Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Folksonomies, Taxonomies and User-centered Design

By their nature, blog postings are informal and personal. So why am I going to start this article with a series of definitions? As the writers of the American declaration of independence said "We hold these truths to be self-evident", I foresee that you will rapidly discern the reason for the definitions and the point I plan to make.

"Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. Taxonomies are composed of taxonomic units or 'kinds of things' that are arranged frequently in a hierarchical structure..."
Wikipedia, March 26, 2008

"Folksonomy is the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content. In contrast to traditional subject indexing, metadata is not only generated by experts but also by creators and consumers of the content. Usually, freely chosen keywords are used instead of a controlled vocabulary."
Wikipedia, March 26, 2008

"User-centered design is a design philosophy and process in which the needs, wants and limitations of the end user of an interface or document are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. The chief difference from other interface design philosophies is that user-centered design tries to optimize the user interface around how people can, want, or need to work, rather than forcing the users to change how they work to accommodate the system or function."
Wikipedia, March 26, 2008

If taxonomy has a citadel, then it is surely a museum. The term taxonomy was coined by naturalists in an effort to categorize and organize the Earth's diverse life forms and is now used by museums around the world to bring order and meaning to their collections. So one might expect a little resistance to the idea of folksonomies where visitors essentially create their own informal taxonomies for objects.

User-centered design principles ask that the needs of the ultimate "users" or consumers of a product be accounted for during the design phase. Museums have embraced this philosophy and incorporate user-centered design principles in the creation of exhibits and other interpretive materials. By the same token, museums should embrace folksonomies or user-tagging because it organizes the information in ways that the user or visitor understands.

We don't want to give up our controlled vocabularies or formal classification schemes but if we want to fully engage the visitor then we should embrace folksonomies and other developments coming out of the social media movement.

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