Thursday, October 27, 2005

Authority Vs Findability

Folksonomies are very popular today. Services that allow Folksonomy tagging & categorization -- Wikipedia,, technorati, and Flickr -- are becoming popular with Internet users looking for information. Search results and information from these services, especially from the wikipedia, are perceived to have great "authority." While one might assign some authority to some content on the Wikipedia (Wikipedia has a traditional information architecture and follows some strong traditional design conventions like a fixed left-hand navigation bar), can we attribute similar authority to the other services which have no hierarchy in their information architecture?

In an interesting and insightful article on the working of taxonomies, folksonomies and issues of authority and findabilty, Peter Morville, ridicules and questions the authority of folksonomies:

In the good old days, not so long ago, in the context of the written word, authority was a term used primarily by librarians as a criteria of evaluation. Along with accuracy, objectivity, and currency, we judged source authority. Who is the author? Who is the publisher? What are their individual and institutional qualifications and reputations? Have the contents been edited and refereed? Is this an authoritative source?

But then, authority was appropriated by the Technorati mob, where it swiftly lost definition in a tangled tag soup of popularity, power, trust, credibility, and relevance. These words were tossed around indiscriminately in a Bacchanalian festival of semantic anarchy.

[. . .]

a motley crew of rapture-ready anarchists, anti-taxonomists, and folksonomy fetishists to predict not just the demise of traditional publishing but the end of hierarchy itself.

He feels that most of us are missing out on the real picture and getting carried away by tagging. Like in the context of the written word, authority still matters. But it also matters that this information should also be "findable" and "re-findable," and at the same time have a well-defined structure or classification.
[. . .] tags are only the visible, superficial symbols of a much deeper, more interesting revolution in findability and authority. Wikipedia doesn't beat Britannica because it has better folksonomies. It wins because it's more findable. And its success didn't come without structure. In fact, the Wikipedia has a traditional information architecture [. . .]

Google's search algorithm looks at internal link structure of sites (information architecture) and at the links between web sites (a way of tagging) and provides extremely relevant search results for keywords, has shown that the search game is not only about authority but also about findability.

Pure foxonomies like that of Flickr and maybe cool, but when it comes to authority and finding and refinding information, they measure very poorly against Google.

Read the complete article: Authority.

And if you have the time and the interest, follow all the links in that article.

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