Folksonomies and flat hierarchies

Sometimes when a new technology hits the Interweb, especially the blogosphere, it just spreads like a virus. Two of these things are Folksonomies and Flat namespaces. A flat namespace is a form of faceted classification (something that may or may not have popped up in some of your time at SILS) . The most popular sites that are good examples of this are del.icio.us, Flickr, and Gmail. For those of you not familiar with any of these, the big deal about a flat namespace (especially those mentioned above) is that content is given metadata by either the user or the community, which allows for filtering/searching of the data by its tags.

I’m just starting to play with del.icio.us, and I’ll say that it certainly looks like an interesting way to deal with classification, and is radically different than the hierarchical methods traditionally used by libraries (Dewey and the Library of Congress system). Imagine this: a library system that, via RFID tagged books and the right cataloging system, allows for users to virtually tag the books in the system. Given a large enough user base, a library could build a HUGE amount of data not only about their collection, but about how people use the collection. You may never expect people to catagorize books the way they do, and finding out how they see your books may give you a ton of information about circulation patterns and collection development that you would have never had otherwise.

Of course, you’ll still need a tradtional system like LoC for locating the works…for physical organization there’s still a need for some form of heirarchy. But if you add on top of that a searchable layer of user tags, we might have an exciting new way of dealing with physical information.