In all honesty, folksonomies make me somewhat uneasy. Theoretically, I believe that “folk taxonomies” are a democratic form of metadata, but, realistically, I wonder if folksonomies don’t represent library and information science professionals losing the reins of resource classification and organization to the detriment of people seeking information. While I consider folksonomies to be useful, I don’t think they should replace controlled vocabulary in the library environment. Perhaps a hybrid system is best to keep some oversight yet also allow for flexibility?
Despite my misgivings, I do appreciate folksonomies’ value to information seekers online. They are useful precisely as tags are generated by end-users rather than external authorities, and tags can be created by anyone to label their information content and selected for their relevancy to users. Since folksonomies are crowdsourced, hierarchical relationships don’t exist – no tag is more or less important than another. I think that folksonomies are helpful because they permit users to link items while at the same time they connect users to communities of people with shared interests. In that sense, then, folksonomies foster serendipity, allowing users to exploit one tag to discover an array of views – political, scientific, cultural, or historical – about a specific topic. Folksonomies are likewise up-to-date, echoing trends and social change. Also, folksonomies are cheap to establish, but can be an excellent return on investment if tags and the content which they represent become popular. Overall, the primary advantage of folksonomies is their inclusiveness.
On the other hand, folksonomies have a huge disadvantage: people tag items because they can find them with a certain tag, but that doesn’t mean that other people would associate the same tag with the same information resource! That lack of common context is unfortunately not the only drawback associated with folksonomies, which have no quality control. For example, what about synonyms and homonyms? Or typos and abbreviations? Not to mention different languages – Cape Town in English versus Kaapstad in Afrikaans, or Turin in English versus Torino in Italian. Also, some tags could express negative value judgments, such as #dumb or #ugly. Finally, spam tags usually have no relevancy to the resource to which they are applied and are meant to purposely misdirect users’ searches.
Nevertheless, I think that folksonomies have much future potential in libraries because people can relate to and understand social tags more easily than the LCSHs currently in OPACs. Indeed, if we as information professionals want to encourage people to use library resources, we need that human connection that folksonomies provide through tagging that is more meaningful to people of diverse backgrounds and cultures across society. Considering the question, I feel a hybrid classification system composed of traditional controlled vocabulary plus more progressive folksonomies is the solution.