NpTech Tag Summary: Cross-Blog Discussion Summary, A Few Good Reports, and Powerpoint Karaoke

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A screen capture of Chris Blow's nptech tag mashup licensed with CC "by"

Last week, we launched an experiment in holding an online conversation about tagging, taxonomies, and folksonomies that danced across blogosphere, stitched together by the NpTech tag.   Nonprofit techies and even a few from people other fields left comments on blog posts, posted to their blogs, tracked backed, tagged other blog posts not tagged with the NpTech tag, and so forth.  

The conversation threads represented different points of view -- from knowledge management experts, technies, and a cranky librarian or two --  and the points raised ranged  from the philosophical to day-to-day practice. 

It was messy!  It was thrilling!

I know I learned a lot from reading the reflections and thoughts of my colleagues. How about you? I also have a headache from trying to synthesize it all, but here goes.  The key themes and questions:

  • "You say folksonomy,  I say taxonomy ...." It isn't an either/or.  We can we get the best of both worlds with "an emergent taxonomy" - (Don't we need a better word?) Is a folksonomy developed by a small group of experts any less of a folksonomy?
  • Although the NpTech Tag ain't no taxonomy,  it draws people's attention to thoughtful posts or good resources and behind the tsunami of seeming random items that flow through the tag stream each week is a loosely coupled community.

  • A "mashup" of the del.icio.us API that displays a visual tag cloud used in the stream over the past two years presented as a timeline and created by Chris Blow.  What can we learn from an analysis of this "data" that may inform "an emergent taxonomy"?  (And a larger question, why would we want to create a taxonomy for the nonprofit technology field and how might it be used?)

  • Moving from these sublime thoughts to more here and now, what guidelines, if any, could we promote or articulate about adding tagged items to the NpTech Tag stream to improve the quality or usefulness? 

This cacaphony of nonprofit techies blogging their thoughts about tagging was sparked by a librarian's rant from Gavin Clabaugh (be sure to read the comments and follow the trackbacks if they get out of the moderation que).  Gavin's key points:

  • Folksonomies, while they have a cozy name, suck because they lack a "controlled vocabularly" and don't make the retrieval of resources efficient.
  • Questioned the usefulness  of the NpTechTag - "Why would anyone want to use it?"

If you do a "googlefight" (taxonomies vs folksonomies) taxonomies rule!  And mostly everyone agrees with that for the most part if your goal is to retrieve information efficiently (and you have the time and resources to undertake and maintain one.) 

But no so fast.  Laura Quinn, Michelle Murrain, Holly Ross, and Marnie Webb pointed out some drawbacks to taxnomonies, telling us why folksonomies aren't crap, and made solid arguments about using a folksonomy to develop and maintain a taxonomony.   EEK Speaks suggests that asking whether taxonomies are better than folksonomies is not a valid question and advises that we should be focusing our efforts on understanding how taxonomies and folksonomies can augment each other, not on picking sides.

What was also interesting to me was to discover some new" (at least to me) from people wandered into the conversation.  This included HighTouch and Alf Gracombe.  Maybe some dogs who tag will bark too!

I put out some navel grazing questions, asking folks how they used the NpTechTag - was it consumption or promotion or combination of both?  It seems that people do both. (See here and here)

As Holly Ross notes, people's personal preferences -- free spirit versus those who like order -- have a lot to do with how they use (or don't) the NpTechTag. I think it has to do with learning styles - global versus linear thinkers and to some degree myers-briggs personalities.  I suspect J's and S's hate tagging and folksonomies, while I's and P's love it.

Chris Blow wrote an excellent synthesis summing up the conversations here.  Chris also took it one step further and created a timeline/analysis tool of the nptech tag stream in del.icio.us.   It gives us a visual tag cloud for different points of time of the NpTech Tag (based on "pages in del.icio.us) and while as a researcher, I can see some potential bias -- it is a terrific starting point.

So, what is the next step? Marnie puts out the call for us to talk about it in real-time on a skype-based conference call.   I think we should look at this option.  Leave a comment in Marnie's post and we will figure out a meeting time perhaps using one of these.

Here's a few resources and posts that were not about tagging, taxonomies, or folksonomies:

Nancy White alerts us to the final report for I-See-T project available for download. It is also available to read and comment online in the style of the dotOrganize report: Online Technology for Social Change.   Perhaps our next cross-blog conversation will circle the globe in reaction to the key findings and similar themes in both of these reports.  Particularly this point: "Although the tools may be free or low-cost, significant investment in time and animation of other users are still needed to make effective use of ICT for collaboration."

Nancy also reports that the Technologies for Communities report she us co-authoriong with Etienne Wenger and John Smith has turned into a book about technology stewardship.

Click Here for Change: Your Guide to the E-Advocacy Revolution from the Community Technology Foundation of California has just been released.  I'm printing off my copy now! 

I'll end off with a few lighter tidbits as we head into the weekend:

Susie's Blog, winning hearts and minds over to FOSS, thumbs her nose at Intuit.

Paul Webster points us to PowerPoint Karaoke and promises to write about the FOSS Ubuntu usability debate taking place on ukriders list.

Jon Stahl has a little fun with green software made from widgets.