Are Taxonomies converging with Folksonomies?

Carole Kaesuk Yoon, in an August 11, 2009 New York Times article, discussed how human groups survive by observing, understanding and classifying their natural world, creating local folk taxonomies that are as intrinsic to survival as water or food. Without the power to order and name life, a person simply does not know how to live in the world. Yoon states, “How to tell the carrot from the cat — which to grate and which to pet? They are utterly lost, anchorless in a strange and confusing world.”, accessed August 11, 2009). The article included an interesting discussion of a research study where college students could decipher what a word meant in a Peruvian native language about 68% of the time because the naming in the folk taxonomy was so descriptive.

At the start of 2009, CMPros pronounced taxonomy dead. This is a good moment to re-evaluate that audacious claim. If taxonomies undergird the survival of people in pristine environments, can they clarify meaning in a culture awash in technology, economics, social science, health, and medicine?

For the last five years, Taxonomy Boot Camp, sponsored by Information Today as an extension to the last two days of Enterprise Search Summit West, provides a comprehensive program demonstrating the use of taxonomies to improve search, govern information, and improve communication. Taxonomy Boot Camp continues to pull together an interesting program of rising stars and established veterans.

Far from being a post-mortem of taxonomies, this year’s conference program provides an opportunity for a conversation about their future in the context of new and putatively competing disciplines. The conference includes superstars from the realm of folksonomies and ontology. Taxonomy Boot Camp provides an opportunity to find out how some practitioners and organizations have tried to use and re-use legacy taxonomies to order information, while providing innovation in interfaces and processes.

This year’s keynote speaker, Thomas Vander Wal, Principal, InfoCloud Solutions Inc, who coined the term folksonomies, opens the dialog with his keynote. Can taxonomies designed for enterprise business and social science organically grow to explain, clarify, modify and mesh with Web 2.0 social enterprise tools? In other words, can enterprise vocabularies become the folk taxonomies to help describe our modern world? Leslie Owens, of Forrester Research, presents the other keynote on the reuse and repurpose of taxonomies, which may highlight the value of reviving taxonomies in organizations and enterprises.

Some of this year’s participants are engaged in some leading edge projects:

Dean Allemang, developer of Top Quadrant, and author of SEMANTIC WEB FOR THE WORKING ONTOLOGIST, will lead a panel about moving beyond broad and narrow terms to semantic relationships. Co-panelists include staff from the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Bank, and Library of Congress. Metadata will be covered in several sessions, including one session on Dublin Core from Mike Crandall of the Ischool at the University of Washington with Marjorie Hlava of Access Innovations, and another discussion with Stephanie Lemieux of Earley and Associates on integration with Sharepoint.

Annie Wang of Deloitte will share her perspective on using taxonomies for large, complex organizational integration.

Christine Connors of TriviumRLG LLC and Jordan Frank of Traction Software will speak on Linked Data, Web 3.0, and Tagsonomies, and how taxonomies and ontologies can turn tag mush into useful concepts. Their talk will be followed by Stephanie Lemieus and Tom Reamy discussion of folksonomy and taxonomy. The hot topic of merging and rescuing existing taxonomies will also be discussed. Integration of existing taxonomies will be discussed by 4 veteran taxonomists including Heather Hedden, Carol Hert, Wendi Pohs; followed by a panel on rescuing and repurposing taxonomies including Lisa Dawn Colvin from Top Quadrant, Ron Daniels of Taxonomy Strategies, and Jeff Carr of Earley and Associates.

Taxonomy validation will be presented by Joseph Busch of Taxonomy Strategies, who will describe how a taxonomy was validated over several days of exercises with key stakeholders at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Taxonomy and semantic modeling tools will also be on the agenda .

The conference ends with a dialog about the future of taxonomies led by Wendi Pohs and Daniela Barbosa from DowJones. Several pre-conference workshops also provide learning opportunities for exploring topics with expert practitioners in more depth. The full conference program is available in HTML and PDF (

Opening a dialog about how the best practices in taxonomy management mesh with the innovations in folksonomy and ontology might help clarify our thinking in turbulent times. Any conference that brings together the taxonomy and semantic web communities provides an opportunity to create energy to move to new architectures, interfaces and tools. Taxonomy Boot Camp 2009 will be held from November 19-20, 2009 San Jose McEnery Convention Center – San Jose, CA. For more information and for $200 off the conference registration fee, visit

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