A website by Jeffrey Veen   more →

Size Matters: Rendering a Folksonomy

13 Jan 2005

There has been no shortage of discussion and debate about the merits of user-generated, bottom-up, tag-based metadata. And while it’s certainly been interesting on a sort of academic level, though to be honest, I’m more interested in following how these simple new ideas bubble up in practice rather than in theory.

For example, most instances of tags-as-metadata (or, yeah, “folksonomy”) come into their own not just as simple, flattened metadata, but as a dynamic navigation system. So how do you present all these tags as a navigation device? If you’re familiar with the photo-sharing app Flickr, you’ve probably seen this popularity-as-font-size approach. It’s cool in a sort of voyeuristic way, and is designed to foster a feeling of, “Huh, so that’s what people are taking pictures of.” Which, as of this writing, is an unsurprising “2004 cameraphone wedding vacation.”

Screenshot of navigation system at Near Near Future.

But what happens when this clustered visual approach is turned around and applied to a controlled, personal vocabulary of, say, blog categories? The image above shows the navigation for Near Near Future, a blog by Régine Debatty, where the number of entries in each topic relates to the size of the link. It’s a simple step, but it starts to find a middle ground between the professional and the public. Or, a hint of what Lou Rosenfeld anticipates when wrote, “[I]t’s exciting to consider how these two approaches might fit together and function as a whole.”

Of course, Lou was referring to the process and spirit of each system blending and learning from one another. However, this simple example demonstrates how quickly and effectively cross-pollination can happen. More to come, I hope. ​