Searching Folksonomies

Here's something that occurred to me whilst enjoying Shelley's Cheap Eats at the Semantic Web Café posting again. I added tagging to this site using Jerome's tagging plugin for WordPress and then hacked around with Tom Gilbert's plugin to fetch a list of my bookmarks for each tag. Now when I click on a tag< I get to see recent thing I've written together with things I've bookmarked. Useful. In fact, so useful that I keep coming across things that I'd forgotten about. Sometimes I don't even remember bookmarking them in the first place.

Here's my revelation: I don't actually visit all that often. For me, is a write-only environment. I fire and forget. I'm bookmarking because I might one day want to go back and use find it but in practice I rarely do. I seem to remember that the last time I did try to find something I'd bookmarked, I couldn't remember the tags I'd used or even if I had bookmarked it and I ended up with Google anyway.

Part of the problem is that I'm not consistent: I seem to have things bookmarked under web-services, webservice and webservices. But I thought that was the mantra of folksonomy: no controlled vocabularies.

Looking at my tagcloud I can see lots of tags that never realised their full potential such as sidebar (I thought perhaps I could tag useful Firefox sidebar extensions) or stats. These languish, barely used, because I can't remember them or why I thought they were useful.

My inconsistency and bad memory aside, the fact of the matter is that tagging systems and folksonomies are great for organising, but boy do they suck when it comes to finding something. Google still wins hands down - I just have to plug in the keywords (tags!) that are relevant to me now, rather than those that were relevant a few months ago. This is an area where controlled vocabularies win too: they're designed for locating things quickly, not for ease of categorisation (e.g. Dewey, dmoz etc).

I think there's a solution and it's a web 2.0 thing. In the same way that Google desktop inserts results from my hard disk into any Google web search, I want all the pages I've bookmarked to be searched and shown first whenever I search in Google. Maybe I could do this as an extension to Google desktop, but a better solution would be for Google to allow me to register my RSS feeds with them. Then, they could subscribe to my feeds to learn what I've recently read or bookmarked and show those at the top of any search results. That would be extremely cool and infinitely useful!


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