My latest Anthropology News article is now online. It is a general introduction to “folksonomy.” I explain the concept by comparing folksonomies to traditional classification systems, such as the Dewy decimal system and the original Yahoo search directory. I also provide examples of how folksonomy web sites can be used by anthropologists. (See my Flickrology post for one such case study.)
Although the term folksonomy owes its roots to the anthropological study of “folk taxonomies,” popular in the 1960s, it is a new term, coined by blogger Thomas Vander Wal to describe an emergent, decentralized approach to classifying information on the Internet. As opposed to previous systems, which required each piece of information to be classified by a professional archivist, as in the Dewey decimal system used by libraries, a folksonomy asks each user to classify information as they see fit, sharing the resulting classifications between users. This works with electronic documents because, unlike a book on a library shelf, each item can be filed in more than one place. Imagine a virtual library where everyone shelved books as they do in their own home. While some people’s shelving skills may be sorely lacking, the chances are that at least one other person would have filed Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific in exactly the same place you would expect to find it—under “ethnography.” If there are an infinite number of virtual copies it doesn’t matter that someone else mistakenly filed it under “astronaut.”
UPDATE: Unfortunately, it seems this did not make it to the May issue. They will be publishing it in the Fall. I will update this again when it hits the streets.