traditional' classification is an
act of collective relativism, and is equally subject to the flaws of
subjectivity as Folksonomy.

I have no doubt that the wave around Folksonomy will
eventually pass, and I very much hope that what will be left is an enriched
approach to professional classification.

There is considerable strength in a hybrid approach which
retains the intellectual rigour of ontological standardisation but which equally
recognises the additional potential value of large-scale subjective
term-attribution. For example, would it not validate our professional
beliefs if the subjective interpretations of tens of thousands of people
translated up into patterns of meaning which confirmed them? And similarly, if
they don't, wouldn't there be considerable value in asking why not?

Finally, whatever the linguistic consistency or validity of
folksonomic thesauri, we must never underestimate the importance of letting
people in.

The act of tagging is only partly to do with
classification. It is an affirmative act which says 'I want to be involved' and
for that alone, it is of tremendous value.

Interesting to read his thoughts, I wonder if they are developing in this direction as the SW thinktank progresses?

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