Federated tagsonomy

Back in December I heard from Tony Hammond, who's in the new technology department at the Nature Publishing Group, the publisher of Nature and many journals. Tony pointed me to Connotea, a del.icio.us-like service for the scientific community.

Connotea is tuned for use in the scholarly domain. For example, it was recently enhanced to support digital object identifiers (DOIs). The Connotea site explains that, since these identifiers are printed in many journals, you can use them to bookmark and tag an article while reading its printed version.

I was reminded of Connotea when Timo Hannay, one of Tony's collaborators, posted this item yesterday on You're It, a group blog on tagging.

It will be fascinating to observe language evolution in domain-specific tagsonomies. It will be even more fascinating to watch what happens when those domains begin to federate.

One conceivable model seen in the Wiki world is InterWiki. For example, here is Wikipedia's InterWiki map, a list of site names and URL patterns. If I'm editing a Wikipedia article and I want to refer not to the Wikipedia page on InterWiki but rather to the corresponding page on the popular Meatball Wiki, I can type [[Meatball:InterWiki]]. Wikipedia uses its InterWiki map to resolve the Meatball: prefix to the appropriate URL prefix.

Now consider the relationship between, say, del.icio.us/tag/AvianFlu and www.connotea.org/tag/AvianFlu. One set reflects general interests, the other reflects more specialized scientific interests. It's easy to imagine an InterWiki-like syntax, but it's not clear why you'd assign a tag like connotea:AvianFlu in a del.icio.us context, or what it would do in that context.

My guess is that federation across tag spaces will be accomplished by aggregators and search engines. When the subject is avian flu, they'll enable you to compare the resources cited by nonspecialists with those cited by various kinds of specialists -- epidemiologists, ornithologists, poultry farmers. If you're an epidemiologist, it'd be helpful to know what sources of information the poultry farmers are using. Conversely if you're a poultry farmer, you might want to know what's hot in the epidemiological community.

Doing these comparisons across all domains would require Google- or Yahoo!-scale resources. But tags carve out vastly smaller domains within which anybody can do some correlation. I can't wait to see what emerges!

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2005/07/22.html#a1274