When we organize content it can be done in a hierarchy information model or a flat information model. The flat model is sometimes implemented by the use of metadata in the form of tags. Tags put labels on the content which makes the information easily retrievable when the user needs to. Tags can be used as a part of filtering search queries or fixed views of a content source.
The creation of tags can be done in different ways. An organization can decide to implement tags from the top down, meaning that tags only exist if the organization representative have created it. In this model users has to ask for the creation of tags, if they need the tag. The process is slow, and users may have forgotten where the content is when the tag is available to label the content. Or worse, the content may be stored locally making it impossible to retrieve for other users.
To overcome this problem organizations can let the users create tags themselves. This process is called a folksonomy and can in a more formal way be described as “a user-generated system of classifying and organizing online content into different categories by the use of metadata such as electronic tags”. They have the advantage of being simple and easy to use and users don’t have to ask for permission upon creation. But that is also part of the problem. Unattended tags can be misused unintentionally by spelling errors, using the wrong tag or by not tagging at all. Either way, there is a problem.
Image from UCLA.edu
An organization can use both systems at the same time, having one field for managed tags and a second field for folksonomy tags. Upon retrieval of content the organization can decide priorities between these different fields using several rules. But from my experience users find these different fields difficult to understand and as a consequence, difficult to use.
This leads to the question if you’re just using one tag field where users can add tags by themselves, should these tags be governed by an organization representative? All in the good purpose of get rid of errors mentioned before? It costs time to govern folksonomy tags, and it can be seen as an investment to make the information retrieval more accurate. But is it worth the cost? And is it folksonomy tags if you govern them? Does it really matter, as long as it works?
Should folksonomy tags be governed or not?