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Folksonomies in Museums

by David Sturtz

No, not as a historical arifact of “high Web 2.0 fashion”— as a tool for engaging museum visitors and helping to bridge the “semantic gap.” I mentioned an earlier paper on the project. The new paper, Steve.Museum: Exploring social tagging and folksonomy in the museum [PDF], raises a number of interesting ideas and questions, such as:

“The resulting folksonomy, or ‘socially constructed classification’ system appears to fill gaps in current documentation practice, now mostly focused on the business of museums. Tagging allows us to step back from our authored voice and offers an additional means of access to art, that could enhance and possibly subvert institutional perspective.”
“Tagging is a personal investment in the museum’s collection. The visitor adds value for the museum, for themselves, and for other visitors by revealing distinct perspectives and communitites.”

The fundamental question being raised, is “what are the dynamics of folksonomies outside of the context of a website?” What is the motivation for individuals to tag items when there is no “ownership” of them? Current usage of tags on the web generally involves the user organizing their personal (copies of) items such as bookmarks or photos. How does it change the model if users no longer retain a copy, or are no longer tagging for their own benefit? What kind of ownership could a museum tagging system give to visitors?

Very interesting questions, and I think it’s really great that someone is exploring them.

The website seems to be slowly growing if you’re interested in the progress of this project.

Trant, J. and B. Wyman (2006). exploring social tagging and folksonomy in the museum. a paper for the Tagging Workshop, World Wide Web 2006. Edinburgh, Scotland, ACM. PDF preprint

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j trant | April 1, 2006 7:52 PM


There’s now a new version of the steve prototype online at

We’ve also pushed along some of the thinking about tagging as a way to bridge personal and professional vocabularies in a paper for Museums and the Web 2006, online at