Sunday, 7 September 2014

The battle of giants.... Taxonomy vs folksonomy

Martial Raysse - Painting exhibited at
Raysse exhibition in Paris
The other day I came across Patrick Lambe's (Patrick is one of my knowledge management mentors) book entitled "Organizing Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness".

Patrick wrote this book about seven years ago. Reflecting on the changes over the last seven years, and more specifically the fact that folksonomy has somewhat invaded and overshadowed taxonomy's territory, I am wondering how relevant taxonomy may be today....

Of course, it goes without saying that taxonomy is the foundation for folksonomy.

To use an analogy, while today there are fewer and fewer artists producing Piero della Francesca type masterpieces and perhaps we see more Martial Raysse type works of art; yet both pieces of art stir emotions, are admirable, appealing to our various senses.

Portrait of Duke and Duchess of Urbino
By Piero della Francesca
Art critiques go out of their way to analyze both the old and the new. And art students cannot finish their degree without learning all there is to learn about art history.

In a way, this may holds true with folksonomy. Do we need to have some understanding of taxonomy to create good and meaningful hashtags, tags or labels?


No doubt that the 21st century knowledge worker, needs to have some understanding of good classification practices - and I guess you can call it taxonomy.

Similarly, Martial Raysse most probably studied Piero della Francesca's work extensively before he did his masterpiece.

I'm not an art critique, so I will limit my observations to the KM world..... I believe today's knowledge worker  is perhaps a bit luckier than his/her ancestors, as  thanks to folksonomy - which is a less rigid,  more dynamic and user-friendly - we do not need to adhere to "forced rules" and can create our classification as and when needed.

This means that while some of the classifications (hashtags, tags or labels) will end up staying with us for a long period of time, others, once they have served their purpose will die of natural death.

More importantly, folksonomy does not require us to retrofit our classification system.... What ever was - continues to be - and what ever is to be, will benefit from the new classification.

Another advantage of folksonomy is the fact that we do not  need to use or memorize a huge tome of terms,  become experts or rely on experts to classify content.

When hashtags - which are our new way of classifying content - go viral, we all become experts as we find it pretty intuitive to use the right hashtag, label or tag  for  the right content.

I may have oversimplified it tremendously, but I cannot help asking myself whether we still need taxonomy in its original incarnation to help us share content, or if folksonomy and what ever will come next is doing an equally good if not a better job?

I  love to hear Patrick's and your view on this.




3 comments:

Roxanna Samii said...

Patrick Lambe - left this comment on the Facebook post I shared with him:
Folksonomies are fine if you are organizing stuff for yourself or in informal communities, but you need taxonomies for formal sharing where the stakes are higher. For example, lessons learned in emergency response or water management - if you don't have some level of control over the categories then different people will naturally use different tags for the same concept, and the lessons get scattered across those different tags instead of being aggregated so that you can see the patterns and relationships. A good taxonomist can "farm" Folksonomies however, to build relationships between tags people use.

Roxanna Samii said...

And this was my reply to Patrick's comment": Dear Patrick thanks for reading the blogpost and your comment. I may be simplifying this a bit, just wondering whether today "scattered" content is challenge.... or whether content aggression algorithms and interconnected content in some ways (and perhaps) in the vast majority of cases address this issue.
BTW - I've posted both our comments on the blogpost... Baci

Roxanna Samii said...

Patrick Lambe: It is definitely a challenge inside enterprises, especially in high stakes areas where precision of language and the ability to aggregate relevant resources is important - healthcare, military, litigation, safety and risk management.