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Taxonomies and Folksonomies in the Intranet: part 1

A series of posts…


Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge
The ubiquitous nature of the taxonomies that define our world is such that is often only when we stop back and either begin the process of naming, categorising; or to consider who it works and comes into being that the issues it presents become clear. Who is to name what and under what authority, how is that thing to then relate to the names and categorisations of other things, how are we to share this knowledge are just some of the questions that beset us.

When contrasting the work of the taxonomist with the produce of the folksonomist it is perhaps too easy to forget that each works towards an approximation and that alternate modes of categorisation and naming might be possible and equally valid. Not that this must lead us to seemingly absurd taxonomies such as that provided by the novelist Jorge Luis Borges who presents us with

“a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge’: In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.”[i]

As intranet managers, or knowledge management practitioners, we have a job to do; we need to provide a structure of information that our users can both navigate through and find what they need within. If either is difficult, time-consuming or even unpleasant we will soon find out about it via either the metrics we use to evaluate our intranets of from simple user feedback.

And in this we have a choice, between the formal information architecture of the expert, the Taxonomy and that of the collective amateurs, the users of the system, the Folksonomy. The question and one I hope to answer here is can we have a hybrid structure between the two, is it possible to square the circle of the expert and the user? In doing so I shall look at how the social web (social media / web 2.0) informs this discussion and how the folksonomy generated by social bookmarks and tagging can help search and support the more formal structures of an intranet taxonomy.

Next Post: Taxonomies and Folksonomies in the Intranet 2

[i] “The Analytical Language Of John Wilkins” By Jorge Luis Borges

Translated from the Spanish ‘El idioma analítico de John Wilkins’ by Lilia Graciela Vázquez; edited by Jan Frederik Solem with assistance from Bjørn Are Davidsen and Rolf Andersen. A translation by Ruth L. C. Simms can be found in Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Other inquisitions 1937-1952’ (University of Texas Press, 1993)

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