Taxonomy: Will practice make perfect?

Renee Blodgett points to the upcoming Taxonomy Boot Camp, where David Weinberger (author of the upcoming Everything Is Miscellaneous) will be giving the keynote. David's thoughts are always useful and frequently blindingly insightful.

Renee Blodgett points to the upcoming Taxonomy Boot Camp, where David Weinberger (author of the upcoming Everything Is Miscellaneous) will be giving the keynote. David's thoughts are always useful and frequently blindingly insightful. I'd like to be at the conference, but have a conflict. So, I'll just inject the comments I'd offer if I could go....

The topics at the event include "How to create and implement a successful taxonomy," which poses an interestingThe practice of ordering information and spreading ideas is changing so much that a single entity, whether an organization or a government, cannot "create and implement at taxonomy" that reaches past its front door. challenge for David's talk, because he has been at the forefront of the folksonomy movement. Is it possible to "create and implement a taxonomy," which implies extensive planning and management? Well, sure, if you have to create a closed system, I suppose it is possible, but the collaboratively produced taxonomy is more about the creation of a setting in which purposeful discussion and compromise can happen, because few things can be uniformly tagged and categorized to deal with all situations. 

This came up last week when Edelman and Technorati announced the top 100 most influential blogs in the world, which, seems to me to be a reiteration of old media rankism rather than a new insight into the highly fluid and contextually complicated world of social relationships. Richard Edelman rightly begins by saying this is just "one step into the Blogosphere," but it is being treated by mainstream press as confirming the relatively limited scope of influence we knew in the mass media era.

As my colleague at BuzzLogic, Bob Schettino, put it is a post the other day: Influential about what? Do we really think that the American blogs that dominate the global influencer list are the most influential blogs on European or Islamic politics, for example? Are the top 100 French blogs the best place to talk about real estate in Provence (none are about real estate, based on my rudimentary understanding of the lanugage)? The answer is obviously "no," they are simply the most pointed at blogs overall. Yet this is a taxonomy that will be actively marketed to the world, as all taxonomies must be in order to succeed. 

That is business. Everyone competes to provide solutions to complex problems, though we still tend to look at social networks as closed systems about which we can say something final. They are not. Tools need to identify more than a top 100 blogs-among-blogs and continue measuring those niche communities where real and authoritative influence about specific topics is constantly churning and evolving.

According to BuzzLogic's analysis, Edelman's Steve Rubel is currently the leading influencer on the topic of Edelman and Technorati with regard to blog influence (his most cited example of influence is Jeff Jarvis' Dell Hell campaign). My view is that this will be an influential idea when it is not being driven by the source of the study, but by others, which will show it has been adopted by the community as an idea of its own. That's how ideas become influential and take on a life of their own, approaching something like a socially mandated "truth." Indeed, Jeffrey Treem at Edelman chimed in on his blog with an insightful comment about the "top blogs" concept:

My worry is that if we begin to associate links and traffic with influence, we as an industry are going to begin to treat the blogosphere like we do MSM - with an emphasis on hits and ad equivalence. The goal will become getting mentions on A-list blogs for clients, not cultivating valuable conversations. 

Exactly. The notion of getting mentions in blogs versus increasing the scope and volume of discussion by providing better access to information is the soul of the old media. I know Edelman and company see beyond this, but when The New York Times interprets this story it turns into the same old form of "we gots the reach" influence that made newspaper columnists stars.

David Weinberger's insight into evolving taxonomies is that a taxonomy can no longer be imposed on the market, rather they must evolve from the market to hope to achieve relevance. That means there is no ranking that can sweep all the market into a simple list of influencers. Today's tags are the basis of tomorrow's debate, unlike a world where Dewey could enact his decimal system and see it spread unquestioned, albeit it modified over time. 

The practice of ordering information and spreading ideas is changing so much that a single entity, whether an organization or a government, cannot "create and implement at taxonomy" that reaches past its front door without becoming a community property that is changed by all participants' input. 

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