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Database Management: Tags vs. Taxonomy

When it comes to a large number of items, whether it’s documents or online profiles, you need to have a method for grouping them to create organization and make it easier to locate them. There are two common methods to grouping: folksonomy (tags) and taxonomy.


Folksonomy is arranging groups through collaborative classifications in a loose structure. This is also known as tagging. This means that all users with access can type in relevant words or “tags” that they can look up or click when looking for that item. Tags are generally allowed to be entered in an unlimited amount.

For example, when you upload a video on YouTube, say a recipe video, it will ask you to enter relevant tags to help the video show up in the search results. The uploader could put the tags “cheesecake,” “recipe,” “dessert,” and “baking” in no particular order, but someone looking for the video would have to search a phrase with one or more of those tags such as “best cheesecake recipe.” All videos on YouTube that had the tag “cheesecake” and “recipe” would also show up in the results. Below is an image I created to demonstrate how broad tags can become, these can all be linked to a dessert recipe.


Taxonomy is an ordered arrangement of groups or categories. The categories are usually in a hierarchical relationship with one another (parent/child). These categories are defined in advance and can only be chosen, not created by users. This method allows someone to find a category and get more specific within that category to locate the item. When someone needs to categorize an item using this method, they will select only the categories that it is directly relevant to, with the categories getting more specific.

For example, say you are searching for gluten-free cookie recipes online. You click the first category on a website which is “Recipes,” you then get more specific by selecting “Desserts,” and then narrow down the options even more by selecting “Cookies,” then “Gluten-Free.” The person that organized these recipes choose those four categories to group other desserts together, while giving the searcher the ability to narrow down their selection, but still see other options even in the most specific category. This structure is what separates taxonomy from folksonomy.

Pros and Cons

The pros and cons of both folksonomy and taxonomy counter each other, making it beneficial to use both methods.

Folksonomy Pros:

  • Unlimited tags give an item a greater chance of being found when a name or title has been forgotten
  • Can categorize an item under less specific tags if the item has an unclear objective

Folksonomy Cons:

  • If a common tag was forgotten, the item won’t be categorized with the rest of the items that did use that tag
  • Personalized tags are not usable by everyone and can become misleading
  • Too much repetition, one person may use the singular version, while the next uses the plural version of the word as a tag (ex. cookies vs. cookie)
  • Misspellings of tag words can easily happen when users can add tags on the fly

Taxonomy Pros:

  • All relevant items are guaranteed to belong in one group and it is easier to find groups of files since there are specific choices each file must be put into, where with tags you might have to guess and check through a large number of similar tags
  • Better for reporting and sorting

Taxonomy Cons:

  • If an item fits into two categories, but can only go under one, it might not be located with some other relevant items (if one category is the limit)
  • No ability to add categories without administrator

Folksonomy and Taxonomy in Association Management Systems

Alinity license management software allows staff and members to upload a document¬†depending on their role. If it is a member uploading a document, the document will be uploaded through a dictated taxonomy system. For example, a member could upload a criminal record document under Registration –> Requirements –> Criminal Record Check.

When a committee member uploads a draft of a press release that they’ve been working on for a new program that your organization is offering, they might tag it with: “press release”, “2015”, “community outreach”, “marketing”, etc. These tags may be made up by the committee member or may be ones that other committee members have used – thus creating an organic collaboration of tags. Fellow committee members can then search for documents with any/all of these tags that were used.