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An Overview of Folksonomy and its Pros and Cons

An Overview of Folksonomy
If you have ever wondered how the 'selfie' came into being, then this article is a must for you. This page describes the effects of tagging, and how this influences our day-to-day vocabulary. In short, it describes folksonomy and its effects in the online world.
Vijith Menon
Last Updated: Dec 09, 2017
Folksonomy is a word coined by Thomas Vander Wal, from the words 'folks' and 'taxonomy'.
The game of tag used to determine who was 'it' usually by a count-out system. Though the definition changes online, we only tag those items that we deem worthy or cool enough to be shared online. Everything from online search results to the words preferred virtually are decided by the users. Soon enough, we won't even need the 'Did You Mean?' button in Google. To solve this dilemma, tagging has been introduced. The more people tag a particular word, the related content gets categorized accordingly into that group. This type of tagging finally gave birth to the rise of folksonomy.
What is Folksonomy?

Folksonomy is a system of creating and categorizing tags that annotate and categorize content. Content can range from articles, photos, videos, and podcasts. It can be anything ranging from a summary of two lines to metadata that has words frequently associated with it. Folksonomy is also known as social indexing, social tagging, collaborative tagging, and social classification. The frequency of these tags result in the ranking of the content in search results. These tags are also represented visually according to the frequency of the usage of the words in the form of tag clouds.

There are 2 types of folksonomy, namely, broad folksonomy and narrow folksonomy. When multiple users tag content with different names, it is known as broad folksonomy. When a single user tags content with multiple terms, it's called narrow folksonomy. Tagging is usually done in an open environment addressed by several users. The value of tagging is derived by people making their own inference on the subject, and improving the vocabulary of others as well as themselves by adding to the content.


Taxonomy is the classification of data in an organized and collective manner. This type of sorting is usually done by an expert in the field, usually called a taxonomist. Many taxonomies are arranged in a hierarchical structure, usually following a semblance of order. Each unit is called a taxon. The contents are usually classified in taxonomy if they belong to a particular species or family. Taxonomy stands against everything folksonomy represents. We tell you the difference between them in the following section.
Folksonomy Vs. Taxonomy
Folksonomy tags are added by the reader or anyone other than the author. Taxonomy tags are usually added by the author.
Flickr is a good example of folksonomy, which lets users describe the photos, and tags them in the right category.

Taxonomy tags are usually added by the author.
WordPress is a good example of taxonomy, which allows content to be organized in categories or closed tags.
Advantages of Folksonomy
●It can adapt to the language quickly, and can be applied to new concepts.
●It has a lower cost to maintain, since the workload is shared by multiple users adding to the content everyday.
●It's a very flexible system, since the content is tagged almost everyday.
Disadvantages of Folksonomy
●Over tagging can lead to irrelevant results, making the search meaningless.
●It has led to inconsistencies, misspellings, and different punctuation.
●People can voice their biased opinions, which can influence the tagging.
The only way to reduce the discrepancies is by combining the two methods of folksonomy and taxonomy. A new process should be adopted by asking the opinions of the users. This method, though not foolproof, may improve the language itself, by giving it more structure. Thus, folksonomy can operate as a loose thesaurus that finds different interpretations of the same word.