Grassroots Grow Globally
Folksonomy is just taking off, and while some may have reservations about tagging it as the Next Big Thing, everyone is eager to see what application, site, or function will emerge next. "When a lot of energy gets behind a new phenomenon, people make it better and work on improving it," says Doyle.
Open source developers are squeezing more value out of the metadata generated by tagging, introducing it into the mainstream by making it easily integrated into the average user's life. For instance, del.icio.us has come out with a Firefox plug-in that can instantly add tags to any bookmark.
Automated search engines are constantly trying to think like people: how they search and how they say what they mean. Human-generated metadata, when applied correctly, can be more valuable than that generated by a robot. For marketing towards the Internet community, insight into the consumer's thought process can be priceless. That's why Amazon, Yahoo!, and other major Internet commerce sites are exploring how to incorporate tagging into their interfaces.
The major search engines are eyeing these developing sites eagerly, waiting to see how folksonomy and tags can be scaled and applied to a larger pool of content and users in the future. Amazon.com is testing the waters with the November 2005 beta test of tags on its Web site. When users find something that they want to remember, they can tag it with keywords like "gift," and the item will be stored with their other tags. Users can then search their own tags or others' public tags to find suggestions, and Amazon can generate recommendations for other items based on users' tags.
Yahoo! is already surfing the folksonomy wave thanks to two critical 2005 purchases of Flickr and del.icio.us. These sites' users number in the hundreds of thousands, a far cry from Yahoo!'s millions. But Yahoo! knows a Web life trend when it sees one, and these acquisitions have been less about turning a quick profit and more about "making sure Yahoo! is in a position to benefit from emerging Web trends," according to Reynolds.
Despite the community's concerns that Yahoo! will take the "social" out of "social categorization," Reynolds predicts that the biggest change these sites will see in the short term is simply "an onrush of new users," which has the long-term potential to make the community a richer resource. According to del.icio.us' Fralic, the acquisition will bring these sites "more users and visibility, and more servers in Yahoo!'s world-class hosting facilities."
In addition to finding a place in the established major Internet search engines, folksonomy might be coming next to an intranet near you. "One of the things coming in the future is that CM companies will use folksonomy," says Doyle. Reynolds agrees, predicting that tagging will next be seen in the context of enterprise searching.
Despite its vast potential, folksonomy is still in its infancy, and most analysts agree that it's too early to be certain whether it's more than just a fad. How it develops over the next few years, how its communities adapt to the influx of users, and how well tagging sites serve the searching public will be critical in determining whether humans or robots will wind up writing the search vocabulary of the future.
Surf Wax, Inc.