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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.
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    Tuesday, March 22, 2005


    Most professionals would probably agree that one of the most difficult aspects of their jobs these days is managing the information flow. Just as you've got email under control (?) along come RSS feeds; begin to manage those and then maybe jump on the bandwagon of shared bookmarks (or saving your bookmarks on the Web for use from any computer) and you suddenly find that you are in the territory of serendipitous information retrieval and "folksonomies" as espoused by and Connotea.

    Both allow you to tag your bookmarks with keywords or descriptors and both allow you to share your bookmarks. Connotea (I don't use - partly because I can never remember where the full stops go!) also shows other users who share your choice of tag, and allows you to set up RSS feeds from important tags or from users who have common interests so that you are alerted to new entries.

    This may seem like adding to the information overload, but in fact it offers very focussed serendipitous retrieval (if that is not a contradiction in terms), plus the ability to be alerted when interesting entries are added. With careful use, you do not need to remember to check the source as it will tell you when there is something new available.

    Despite its derivation, folksonomies are not very closely linked to taxonomies - there is, at present, no control over the tags that users add. I may use 'publishing' while you use 'publishers' and someone else uses 'publisher' - your choice may be for 'keywords' while others use 'descriptors' or 'controlled vocabularies' - I may use IA or CM where others go for 'information architecture' or 'content management' and so on. Immediately this brave new world begin to loose its glamour for those of us brought up with a more formal approach to information retrieval, and immediately readers will see the shortcomings of my support for the Connotea approach.

    I had a conversation with the people who run Connotea some weeks ago about this problem and they are considering the possibilities of moving to a controlled vocabulary. It may be that as I type 'publisher' a suggestion will pop up that most people are using 'publishing' although obviously there will be no enforcement! Today, I was interested to read a posting to BLOUG (the blog of Lou Rosenfeld, the expert on information architecture) posted in January making these same points: "they don't support searching and other types of browsing nearly as well as tags from controlled vocabularies applied by professionals".

    Folksonomies and shared bookmarks are gaining in importance - as they grow, it is quite likely that they will change and mature. Watch this space ... and ignore it at your peril!


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