Friday, February 18, 2005

From Taxonomies to Folksonomies, and back: what can this do to e-learning?

[This is related to my latest readings on the web - your comments are very welcome! I'm thinking of writing a paper out of this]

You might have missed the whole discussion swarming on the Web since a few months about the use of free-style meta-tags, also known as keywords, for organising personal pictures and links on the Web. What people talk about is called folksonomies, also known as free-tagging, ethno-classification, or distributed tagging; dear child has many names. As the subject is so very new, the terminology has still to settle.

Until so far keywords and metatags has been know as elements attributed to librarians or information architects, but now, all of a sudden, it has become trendy to organise personal information and atrefacts on the Web using metadata keywords. The benefit; you can share it with other users who are interested in the same stuff (, and as for the pictures (Flicr), it is mostly about linking people who has tagged their photos with same keywords. Who would have guessed that metadata can become so commonly discussed?

Broad parallels can be drawn from the phenomena of folksonomies to the use of metadata to organise learning resources in a repository. The issues are the same; how to create a taxonomy that pleases the needs of a community of users, how to get end-users to start sharing their learning resources with others, and finally, how to encourage people to use metadata to help organising all this in a sensible way. Thus, a plunge into folksomonies and social tagging might give us some more ideas.

And the good news is...

Before going into details about the services that cause all the thrill, let's just see what is important in all this. The excitement here is caused by the fact that folksonomies and free-tagging could be used for other fields to bypass, or at least to reduce, the costly process of information classification by done a group of specialists. So, it all is relevant also for learning objects, learning repositories holding metadata and networked services around them. Next question should be; how can we use this for e-learning and all the metadata structures around?

Firstly, there has been a huge awareness raising about metadata related to these new tools and services on the Web, but most likely, people involved in it haven't even realised it! A lot of people who have no idea of metadata have been exposed to it by the new services like Delicious and Flicr and others. Consequently, there are the ones who pick on this phenomenon and start thinking “what it is about?” and “how it could be used in another context?”. And that has generated a plethora of postings on people's blogs [].

Secondly, we have started seeing metadata differently. It has become something that an ordinary web-user can do. Metadata is not anymore a thing strictly reserved to trained librarians and other people who work on classifying data and entering metadata to complex looking electronic forms. Lowering the treshold to handle metadata has also resulted to better looking tools, really, was about the time...

Most importantly, metadata has become something that is not seen as a “one-time entry for life”, as you could imagine, for example, in a library cataloging system. Once a book is classified and in the system, the data stays there rather untouched. In contrary with most recent tools, meta-tagging has become a thing that can be done socially and on the fly; I can let my friends or other entourage to tag my pictures, for example. This is a fundamental change that would have to be upscaled to the use of learning object repositories too.

As I state in the title "from taxonomies to folksonomies and back" I think that folksonomies could help us to create better taxonomies and vocabularies to be used for metatagging learning content. Too many times we are faced with complicated or too sophisticated vocabularies that, for sure, cover all the aspects of "whatever", but don't respond to what users actually call the thing. Letting people use free-tags the way they want could co-exist by the site of more formal metadata that we use for indexing and retrieval purposes. Furthermore, we could evaluate and check the validity of more formal taxonomies by seeing how it corresponds to what people use.

That all is pretty formal, of course, but could work as a starting point for LORs to rethink their metadata. I will think about this more and will write some time soon about the ideas of using free tags to tag the content that learners store in their e-portfolios and other digital storages that they use for learning purposes. The idea would be that through the tags learners could get in contact with other learners who have come across the same tags, etc... Well more about that some time later...

Below you will find a run-up of best things around and briefs of discussions taking place on various blogs (web logs). [well, quite not there...check what I furled]

Tagging taken by storm (here I will write more about these

  • (from hereafter referred as Delicious),

  • Flickr,

  • Furl,

  • Technocrath