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Tagging in an enterprise social network (part 6)

Back to basics….

In order to progress, let us look next at the basics of tagging. Tagging of user-generated content is an inherent part of the enterprise social network. All the leading social network applications – for example Jive, Telligent, Lotus Connections, Socialtext, (and SharePoint 2010) have tagging as a core function. This allows a user to tag their individual blog postings, contributions to a discussion forum, uploaded video or documents with tags describing and defining their content.

This simple act of naming user contributed content has a number of cumulative effects. Firstly it identifies the content with multiple descriptors, allowing the content to be found and related to in a variety of mutually supporting ways. These include for example Search, Tag Clouds and Tag Trails. Each of these can be either individual aggregations or socially constructed. Take for example, a Tag Cloud:

“A tag cloud or word cloud (or weighted list in visual design) is a visual depiction of user-generated tags, or simply the word content of a site, used typically to describe the content of web sites. Tags are usually single words and are typically listed alphabetically, and the importance of a tag is shown with font size or color.[1] Thus both finding a tag by alphabet and by popularity is possible. The tags are usually hyperlinks that lead to a collection of items that are associated with a tag.”

The weighting of the text is defined by the numbers of times that an item has been tagged, the larger or more densely defined the text, the more times that that tag has been used. The Tag Cloud can be set to display information sets for either individuals; spaces within a social network (a social Group or section of a site for example); or a community of individuals. This in turn produces its own set of possibilities in terms of finding both content and users who have tagged content.

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Delivering: Tags and folksonomy (Part 5)

Delivering: Tags and folksonomy

One way forward is to look toward a more socially integrative intranet that by utilising social tools in its framework is able to provide ubiquitous localised tagging of content. What will this mean in practice and why will people tag?

To begin with it means by necessity user-generated content in the intranet. Unless users have the ability to generate their own content they will not tend to tag it. They might rate or comment on content, especially if either critical or keen consumers of it, or bookmark it if they need to save it, but users tend to only very infrequently tag other peoples’ content.
And to create content, requires in the main a socially based intranet in which ordinary users can generate, upload and tag their content. The tools to do this are the familiar raft of web 2.0 technologies, wikis, blogs, discussions forums and video.

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The Promise of Folksonomy and the Intranet (Part 4)

The Promise of Folksonomy and the Intranet

The promise of folksonomy and the intranet is a user-generated and responsive taxonomy providing ease of access to content and enhanced search. This is achieved by creating an ever growing pool of collectively bookmarked and tagged content and in leveraging this semantic knowledge into existing or planned intranet deployments.

The problem is how to do this and this problem is multi-fold:

i) How to get users to tag content and secondly, how to integrate this resource into both the intranet and most importantly into work processes and practice?
ii) Furthermore, whilst many types of enterprise social software incorporate tagging and or social bookmarking, the challenge remains how to ensure that this is widespread enough to have significance and relevant enough to have purpose.

iii) Clearly, any purported benefits of social knowledge lies in the numbers of people contributing: one or two experts might well be able to provide support and maintain a traditional taxonomic intranet, the same is less easy to sustain if there are just six keen amateurs tagging content.

iv) Therefore, if the tagging is made by a sizeable number of users, but this is localised into a small and self-sustained social network, any benefits are unlikely to extend much beyond that network.

In the next post I’ll muse on ways to get this delivered.

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Folksonomy: part 3

Definitions & Musings

ii) Folksonomy

Can folksonomy provide a way forward from this dilemma of structure and change? The first thing to make clear is folksonomy did not arise as a solution to the problems of intranet taxonomy but as by-product of the social nature of tagging. The term was coined by Thomas Vander Wal [i and he uses it to describe the act of tagging and bookmarking in a social environment. By this he is referring to the behaviours seen in informally referencing via tags in social sites such as blogs or in social network sites such as the bookmark sharing site or the photo sharing site Flickr. Vander Wal believes that “folksonomy is tagging that works”. And he posits three tenets of a folksonomy:

1)  tag,

2) object being tagged,


3) identity,

are core to disambiguation of tag terms and provide for a rich understanding of the object being tagged.
The concept reaches deep into the collective promise of the social web as articulated into the terms ‘The Long Tail’ or the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’. It is nuanced to the individual yet collective in its articulation, shared universally by those that use a social network yet consumed individually by the person using that network.

Central to its meaning is a sense of many individuals attributing meaning to online artefacts, be they web pages bookmarked, blogs written, or photos shared and that collected assemblage of knowledge equalling and surpassing the sum all of the small acts of giving meaning via a tag.

This collective knowledge of the ‘people’ forms the folk-sonomy, thus provides an alternate form and structure of meaning to that of the taxonomy. It is thin and democratic, cheap and immediate, flexible and fluid.

The big question here for us is, what can this offer the intranet and its users?

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Folksonomy Coinage and Definition Feb 2007

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Taxonomies: part 2

Definitions & Musings

i) Taxonomy

From the Greek taxis and nomos to order and arrange under specific laws, taxonomy attempts to arrange an order of things under scientific rules. It is centralised and expert driven and attempts to ultimately define an Ontology, a categorical view of reality. It is also hierarchical and presents a structure of meaning that at first sight can easily be translated to an intranet architecture.

Take for example the classical taxonomy developed by Linnaeus who envisaged biological species as a hierarchical taxonomy with the broadest categorisation at the top, the domain, through to kingdoms, phyla, classes, ordersfamiliesgenera and species. This basic conceptual categorisation works well, it seems, when constructing an intranet page, where the broadest category is navigated down to the more specific entity as an elegant staircase of meaning. Thus we might start off with a global intranet which narrows down through geographical divisions through to more local levels. This is then mirrored into global departments and their more specific functionalities, and in same pattern, also to technologies or products sold, or to the sales and marketing divisions of the enterprise.

Anyone who has constructed such an edifice soon finds out that this neat and seemingly scientific structure does not adequately map the realities and complexities of even the most orthodox and hierarchical business organisations. In a more matrix corporation the problems are magnified exponentially.

Take for example an attempt to construct a taxonomy based on departments. We might construct the intranet in closely aligned fashion with the CEO at the helm and with sub-sites for all the various department in the business, HR, Finance, Legal, Sales, Marketing, Technologies etc. All is well and good until interplay and overlap present themselves, for example a geographical arrangement of employee laws re-aggregates the HR site content; Marketing’s need to market specific technologies within particular market sectors; or for Sales to distribute goods via specific distribution and reseller markets. At some point a conflict emerges with the system of classification, one that needs to be translated into a practical solution of an intranet architecture.

The solutions to this are as varied as there are intranets, central governance and codification of content, federalised intranet cohering or not to a central hub, complete laissez fair arrangements evolving over time and all in varying different evolving combinations. The technologies underpinning these structures further compounds the issues with a content management system (CMS) present or not and the CMS either enabling or inhibiting the successful taxonomical structure. The CMS might define the entire intranet or coexist with alternate file stores such as LiveLink/Open Text, SharePoint or NT Folders.

The net result can, unless very carefully managed, be chaotic and even if carefully managed, not produce the results desired by the users. And here we come to the nub of the problem; any formal structure of either meaning or intranet architecture is an attempt to construct a reality that changes over time. Furthermore, not only does it change, it is also interpreted by people in different ways that also change over time. The net result of that is the familiar cry that ‘search is broken’ and that the user cannot find anything – the intranet is out of date or broken.

note to self, I need to brush up once more, on Foucualt’s the ‘Order of Things‘ thank you ST.

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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)