Written by Fran Alexander.
Folksonomies have become very popular on content-sharing websites such asFlickrandDelicious, with their advocates claiming that they provide a free content organisation system that enables anybody to find anything any way they want. However, folksonomies only work well under certain conditions, and not in all business contexts.
Precision and recall
Folksonomies are a cheap way of getting metadata added to content, but they are cheap because there is no quality control, meaning that the metadata will not necessarily be useful, sensible or consistent. So folksonomic metadata is unsuitable if precision and recall are important, or when accurate item management is needed.
Websites like Flickr do not have to worry about precision and recall – if some of the photos on Flickr are never found by anyone else, nobody cares. No-one is going to stop using Flickr simply because erroneous, humorous or malicious tags lead to irrelevant search results. No-one is going to demand that Flickr produces a comprehensive and definitive list of every single photo it holds of a particular subject.
In contrast, precision and recall are important in many business settings. A folksonomy would make a poor stock control or digital asset management system. If two people tag the same component with different names, a stock controller needs to check both names every time they assess stock levels. They would need a list of all the tags everybody had used for each item, and the process of repeatedly compiling and checking such a list would be far less efficient than imposing a fixed system like a controlled vocabulary in the first place. Barcodes are not fun or user-friendly, but they are an extremely precise and accurate way of tracking items across all the companies in a supply chain.
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