Hello, world. I’m MacDara Conroy, and this is my blog.

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Mommy, What’s a Folksonomy?

After mulling over the idea for the past few weeks, I recently got around to adding folksonomic tags to my individual weblog entries.
Don’t know what a folksonomy is? The quick and easy definition is ‘folk taxonomy’, but Wikipedia has a slightly more detailed introduction.
If you happen to be reading this entry on its permalinked page, you can see how I have implemented this by adding tags relating to the content in the Folksonomy box on the sidebar; alternatively (if you can’t be bothered looking there) I’ve provided a figurative image of tags I’ve applied to the previous entry on this weblog:

Clicking on any tag link listed in the box should take you to a page at Technorati‘s site pulling together links to weblog entries, social bookmarks and Flickr photos tagged with the same word. The hoped-for result of this effort is that this weblog will be included in the greater blogospheric conversation. Or something like that.
I wanted to experiment with this for two reasons:
Firstly, to broaden the scope of my classifications. Entries in this weblog are currently divided among 24 different categories, but even at that some of the subject areas (i.e. culture, current affairs) are too general and wide-ranging to be of much practical use. They might be fine as umbrella terms, but there’s too much variance within for them to be accurate. Using tags in tandem with my categories allows me to apply more specific keywords as sub-categories. Rather than replacing the broader umbrella categories altogether, these new tags should provide for greater detail and contextualisation within those categories.
Secondly, as I already stated, I want to include this weblog in ‘the greater blogospheric conversation’. Or at the very least, give my site an opportunity to speak up. Using tags not only allows me to apply more specific keywords as sub-categories, but also to imbue the text with greater semantic value — in terms of machine-readability, anyway — so that my site isn’t lost like a needle in the world wide haystack.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t yet proved to be working: after monitoring the Technorati Tag pages this weblog has linked to over the previous 21 days, my entries have failed to appear on a single one of them, and this is despite following Technorati’s own instructions. Whatever the reasons for this (I can’t rule out my own ignorance, since I’m not a programmer) my tagging experiment has already had a positive effect insofar as my weblog entries since the start of the year are no longer dead ends; even if the main text of a given post contains no links itself, the folksonomic tags provide pathways to similarly categorised content on other sites across the web.
I really should have done something like this a long time ago. It’s in my field of interest after all, being a graduate of UCD’s Department of Library and Information Studies (with a First, just for the record). Yet I wasn’t enthused about it until recently, as there was no easy way for a non-programmer like myself to set up this site to accommodate these features in a way that fit in with my design aesthetic without looking and feeling awkward or tacked-on — and the truth is that while I’ve been familiar with the concept for a while (through del.icio.us, natch) my poor brain never made the leap from tagging links to tagging almost anything until Technorati launched their tagging service some weeks ago.
So I let the idea simmer away in the back of my head for a while — until last month, when I chanced upon Jack Mottram’s method of folksonomically tagging his weblog posts, employing Movable Type’s keywords field and a snippet of Perl code borrowed from Ben Hammersley (who, incidentally, is putting this and other inter/intraconnective features to good use at The Observer’s new weblog). Having previously ignored the keywords field — seeing it as superfluous to my needs, lacking in any practical application — it might well prove to be intrinsic to the future functionality of this website.
I should also point out that I am keeping a list, which will grow as need be, of all the terms that will serve as tags for my weblog entries, to keep overlaps and redundancy to a minimum. In other words I’m employing, however loosely, a controlled vocabulary. Now I know this might not appear to be in the spirit of the ‘open’ nature of folksonomies, but look at it this way: if there’s no continuity, then what’s the point?
I don’t want to impose a hierarchy — I’ve already got one, with my umbrella categories. What I do want is for my tags to mean something. They won’t mean anything unless they’re used properly, and for me that means having a set standard of words and terms to use, influenced both by general tagging conventions (given two similar terms, if one is more popular than the other then that’s probably the one to go for) and my own whims (it’s my own information I’m tagging, not anyone else’s).
So, now that my experiment in folksonomy is underway, and now that I have the potential to directly include (or at least imply inclusion of) my weblog in a greater discussion with other webloggers — rather than relying on the usual vague connections that are traditional to the web — the question I’d like to ask is: where do we go from here?

Some related links:

* Wired News: Folksonomies Tap People Power
If you’re new to everything I’ve talked about here, this Wired article is a good introduction to folksonomies in practice.
* Guardian Online: Tag Team
A suitable companion to the Wired piece. It’s funny how the main focus of both articles is Flickr, which to my mind isn’t as significant in this area as del.icio.us has been.
* Guardian Online: Emerging Technology
From today’s paper, The Guardian’s Jack Schofield with his perspective on the buzz surrounding folksonomy at this year’s Etech conference.
* Folksonomy, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mess
Previously noted in the Linklog. It’s an enlightening discussion, showing how folksonomies mean different things for different people: Joshua Schachter of del.icio.us has some particularly interesting comments.
* Guardian Onlineblog: Some thoughts on folksonomies
The Guardian’s Bobbie Johnson contributes his own thoughts on the phenomenon.