Digital Culture

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, 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, 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.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

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