Vast Active Library and Information Science blog. From a recent library science graduate in Wellington, New Zealand. A focus on reference and current awareness tools and issues, especially free, web-based resources.

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Saturday, January 08, 2005
Controlled Vocabularies vs Folksonomies  
Clay at Many-to-Many has some interesting comments on the problems with well-constructed metadata and controlled vocabularies. Essentially he's arguing that the cost of developing and maintaining a controlled vocabulary is enormous, both for developers and users. He argues that we will see an increased use of folksonomies* online.

The post was a response to a post by Lou Rosenfeld comparing the two. Lou is much more positive about conventional controlled vocabularies, and suggests that a synthesis of the two approaches might be beneficial.

This seems like an interesting issue. Having recently finished cataloguing class, I know the history of full-text vs controlled vocabularies. Full-text searching was supposed to kill off CVs back in the 1970s. It didn't, of course, because metadata has value, and full-text has flaws (too many hits, issues with synonyms...). But this seems different. Sure, an expertly-created CV is 'better' than one created by users. But a user-created one might be cheaper and easier. Which is likely to prove attractive to users.

Heck, I get annoyed using controlled vocabularies when I can't work out what term the CV creator thinks I should be using; or when the CV hasn't been updated to contain new terminology. It must be a lot worse for an untrained user.

So, question: librarians know metadata. We're the experts. We do have something useful to contribute. How can we ensure our voice is heard on this one in the future? Because if we turn up lugging our four volumes of AACR2R, we're going to be ignored, or laughed out of the room.

Link via BoingBoing.

*Folksonomies are bottom up taxonomies that people create on their own. This Slashdot thread has links to a few good articles.