Folksonomies to support coordination and coordination of folksonomies
Members of highly-distributed groups in online production communities face challenges in achieving coordinated action. Existing CSCW research highlights the importance of shared language and artifacts when coordinating actions in such settings. To better understand how such shared language and artifacts are, not only a guide for, but also a result of collaborative work we examine the development of folksonomies (i.e., volunteer-generated classification schemes) to support coordinated action. Drawing on structuration theory, we conceptualize a folksonomy as an interpretive schema forming a structure of signification. Our study is set in the context of an online citizen-science project, Gravity Spy, in which volunteers label “glitches” (noise events recorded by a scientific instrument) to identify and name novel classes of glitches. Through a multi-method study combining virtual and trace ethnography, we analyze folksonomies and the work of labelling as mutually constitutive, giving folksonomies a dual role: an emergent folksonomy supports the volunteers in labelling images at the same time that the individual work of labelling images supports the development of a folksonomy. However, our analysis suggests that the lack of supporting norms and authoritative resources (structures of legitimation and domination) undermines the power of the folksonomy and so the ability of volunteers to coordinate their decisions about naming novel glitch classes. These results have implications for system design. If we hope to support the development of emergent folksonomies online production communities need to facilitate 1) tag gardening, a process of consolidating overlapping terms of artifacts; 2) demarcate a clear home for discourses around folksonomy disagreements; 3) highlight clearly when decisions have been reached; and 4) inform others about those decisions.