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Faceted Folksonomy

by David Sturtz

One of the next phases for creating more useful folksonomies will likely be the introduction of facets to the current tagging systems. A faceted classification is used to describe and organize items according to multiple properties of that item. You’ve probably already encountered faceted search and browsing software at such online retailers as Eddie Bauer and Barnes & Noble. These sites allow the user to search for an item, say “khaki shorts,” and then further narrow down their results by gender, size, price, etc. Facets can be either explicit hierarchical lists (book subject) or continuous value (price, date). The software sorts the available values into an appropriate number of options by selecting a level in the facet’s hierarchy, or creating dynamic groupings of continuous values ($25-50, 1960-1969). For a wealth of information check out William Denton’s Putting Facets on the Web: An Annotated Bibliography.

What does this have to do with social classification systems?

As reported at Many 2 Many, faceted search company Siderean Software has used their Seamark Navigation Server to create a faceted version of that they’re calling Facetious. They have split the content into five easily available facets: Tag, Creator, Site, Feed, and Date. Users can easily browse through, selecting items tagged as “mac” and posted three months ago.

This increases the usefulness of the data, however Siderean has essentially hit a wall since those five facets are the only way that bookmarks can be described. The problem is that the folksonomy itself (the tags) is not actually faceted. To make faceted browsing of even more useful, would need to allow users to create a truly faceted folksonomy, essentially several folksonomies for describing various aspects of each bookmark.

For example, users could be asked to tag bookmarks according to three aspects: subject (mac, linux, java), document genre (article, howto, hack), and description (useful, interesting, humor). This would provide several alternative avenues for exploring content.

It would also have the symbiotic effect of making folksonomies more specific and useful as it helps to define the sense in which a word is being used as a tag. The concept seems especially applicable to use on Flickr, where the tagging must be more descriptive to make up for a lack of textual content in the tagged items. Having facets on Flickr such as Event and Location would help to prevent conflicts such as the one Rebecca Blood reported concerning various meanings of the tag “MLK” (the man vs. the park).

Sounds like an interesting project, is anyone up for it?

3/5/2008 Updated link to Facetious

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Jackson Fox | April 19, 2005 12:15 PM

I don’t see why you can’t do this right now. With tag bundles, I can specify which tags are subject/genre/document type/source/etc. I’ve tried to this from time to time but it takes a lot more effort than just slapping tags on a URL. The posting UI could be designed to display my bundles to facilitate this.

David | April 19, 2005 10:54 PM

That is a good point, and it seems like that would work on an individual basis. The problem that I see is that there are multiple ways in which tag bundles could be used. You might be creating facets in your folksonomy, while I am creating a hierarchy within mine. The meaning that we’ve instilled would be lost when our bundles are aggregated and we’re back to where we started.

While a bundle-like system presents a thoroughly flexible way of creating facets (in the true spirit of social classification) I wonder if the added level of complexity involved with facets requires a more structured treatment, and as you mentioned, strong support from the user interface.