In search of tools for collaborative taxonomy building

Luis, a member of our team, wrote in the team blog, “I like to use the blog to capture passing bits and blurbs of information that I know could be handy to all of us, but for which it is hard to find a right category.”
He is certainly not alone to want to use a blog in that way. Even if the right category is hard to find, associating one with every burst of insight would make them easier to retrieve them when they will be needed in another conversation.
So what’s the “right” category, anyway? Why is it hard to find? Maybe it’s because: “One thing that I have found (and this is universally applicable) is that my method of organizing topics is different than everybody else’s. We all structure the world differently,” says John “K-Log” Robb in an interview published in We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs.


Discussion groups, forums, and boards failed to unleash the full power of connected minds. Too much meaning and context go unrealized when in order to publish that insight, we have to put in a topic that may not be the right “category” for our idea by the next day. So it’s not only that “we all structure the world differently.” I and I are also structuring the world differently, depending on the moment of structuring and categorizing, and my interests, intellectual evolution, even moods in that moment.
Good blogging software give its individual users the freedom to add categories later, add multiple categories, even to trackback categories. But what about a team or a community of practice? What tools do blogs have to support the emergence of shared meaning through collaborative taxonomy building?
Not much, at least not much that I know of. The only tool that I’m impressed by is Drupal’s taxonomy module is an extremely flexible classification system that allows for multiple lists of categories for classification (controlled vocabularies) and offers the possibility of creating thesauri (controlled vocabularies that indicate the relationship of terms) and taxonomies (controlled vocabularies where relationships are indicated hierarchically).
It’s “taxonomy syndication” feature opens probably even more possibilities for collaborative meaning making, the foundation of coherent action in networks of bloggers and their communities. I have not yet tried it but am very curious.

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4 Responses to In search of tools for collaborative taxonomy building

  1. Spot on George, I had been working out the same thing last night! (though I was still not aware of any co-edited weblogs). In any case, my comment is that the weblog (individual or group-) can fill the gaps that the community leaves.
    In my vision the downside of working in the community (of practice) is that there is actually a domain and social control; with the weblog there is more freedom to explore and express individual thoughts. The relationship of course between the blog and CoP – as far as the social aspects are concerned – is the opportunity to express interest or expertise in an area that is related to the community domain.
    Check out..
    http://www.efios.com/blog/2003/03/04.html#a10

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  2. Seb says:

    The Internet Topic Exchange (http://topicexchange.com) is another step in that direction of shared taxonomies. Any weblogger can participate. The “About” pages serve to relate categories to one another. See e.g. http://topicexchange.com/t/emergent_democracy/

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  3. George says:

    Thanx Seb for the info. I discovered Topic Exchange when you’ve helped with getting the “emergent democracy” conversation off the ground. I just didn’t want to write about it until i figure out how to make it work… I’m still trying to…

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  4. Scott Leslie says:

    George, probably through Seb’s post you have followed up on XFML and its role in linking taxonomies, but this was one area that seemed to hold promise in regards to collaborative taxonomy. And on a related note, this sepcification on “Semantic Blogging and Bibliographies” (http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/Europe/reports/open_demonstrators/hp-requirements-specification.html) seemed possibly of interest, not only because of the topic but becuase of the incredibly rich set of resources it points to. Almost too rich.

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