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The Indefinite Article.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tagging Systems, Ontology

Can't sleep so started reading about tagging systems, folksomononies and such. Came across this essay called "Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags". Found it to be an interesting read. Has not helped me sleep though.
Well-managed, well-groomed organizational schemes get worse with scale, both because the costs of supporting such schemes at large volumes are prohibitive, and, as I noted earlier, scaling over time is also a serious problem. Tagging, by contrast, gets better with scale. With a multiplicity of points of view the question isn't "Is everyone tagging any given link 'correctly'", but rather "Is anyone tagging it the way I do?" As long as at least one other person tags something they way you would, you'll find it -- using a thesaurus to force everyone's tags into tighter synchrony would actually worsen the noise you'll get with your signal. If there is no shelf, then even imagining that there is one right way to organize things is an error.

Meaning is agreement. Most people disagree with the crazy person.


  • I think Clay Shirky is overstating his case, to the degree that I can understand what it is. There are some internal contradictions, like: Classifying something as "East Germany" is bad b/c countries are impermanent, or tagging something as "to read" is good because the tag represents state. There are some simplifications, like how he never mentions topic-area cross references in card catalogues when discussing traditional methods, which gives his treatment of Dewey and LoC a swell of staw-man. He doesn't state any obvious disadvantage about informal tag-based classification systems, like del.icios.us' lack of spaces, or that the basic focal categores are "recent" and "popular," which reflect its limited scope. Perhaps Wikipedia would be a better example, but no, it is not a "folksonomy."

    I totally agree with Shirky: it would have been great if Google was around whenever they started the Library of Congress. But it wasn't, so there are a bunch of different ways of doing things now-a-days and the new ways principally work with the new stuff. I guess that is why Yahoo bought del.icio.us. Maybe if Shirky worked for AOL, he would say "keyword" instead of "tag?"

    This is a gem: "Cities are real. They are real, physical facts. Countries are social fictions." -Shirky

    Sure they are:
    "Istanbul was Constantinople
    Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
    Been a long time gone, Constantinople
    Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night" -They Might Be Giants

    By Blogger Adolph, at 10:15 PM  

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