December 14, 2006
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Tags for Pigs

Cathy Marshall attends a social software symposium and observes that something is not right.

Folksonomies are indeed like folk songs and folk singers: it’s hard to dismiss this kind of earnest populism without feeling like something of a cad.

She takes on David Weinberger and his forthcoming book, Everything is Miscellaneous .

David Weinberger’s point seemed to be that folksonomies and social tagging can cut up the world in more and different ways than the more authoritative taxonomies (say, Linnaeus’s taxonomic trees that classify the species according to observable characteristics). That folksonomies are fluid and can record important distinctions. That by shaking all the leaves so they fall off the trees, you can pile them up in new ways that makes more sense. And that authoritative categories can turn on you: Pluto can be a planet one day, then defined out of a job the next by virtue of its lack of two essential characteristics (that it rounds itself and that it clears space around itself).

Much of Cathy's discussion circles around her search for a photo of a mural in San Francisco's Mission District, in which cheerful pigs show how pigs should be butchered and cooked. You don't need to take photos anymore -- you can find even obscure curiousities like this on the Web -- but tags don't seem to help a lot in tracking them down.