Title:Tag! You’re It! What Value Do Folksonomies Bring to the Online Museum Collection?
Authors:Susan Cairns
Publication:MW2011: Museums and the Web 2011

As growing numbers of museums invite users to digitally tag online collection objects with key words, it is timely to examine the value that this practice can bring to the sector. These tags in their aggregate are known as 'folksonomies' and are broad user-derived classifications that are, at their heart, a form of communication.[1] As a collaborative process with no hierarchical structure,[2] folksonomies stand in opposition to traditional museum taxonomies, and present museums with new opportunities for gaining insight into, and interacting with, audiences. Further, folksonomies give the museum the opportunity to track historical public contributions to museum collection documentation, providing the sector with a possible new avenue for historical document analysis. Through recording evolving language and tag behaviour, folksonomies have the potential to become autonomously important to the museum in its study of people and written historical documentation.


Folksonomies can also provide the museum with a new method for gaining insight into the polysemic nature of online collection objects and for uniting disparate theoretical and practical frameworks of meaning in the online collection. This conceptual paper will present an exploratory examination of the value that folksonomies provide to the museum and gallery sector. Using Sydney's Powerhouse Museum and the fully Internet-based as examples, it will demonstrate that incorporating folksonomies with traditional taxonomic museum classification systems provides the museum with an important new way through which to maintain and grow its relevance in the digital age.


The growing incorporation of folksonomies and other Web2.0 technologies into museum collections practice is a current and important issue for the sector to address and understand. Changes in the technological landscape occur more quickly than the associated theoretical analysis. Therefore investigation into the value that folksonomies provide the online museum collection gives important and timely context for this practice. This research offers an original perspective on these issues.


[1] Andrea Wei-Ching Huang and Tyng-Ruey Chuang, "Social Tagging, Online Communication, and Peircean Semiotics: A Conceptual Framework," Journal of Information Science 35(2009): 341.

[2] Fiona Cameron and Sarah Mengler, "Complexity, Transdisciplinarity and Museum Collections Documentation: Emergent Metaphors for a Complex World," Journal of Material Culture, 14 (2009): 195