Folksonomies, Taxonomies, Tagging, and Rating - Share Point 2010

When it comes to structuring information, you can employ one of two approaches: You can either organize the information within a well-defined and widely understood hierarchical structure so that users know where to look for something, or you can build an index that can be scanned to find relevant content.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. In the hierarchical approach, content creators must understand and adhere strictly to the hierarchy; changing the structure over time causes confusion. In the indexed approach, the usefulness of the index will vary depending on the context of the searcher. For example, if a collection of sales invoices are indexed by date, but the searcher wants to retrieve all invoices for a particular customer, the index won’t be much help.

In the past, SharePoint has adopted a hierarchical approach to information architecture. Recognizing that such an approach doesn’t address every requirement, search functionality has traditionally picked up the slack. However, this combination of approaches doesn’t address the biggest downsides of both techniques: rigid hierarchies offer no flexibility and deviation causes confusion, whereas an index that is useful to a broad audience cannot truly take searcher context into account. Useful search results are lost in a deluge of irrelevant matches.

With SharePoint 2010, in addition to the traditional approaches to managing content, the power of social computing has been leveraged in the form of tagging and rating. Rating will be familiar to anyone who’s used Amazon or eBay: users have the option to rate content. Consolidated ratings are then visible to other users of the content, and over time these ratings become an indicator of the content’s usefulness. Such ratings can then be used in conjunction with an index to rank useful content more prominently within search results.

While the rating approach works well, it doesn’t address the issues of relevance and searcher context. This is where tagging comes in. Each page in SharePoint 2010 has a Tags & Notes button in the upper-right corner, as shown next. Users can click this button to add their own tags to each page. These tags are then shown in the user’s profile page and can be used in search results to find content.

Folksonomies, Taxonomies, Tagging, and Rating

In addition to allowing user-defined tags, SharePoint 2010 also provides a Managed Metadata column that can be added to lists and libraries. The Managed Metadata column allows users to select from a collection of predefined tags.

You know that there are two distinct approaches to tagging content: administrator defined and user-defined. After content is tagged using administrator-defined terms, the content can be organized into a taxonomy. Generally speaking, taxonomy is a well-defined system of classification, and it’s a word of which most of us are aware.

So what is folksonomy? Coined by information architecture guru Thomas Vander Wal, a folksonomy is a system of classification based on the collaborative collection of keywords attached to documents. As more users attach their own specific tags to a document, more and more contexts can be taken into account when classifying the content. Incorporating this context into search results and other features makes it easier for users to find what they are looking for, and at the end of the day, that is the purpose of any classification system.

In a folksonomy, as users view content, they do so from their own perspective, and as a result the tags they attach are unique to their perspective. For example, a document may contain financial forecasts for sales of a particular product. Someone viewing the document from a financial perspective may tag the document “Q3 Forecast,” whereas someone viewing the document from a marketing perspective may tag the document “Widget Sales Projections.” These are pretty obvious examples, but what about somebody viewing the document from a corporate communications perspective? They may be more interested in the layout of the document than the actual content and may tag the document“Corporate Logo.”

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