Digital Culture

Folksonomies = Translation Engines

I was lounging about today, idly thinking about folksonomies ( could happen) and I had what I consider a somewhat interesting idea. Are there any existing sites that allow for tagging in multiple languages? I suppose that does by default for language that use the Roman alphabet, but what about systems that use a non-roman…does flickr or technorati allow for Chinese or Japanese kanji? Or for Farsi?

For any system where this were the case, and there was an enormous database of folksonomic data to mine, and the folksonomies were in some way descriptive (it’s possible to have non-descriptive folksonomies…some people actually leverage by using specifically non-descriptive tags in order to pull very specific things from the organization)…well, if you were describing things in the world…would you be able to data mine such a folksonomy as a translation engine?

You would imagine that on flickr, a picture of a red ball might be tagged “red” and “Ball” by multiple languages. By doing some basic statistical work on the data, I think you could come up with a pretty good translation engine.

Anyone out there see that this couldn’t/wouldn’t work? Would this be better than traditional translation engines…I don’t know. It leverages the wisdom of crowds in an interesting new way, though.

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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