Folksonomies in the Enterprise

Sarah Hayman has published a very strong and pragmatic paper on a combined folksonomy-controlled vocabulary approach which promises rich results for the application of tagging and exploitation of folksonomies in the enterprise.

It actually reads like a composite of two papers - the first half reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of social tagging, and describing a proposal for a combined folksonomy-taxonomy project, and the second half giving a well referenced discussion of the application of social tagging in the enterprise.

There is an articulate and very clear discussion of developments and applications of folksonomies which brings the discussion in chapter 10 of my book bang up to date (this area of taxonomy work dates quickly!), though Sarah’s discussion doesn’t really deal with the person-mediated serendipity dimension of folksonomies – which I believe is the missing X-factor in most enterprise applications of folksonomies.

The paper describes a proposal for a “taxonomy-directed folksonomy” approach to support personal and social learning environments on the web. Users will enter their chosen tags and as they type, a thesaurus will suggest terms from a controlled vocabulary sitting in the background. Users can still adopt their own tags, and the sites will present tag clouds that combine both the controlled and uncontrolled terms, based on frequency of use.

This is a case of using control and suggestion to influence diverse tags towards greater consistency, without removing the independence of choice in the users. The controlled vocabularies can also be enhanced by harvesting new tags with sufficient user warrant.

The approach is not a radical step forward for folksonomy work. Using folksonomies to provide greater warrant for taxonomy modifications, and using controlled vocabularies to influence choices towards consistency both have their precedents, some of them documented in my book. But there are few enough cases, and it is good to see such experimental applications in the pubic arena, where the connections between taxonomic control and user choice can be explored in greater depth. Until you grow a blended folksonomy/taxonomy like the one Sarah describes, you won’t really get a full understanding of how you can exploit the opportunities created.

I am curious to see how two things turn out in this project: to what extent will the cognitive burden of choosing inhibit the liberal application of tags we have seen in pure folksonomic environments; and whether it will be possible to exploit the personal tag clouds to support rich serendipity. This paper is well worth reading and the project well worth tracking. If I ever get to a second edition of my book, I’m hoping Hayman’s work will be in it.

4 Comments so far

Thank you for your thoughtful and encouraging comments Patrick. I would like to refer anyone interested in our “Taxonomy Directed Folksonomy” project to my colleague Nick Lothian who created both the idea and the mechanism, for the proof of concept. His blog post about it is at We certainly hope that the idea can be implemented fully in future work in our organisation.  We are now working on a second proof of concept project looking at mining tags (through identification of key users and tags) to augment our collection building practice here. Information about this project can be found at

Posted on July 06, 2007 at 08:02 AM | Comment permalink

Nick Lothian

Hi Patrick,

I’m glad you found the paper useful. I’ve posted some thoughts about people & tagging at

Posted on July 06, 2007 at 09:27 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Some great links Sarah and Nick, I’ll be following both initiatives with great interest via your blog Nick!

Posted on July 06, 2007 at 11:36 AM | Comment permalink

Thanks Patrick! Your book has led me to explore some very interesting areas with great potential, like Nick’s TDF’s, that I’ll follow up on for our intranet.

Posted on July 07, 2007 at 06:50 AM | Comment permalink

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