In a discussion with erik_k of help.com it seems apparent that tag-based communities are one of the premier forms of ad-hoc community building.
Rather than a formal process to start a community, people create tags around what they are working on or are interested in and it matches the folksonomy of others with the same tags, and what they collectively post about it.
This form of tag-based community isn't unique to help.com; there are other sites like 43 Things, del.icio.us, jeteye.com, etc. that all allow people to "bubble up" a community based on what they tag.
If people use the same keywords, they automatically become a collective or group of participants around the topic. With sites like Jeteye, you can create multiple types of content elements in each tag. Still others allow member of a shared tag to start a discussion area, etc.
This kind of ad-hoc process allows a population to rapidly organize and create communities around what they are working on. You can build quite a sizeable community this way if you have a general purpose site like help.com or del.icio.us.
The downside is that it can be chaotic and hard to track. Some tags get buried under others; there can be many, many tags that refer to the same thing but are disjoint, simply based on how you word the tag; there may not be a central or high-level navigation system. Finally, it's hard to "value" what one person creates over another.
The alternative is to have a formal community creation process and then build community tools around the created entity. This also has its weak points which primarily center around the fact that the process can become bureaucratic.
This isn't limited to just information, but also to other scenarios such as situational applications, where people get together to quickly prototype or build an application in a group setting. More on that later.
Community and social computing
with Tags: tags X
Continued from my previous post...
As I said, we already have an internal taxonomy data structure that is used for our internal search engine, for categorizing our content, etc. It's crucial to keep this or things start going array when those tools are used. Each item in that taxonomy is used as a tag for marking items.
Now for dW Community, currently only the bloggers have their own "Category" tags, which are separate from the dW taxonomy. Because each blogger can create their own tags personally categorizing any of their posts, this can result in many variations of the same tag (same idea, different names), conflicts in the semantic usage of tags (different ideas, same name), and even ownership of those categories. Thus, you can think of these tags as having their own "individual scope" and exist in a different tag space than the full dW taxonomy.
Thus, there are now two scopes of tags: personal, and dW.
Next comes the issues with the big improvements coming in 2006. The plans for 2006 have been laid out but we haven't completely worked out the full tasks and implementation model. Hence, I haven't really described it yet... BUT it is coming and it will have a BIG impact in change! (we hope for the better in many ways)
So, with the new plan, we will start considering another scope of tags: those that span community-wide as a general folksonomy (see previous post).
In this scope, dW Community members can create a tag that exists in the public scope that anyone else can add, modify or even delete items from. This is where we start trusting our users to do what's best for themselves.
With any folksonomy there is potential for abuse and disaster when:
Thus, a pure folksonomy can become total chaos if the facilities to backtrack, undo, alert, or generally administer those tags are not available.
Yet another way to do this is to introduce a new type of scoping. You still have a folksonomy, but you subdivide topics at a high level, and break them down into groups. Each group can have its own tags created by anyone in that group. It's folksonomy in limited scale and actually breaks the original idea some, but limits widespread chaos.
So thus the potential is that there may be a number of scopes: individual, group, dW, global
How do you refer to each of these scopes?
Globally-unique naming of each scope is usually enough.
With our shift towards the more social interaction of Web 2.0, we're currently trying to figure out what makes sense in terms of defining topics and taxonomies in developerWorks.
We already have an internal taxonomy which is used as a table of data in things like our search boxes (see the choices for "topics").
Now we are tackling the issues of how do we build a new taxonomy-like structure that also allows community members to contribute. This is very much in the folksonomy concept in sites like: del.icio.us, flickr, 43things.com, etc.
First, a quick review of things that contribute to complexity of these issues.
There are a number of faces of the same thing which I'll define to point out the differences:
In addition to these concepts, dW itself has some concepts we use regularly, primarily the zone which covers a major topic that we want to publish information on. Thus a zone is a variant of a topic. We also have had "special topics" (smaller than a zone), an "area" (also smaller than a zone), a "station" (guess what: smaller than a zone).