From Another Hand – “Folksonomies” & “Controlled Vocabularies”

Here follows a rambling response to a course discussion post relating to social-media-tagging and authority-derived-taxonomies in information resources (pros/cons, advantages/disadvantages, issues, etc.)…from my unedited perspective.  Perhaps it will interest some.

Option 2: Discuss issues surrounding social vs. professionally created metadata, citing examples from the readings. What are the problems and challenges as you see them?

“Naming entities in the world is a tricky business” (Mai, 2011, p. 116).  Socially-created metadata is a fascinating approach and response to the inherent ambiguity, flexibility and complexity of the human use of language and the co-ordination of communicating the range of contextual usages of information resources / objects in contemporary life.  I particularly appreciated Mai’s attention to the plurality and “heterogenous settings” (settings where there are “no unified contexts, goals, or objectives against which objects can be named and ordered…” p. 116) of networked global information resources.  “Naming, indexing, has its limits – it can only be done within a given context” (Mai, p. 116), and as George W. Trow pointed out long ago – we are in the “Context of No Context” once we’ve embarked on a world-wide web engagement.  The stimulating idea is that if you have those who are interacting with the resources “tagging” their meaningful engagement with those resources “in their own terms” – you are replicating the range and breadth and depth of ACTUAL human use and inference and representation of interaction with information.  Now THAT is FASCINATING!

On the other hand.  By now we are all mostly aware of the extreme subjectivity involved in perception, acquisition, attention, selection, and utilization or effecting of data-available-to-us (individually) in the experiences that afford us, expose us, enable us to actuate and in-form whatever available reality that resource represents for us.  This means that each individual organisms experience of a given interaction with an available resource is intensely situation-specific.  Which also implies that their report, account, or “tricky naming” of said interaction is apt to be highly idiosyncratic.  Which (OBVIOUSLY) presents an enormous problem for the stability or repeatability or findability or accessibility of the potential import of said resource for any other organism.  This, it seems to me, is where even collective or massive social input still engenders community-and-individual-sized gaps in findability and usability of digital information resources.

As I see it, the concept of “folksonomy” and social democratic tagging is a practical response to Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Uexkull, et. al.’s realization that any and all conscious human individuals will seek, access, perceive and select elements of their environment FOR THEMSELVES – limited by every aspect of their own physiobiology, neurobiology, social contextualization and environmental situation – if a WHOLE BUNDLE, an aggregate, a swath of humans “tag,” “name,” “label” a resource according to the meaning it gave rise to in them – we might get an approximately adequate representation of the (at least human) RANGE of meaning or import that resource might have for our species – the uses to which it might be put, the ideas it might give rise to, the practical effects it may indeed effect.  HOWEVER – it will by no means have overcome the inherent ambiguity, openness and possibility of said entity/resource/ordination of “information” for any further context / individual / situated need going forward, unknown.  This is where things like mathematical language, artistic form/contents, agreed-upon languages, domain-specific terminologies, “controlled vocabularies” SERVE our species – they give us COMMUNAL resources by which to evaluate and organize our experiences – and COMMUNICATE.  Private languages, really, tell us no more than the barking of a dog.  We infer and intuit, but then, that is OUR language imposing order on someone else’s expression.  Standardized, collectively agreed-upon terminologies and languages allow us to participate, interact and coordinate our experiences and understandings, while “folksonomies,” “tagging” and so forth allow us to nuance and extend or specify aspects of the agreed-upon discourse.  At least these are the uses I find compelling around both Controlled Vocabularies AND individual or privatized labeling.

It’s fascinating because it allows a democratic voicing which accounts for many more human facets to ANY and all resources, while “social” in a “societal” sense – domain-oriented, authoritative and agreed-upon terminologies allow us a way to flesh out, fuel and invigorate COORDINATED meanings – something accessible to us more like our own bodies – a corporate interaction – avoiding both solipsism (isolation) and equivalence (anonymity).  All sources seemed to agree that all things “con-” (con-sensus, co-llaboration, co-rrespondence and so on) are ESSENTIAL for our worlds to be useful and meaningful to us.

We have work to do in finding the dynamic balance in agreed-upon vocabularies as touchstones maybe not necessarily rules and the open source of additive description to equal something perhaps more in accord with human “reality.”  I sense that this is the dream of the Semantic Web…and of all communities worldwide.  I appreciate how the internet re-invigorates this ancient human process.



"A word is a bridge thrown between myself and an other - a territory shared by both" - M. Bakhtin

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