Sometimes it takes me a little while to get my brain wrapped around all these new ideas, and the one I’ve been struggling with a bit lately is the concept of tagging and folksonomies and the like. I love that f-word, the idea that we can create our own taxonomies for the information we find relevant. We’re creating our own personal libraries with our own personal filing systems. I can tag Flickr posts and links not only to give them relevance for me but to associate them with what other like-minded folks are saving and posting. I’ve even started tagging my Web Notes as a way to easily find them when “filter” my pages. (Of course, this means that I’ve also been keeping up a list of tags so I can make better connections of ideas. It’s not as hard as it sounds…)

The rub comes when our own folksonomies don’t exactly meet up with other people’s folksonomies. And even more, when they render traditional taxonomies irrelevant. I’ve been bumping that around in my head the last few days, and then today I found this post by Jenny Levine (via Stephen Cohen) that just made it all come together:

They’ll have other impacts on libraries, too, though, especially services like Flickr and that let users tag items with their own vocabularies. When someone gets used to retrieving items using the words they think of, not the words we think of, do you think they’ll still be willing to type “LastName, FirstName” to find an author? Will they understand a title search that accepts exact phrases only? (Those are rhetorical questions and the correct answers are “no” and “no,” even if you offer keyword searching hidden elsewhere on your catalog.)

So how could we make better use of the integration of folksonomies and user-based vocabularies? I’m not suggesting we throw the bath water out with the baby, because I’m also a big fan of structured searching, and let’s face it – one of the things Google isn’t good at is searching structured data. But why can’t we offer both? They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Why can’t our catalogs let users find items of interest and then store them for later retrieval using their own tags. Take a look at this Flickr page for architecture. Notice the “related” and “see also” links? The same thing happens on the page for architecture. Imagine the display of this type of folksonomy integrated into a library’s catalog, so that users could find titles and subjects for “architecture,” but they could also browse by tags (such as “buildings” or “urban”), which they could then bookmark themselves and specify as “public” or “private” (like Furl’s “private archive” feature). Aggregate the public tags and let users access their private ones.

This is the future of search, not only getting back what the database says is relevant but associating with what other people think is relevant as well. And this is what has been bouncing in my brain, this idea that if we really want to be information literate anymore, we not only need to be able to find and evaluate a relevant source, we need to be able to find and evaluate other people out there who have similar interests and by reputation can inform our own search. We need to subscribe to those people. That’s the gist of it. It’s all collaborative, all of us working as editors and filters for each other. Like a huge organism of networked people behind the ideas we’re tracking.

Ok, maybe that’s a little much. (I’m sure Tom is streching his fingers by now.) But that’s the sense I’m getting. I need to work through it more, but in there somewhere is, I think, an important truth waiting to be found…

And if none of that really matters to you, you still have to read this fascinating description of the ESP Game which is the test your skill at folksonomies game. More, much more on all of this to come, I’m sure.