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The Net is the World’s Largest Library. The Problem is That all the Books are on the Floor

Traditionally, metadata adds structure to otherwise unstructured content. Modern systems open the possibility of unstructured metadata. Rating systems and folksonomies both fall into this category. These user generated finding aids give designers and content specialists, especially those who work in libraries, 😉 pause. We have to:

* determine whether our projects would benefit from lower barriers to metadata creation
* weigh the benefits of lower barriers against the potential costs of buildings systems that support unstructured metadata
* design systems that effectively leverage unstructured metadata
* persuade traditionalists that these new methods are not threatening

‘Findability is at the center of a quiet revolution in how we define authority, allocate trust, and make decisions.’
Ambient Findability
Peter Morville, Semantic Studios

Even though we philosophically embrace Web 2.0ish customer interaction we still need to follow the rules of best design practice and information architecture.

A rating system a la Digg and Amazon seems a wonderful way to painlessly find out what customers think of specific content. Let’s look at two examples from sites that let users evaluate physicians.
In the flawed attempt below, from ratemd.com, a smiley face becomes the sole predictor. Helpful? Hardly.

In this second example, from vitales.com, the kind of information we need as a patient has been skillfully collected and simply presented.

The usefulness of user generated keywords is clearly seen at the Powerhouse Museum where visitors can browse via categories from a controlled vocabulary or from user generated keywords in a tagcloud.

At the Pratt Manhattan Library, designers have used a simple but elegant algorithm for weighting and displaying user generated keywords. They summarize the issue this way:
‘Folksonomies have both advantages and disadvantages over using a more traditional hierarchical taxonomy. Folksonomies are flexible and self-moderating. Unlike a taxonomy, a folksonomy is inclusive by letting the user participate and is often cheaper. Detractors are quick to note that folksonomies are chaotic and imprecise. Ambiguous and inexact tags can hinder searching while overly personalized and misspelled tags can make it even harder. The challenge then is how to maximize the potential of folksonomies while minimizing the disadvantages?’

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Jorden Leonard

I see the issue folksonomies have with bad tags being countered by the natural regulating that I see occurring. If something isn’t easily found then it will be replicated by someone else and tagged better. The incentive of members of the Internet to do something meaningful and acknowledged is strong enough to maintain an acceptable average of quality.

To misquote V
people should not get their information from government
government should get their information from people