Folksonomy and Taxonomy

Folksonomy and Taxonomy: two classifications, one new and one old, that are the often-overlooked building blocks of records management. They not only help organize and classify information, but are also essential to successful records management.

What is Folksonomy?

Folksonomy is a fairly new term created in 2004 by Thomas Vander Wal and is a portmanteau of the words “folk” and “taxonomy”.  Folksonomy is defined as a “collaborative classification system of applying user-created keywords, or tags, to online content to describe and categorize information” (Society of American Archivists).

 Examples of folksonomy are:

  1. Tags/Social Bookmarking – used to reference different online subjects
  2. Word Clouds – another type of tagging where the more commonly used words are in larger fonts
  3. Photograph Annotation – for labeling, describing content, and cataloging digital images
  4. Hashtags – used to reference specific content on websites or platforms
Folksonomy Examples

What is Taxonomy?

Taxonomy Example

The classification system that would come to be known as taxonomy was created by Swiss Botanist Carolus Linnaeus in the mid-18th Century, with the actual term created in 1813 by Swiss Botanist A.P. de Candolle. Taxonomy is defined as “a structure used for classifying materials into a hierarchy of categories and subcategories” (Society of American Archivists). Generally, when people think about taxonomies, they are more likely to think about them in the scientific sense with the classification of various flora and fauna. However, taxonomy is a part of our daily lives without most of us even realizing it. Some examples of taxonomies in everyday life include grocery stores (organized by types of food, popularity, and price), online shopping (organized by size, color, price, or gender), and libraries (Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress classifications of materials).

Records Management

How do these two classifications pertain to records management? To begin, they are both methods of organizing and classifying records as well as contributors to the metadata of records. They are also both methods of quickly locating and retrieving information, which is important in records management, especially from a legal standpoint (13 TAC 6 and 13 TAC 7).

However, while taxonomy has a predetermined system to classify content, folksonomy uses a more collaborative system to classify information. One could look at this as the content within a records retention schedule is the folksonomy while the completed record itself, with the organization of the information as a whole, would be a taxonomy.  

When using either of these methods—separately or in collaboration—one must be aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of each one. While taxonomies have the advantage of being organized, hierarchical and connected, they can also be difficult to design, maintain, and to revise. Folksonomies are collaborative, non-hierarchical, and flexible but can also be poorly applied (especially tags), ambiguous, and potentially more subjective than objective.

When used separately or in collaboration, folksonomy and taxonomy are both necessary to retaining any type of record. Whether it is social media, photographs, books, or even the grocery store, these two classifiers are used every day without most of us even realizing it. Perhaps we all should learn to appreciate their usefulness.

Antique Books

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