Folksonomies, whose social nature is reflected in the inclusion of the word ‘folk’ in their name, are a classic web 2.0 tool. The process of creating a folksonomy, also known as social bookmarking, involves the tagging of resources to build an index which is usually publicly shared as a tag cloud. While the first popular folksonomy service amongst educators was Delicious, changes to the platform which made it harder to create tag clouds led many educators to work with the alternative service, Diigo, and it was announced in mid-2017 that Delicious would cease operation. With Diigo (and, formerly, Delicious) available as a mobile app, there is potentially a connection with mobile learning.
Folksonomies, which are essentially user-generated indexes of online materials, depend on the web 2.0 principle of collective intelligence, since they are a way of indexing distributed knowledge. They are a great way to keep track of online data trails and useful resources that have been discovered. Although folksonomies can be individually generated, it is also possible for groups of people – whether educators, researchers or students – to collaboratively create folksonomies of resources on particular topics, with criteria for inclusion being negotiated by group members. Given the usefulness of well-designed tag clouds, these may be consulted by members of a wider community of practice on the internet and, for students, may even provide a means of entry into such communities. It can be seen that folksonomies represent a significant shift away from traditional top-down taxonomies – that is, hierarchical indexing systems – for several reasons:
- the tagging process itself is organic rather than methodical or mechanical: you simply add a tag or tags to relevant materials as you come across them
- there are no pre-set categories or subcategories: you can use whatever descriptive tags seem relevant and add new ones as often as you like, meaning that the index is flexible and extensible
- tags are able to be changed, and multiple similar tags (e.g., ‘blog’, ‘blogs’, ‘blogging’) can be collapsed into a single category (e.g., ‘blogs’) at a later date
- the resulting index is usually presented in the non-linear form of a tag cloud (as seen below)
It is very easy to set up a folksonomy. After creating a free account with a service such as Diigo, users are prompted to download a tagging button to their browser bar. Using this button, they can add items to their index by tagging them, that is, adding a descriptive term or terms. As noted earlier, the most common display format of a folksonomy index is the tag cloud, which is automatically generated. The more often a particular tag has been used, the larger and heavier the font. Below you can see an extract from Mark Pegrum’s E-language Tag Cloud, displaying the tags beginning with numbers or the letter ‘A’. Clicking on any tag will take you to a list of all of the materials which have been tagged with that particular term. The full interactive tag cloud, covering the whole alphabet, can be found on the E-language tag cloud page of this website.
For a light-hearted and clear explanation of social bookmarking, see the Common Craft video Social Bookmarking. You might also like to take a look at Thomas Vander Wal’s slideshow Bottom-up All the Way Down. For a comprehensive overview of social bookmarking and related tools, including Delicious, Diigo, Instapaper, Pinterest and Scrible, see Nik Peachey’s Tech Tools for Teachers: Social-Bookmarking.
There is a blurry line between folksonomies and social sharing, and there are many varied services that have some similarity to both, since they often involve tagging as well as sharing of online materials. In addition to being a folksonomy service, Diigo functions as a social annotation tool for highlighting and leaving comments on webpages. LessonPaths (formerly MentorMob) allows teachers or students to compose ‘playlists’ of materials related to a given topic; Bag The Web allows the creation of curated collections of materials on a topic; and Tes Teach (formerly Blendspace) allows you to collect, and build lessons around, digital content. Tizmos for Teachers lets you share lists of materials displayed as visual bookmarks. Pinterest allows materials to be collected and displayed on pin-up boards, while Mix (formerly StumbleUpon) also allows multimedia content collation and sharing. Services for tagging books and sharing reviews include LibraryThing and Google’s My Library. Zotero is a service for managing, storing and sharing links to online research, while Evernote and Instapaper allow you to capture a range of multimedia and online materials. It is also worth checking out social news sites like Digg and Reddit.
Word clouds are a popular variation on tag clouds. They display the key words in a text using the tag cloud metaphor (with more commonly used words shown in larger fonts, but without being clickable or linked to an index). The best-known example of such a service is probably Wordle; at the top of this page you can see a word cloud created to show the most common items in the E-language tag cloud. Similar services include TagCrowd, WordCloud and WordItOut. Other services such as Tagxedo, WordArt and Word Mosaic allow you to create similar textual displays using the tag cloud metaphor, but with the overall texts shaped into the form of images.
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