Museums and Folksonomies

A folksonomy results from distinct ways of organizing cultural categories developed from the tags, keywords, people use to describe specific content, or services, on the web. The emphasis in folksonomies is on organizing data, not making friends. As Ellyssa Kroski notes, a key difference between Flickr, 43Things, and del.icio.us, when compared to LinkedIn and Friendster, is that the former are focused on organizing data from individual users for the user public, with social relationships arising as users share and seek out others of like mind. The approach is attracting numerous efforts to make accessing information needed to find things easier. I recently came across The Art Museum Community Cataloging Project, called Steve for short. It is an effort to use folksonomies to help visitors find art in museums.

Museums began developing folksonomies in 2005. The “Steve” project is an initiative aiming to develop a technical architecture that elicits tag information from visitors to museums, whether they visit in person or online. In order for museums to recommend that a visitor look at certain types of exhibits, the museum needs to know how its visitors think about its exhibits. As one of the Steve project documents notes:

Critically, as professionals working with art museums we realise that when cataloguers and curators describe works of art, they usually do not include the “subject” of the image itself. Simply put, we rarely answer the question “What is it a picture of?”1 Unfortunately, visitors will often
remember a work based on its visual characteristics, only to find that Web-based searches for any of the things they recall do not produce results.

Before a folksonomy can support searching for art using descriptive tags (keywords provided by visitors), it must elicit descriptions from visitors for the art in its collections. For example, the Cleveland Museum of Art provides a tagging capability for visitors on site as well as online. Upon viewing an image within a collection of art, the visitor can click on a link (labeled “Help others find me”) which opens a window asking for keywords you would apply to the art. The request for visitors to provide keywords about the art includes the following:

Sometimes it can be really hard to find just the art object you are looking for…You know it had a barn, a woman with a pearl earring, bright bold red stripes or some other feature that really struck a chord. Well, we can’t think of every way you might remember a piece, so we need your help.

The web site then asks the visitor to enter keywords in a text box and separate each one with commas. It does not provide the person entering the keywords with any sense of how other people described the art.

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3 Responses to Museums and Folksonomies

  1. I am writing a paper on romoba vacuum cleaners and I observed this post to be extremely beneficial and informative. Thank you.

  2. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

    • Larry Irons says:

      Museums and Folksonomies was one of my early posts. Sorry it took me so long to reply to your comment. I’m really glad you enjoy reading my posts. Glad you are subscribing to my feed.

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