According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index the total amount of data transferred over global mobile networks in 2010 was 237 petabytes per month, which has tripled over the past decade. The same report goes on to speculate that this figure will climb to 6.3 exabytes by 2015, an increase of 92 percent. This is a ridiculous amount of information and much of it is being created by the average user. For site owners or web masters to sift through all of this information to systematically catalog and index every item would be both monotonous and a huge waste of time and money. This is where folksonomies come in. As outlined in “Folksonomies: Indexing and Retrieval in Web 2.0,”
“Folksonomies are part of a new generation of tools for the retrieval, deployment, representation and production of information, commonly termed ‘Web 2.0.’” (Peters 1)
Folksonomies offer a way to collaboratively work with users to create a categorization system built from their own tags. There are obvious benefits to using them, such as freeing up time by outsourcing work to the user, but there are also potential flaws with using a folksonomy system.
As I’ve stated twice, indexing can be an expensive process requiring many people and a lot of time. Depending on the amount of content being created on a site, it may be more feasible to have the users index it simply to save time. In most cases of sites that use folksonomies, such as Facebook or Flickr, the content that is being tagged is often provided by the users as well. Since the content is coming from the users, it makes sense to have them tag the items because they are the ones aware of the information contained in the content. There are differing variants of content access available ranging from broad; allowing all users to edit tags, commonly seen in online forums, to narrow; allowing only the owner of the content to add and modify tags (Peters 104). An alternative use for tags can be seen on social bookmarking sites that allow users to bookmark and tag other websites. Tagging is a versatile way to index large amounts of user generated data.
There are, however, several flaws with using this type of system. The most oft cited complaint with folksonomies is that they are an imprecise way to organize data (Guy and Tonkin 2). Because the users are the ones inputting the tags they can easily become overly personalized, making searches by other users difficult if not impossible. Many tags are ‘single-use’ in that they are only ever used to reference one item, clogging the database with excessive terms. There are also so many word variants that could arise, such as synonyms and homonyms, that could be mistakenly entered making more unsearchable entries. Finally, users are free to enter nonsense tags, such as random strings of characters, making for absolutely useless tags (though there are occasions where nonsense tags can actually be very meaningful, such as the tag “241543903”).
While there are clearly very obvious benefits to using a folksonomy as your indexing system, it is definitely not a system designed to be used for every kind of site.
“Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2010–2015.” http://www.cisco.com. 1 Feb, 2011. Web. 1 Mar, 2011.
Peters, Isabella. Folksonomies: Indexing and Retrieval in Web 2.0.
Mörlenbach, Germany: De Gruyter, 2009. Print.
Guy, Marieke and Emma Tonkin. “Folksonomies: Tidying up Tags?”
D-Lib Magazine. http://www.dlib.org. Jan, 2006. Web. 1 Mar, 2011.