Flickr is a great site, no doubt about that. Great to share photos with others, brilliant design. But there is one thing that always made me thinking. Flickr often is named as a best practise for the strength of tagging vs the weaknesses of taxonomies.
I do not like the way of tagging on flickr. I do not like it because i found it useless for me. I virtually never click on tags to search photos and i do not subscribe tagged feeds. Instead, i use the photostreams or photosets because they make sense to me. I am not sure whether that is only my personal impression but i guess not. There are of lot of flickr users simply ignoring tagging. That is remarkable, because tagging is considered as a key feature of flickr.
Tagging seems to be far less powerful when there is no collaborative approach assisting the user. As mentioned in this previous post, it is helpful to have suggestions when you have to decide which expression might be appropiate for your asset. It is less effort for the user to agree to these suggestions than to create a new expression.
This collaborative agreement is not only convenience for the user who is creating the meta information for an item. It also improves the quality of results when searching for information. The suggestions by other users to “adopt” tags can also be seen as a guidance to use the “right” expression for an item. This increases the likeliness that other people can find the item because there is a common tag set for it.
Of course, there are major differences between a bookmark in delicious and a flickr photo. Mostly, a photo does not reach the critical mass of viewers that are necessary for a folksonomy effect, and therefore a collaborative approach of tagging in flickr would not be as effective as in delicious. In the flickr case, there must be other concepts to achieve valuable benefits of tagging. What about this:
The idea would be to use taxonomies and a thesaurus to assist the user in tagging. For example, i am posting a photo from a hiking tour in the swiss alps “switzerland” and “hiking”. A taxonomy driven algorithm would give me hints to use other tags: “europe” in addition to switzerland and “sports” and “recreation” in addition to hiking. A thesaurus could also find synonyms like “mountaineering” or “climbing”. I would be able to decide whether i want to use them or not.
Could be a powerful tool. I agree with Rosenfeld in this point:
I’d love to hear of any good examples of metadata ecologies where user-generated tags and controlled vocabularies have been successfully combined […]