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From Grassroots Cooperative Categorization Of Digital Content Assets: Folksonomies, What They Are, Why They Work - Robin Good' Sharewood Tidings.:

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Why Folksonomies Work

It is difficult to define a metric by which one could argue folksonomies are a success or failure, but the degree that it does seem to be effective in these systems as a way or organizing information, and that a large group of people are using these systems, are due to a few important factors including:

  • The overall costs for users of the system in terms of time and effort are far lower than systems that rely on complex hierarchal classification and categorization schemes.
  • In addition to this structural difference, the context of the use in these systems is not just one of personal organization, but of communication and sharing.
  • The near instant feedback in these systems leads to a communicative nature of tag use.
  • The conceptual shift from professional, designed, clearly defined categorization and classification schemes to an ad-hoc set of keywords enables users - not just professionals - without any training or previous knowledge to participate in the system immediately.
  • Additionally, participating is far easier in terms of time, effort and cognitive costs.
  • A folksonomy lowers the barriers to cooperation. Groups of users do not have to agree on a hierarchy of tags or detailed taxonomy, they only need to agree, in a general sense, on the %u201Cmeaning%u201D of a tag enough to label similar material with terms for there to be cooperation and shared value. Although this may require a change in vocabulary for some users, it is never forced, and as Udell discussed, the tight feedback loop provides incentives for this cooperation.
  • Finally, there is the compulsion to share in general that underlies these systems. The very act of user self-selecting what to tag is important: this is not just material that users want to find themselves later, but also material they are sharing with others. Both systems have an explicit kind of social networking component built-in: Flickr allows you to specify other users as contacts, friends, or family and see views of just their material; Delicious allows you to subscribe to other users lists.

These two models, community and individual motivations, are not mutually exclusive, and it is likely both are necessary to explain a folksonomy in the context of these services.

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