Mashups, Folksonomies and Communities of Purpose

Over the years, I found myself returning to the Gilbane Group website. Gilbane, Cambridge, Massachusetts, based group of analysts and consultants specialising in information technology strategies. The site is choc-a-block with articles and white papers, many of which are worth the time taken to register, download and read. Frank Gilbane’s report has been around for years – and as it grew and became a media powerhouse, when Gilbane was joined by other keen observers.

Gilbane’s latest report, “Collaboration and Social Media 2016- Taking Stock of Today’s Experiences and Tomorrow’s Opportunities” (free download, 2.3MB PDF) takes a close look at social computing technologies. It argues that first generation web technologies (aka Web 1.0), which offered basic collaborative capabilities like text-based email, ‘classic’ web sites, and basic shared workspaces, have reached a tipping-point and gave way to social media applications such as blogs, wikis, social bookmarking apps etc. as part of Web 2.0, or Second Generation Web.

Quoting Wikipedia, Social media is defined in the report as “a perceived second generation of webbased communities and hosted services (such as social-networking sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies) which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing between users.” (p.2) The report considers various social media related applications and services (Web 1.0 apps – email, web sites, web conferencing, shared workspaces, online video, instant messaging (IM), enterprise directory and newsgroups/forums, Web 2.0 applications – podcasts, really simple syndication (RSS), social networking, wikis, blogs, mashups and social bookmarking.)

The report concludes that Web 2.0 carries five trends that are significant for the future of collaboration and social media (the report is focused on business enterprise, but this view is clearly applicable across a variety of uses.)

  1. The use of social media is ever-growing; it affects both the development and the usage of technologies
  2. There is an ongoing move to focused, outcome based (‘vertical’) functionality 
  3. IT role is changing – software can be outsourced, it is cheaper to produce, it may be tested cheaply, and then deployed to fit a specific purpose. 
  4. Rich media (“Podcasts, audio channels, full-motion video, and immersive experiences”, p.122) will drive communication from an almost uniquely text-centric practice to become a complex interactive process. 
  5. Finally – “Building a community of purpose happens not by accident, but by design. Usually there is one person or more involved in facilitating the interaction.”

Gilbane’s report is comprehensive and – while it is focused on business aspects of social media, it is clearly relevant for both providers and seekers of content. Three important points that are mentioned in the Gilbane report almost in passing are worth special consideration because they denote principal progress avenues for content:


Musical Mashups happen when various music-tracks were mixed together to create a new musical entity. A Web-based Mushup is a website that ‘pulls in’ elements form other web facilities to create coherent functionality. Yahoo Pipes, for example is a “powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web.” Here the term Mashup, used as a verb, denotes merging  – items from anywhere on the web are located, collated and used as a single ‘composition’.

Mashups will allow users to form eclectic collations of content, then share these compositions with others on their social network. This form of content collation and delivery gets its strength from the synergy created by the content packets that make up the collated (‘composed’) website.


Attributed to strategist Thomas Vander Wal, Folksonomy is a “means of classifying and categorizing data on the web through collaborative efforts from the online community. This is more commonly known as (though not strictly synonymous to) ‘tagging'” (Attribution: SixThings blog.) Folksonomies drive the process that makes the Blogosphere tick. Check, for example,, arguably, one of the world’s largest blog registers. As I am writing this piece, the constantly updated counter says that Technorati is “Currently tracking 112.8 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media.”

Technorati is tag-driven; the landing page carries a dynamically updated feature named “Tags from what’s rising, what bloggers are saying now.” The feature shows a cloud of tags, created by people as they post their work to their blog of choice. Technorati tags for this minute include – “apple barack obama britney spears business david beckham entertainment fashion jamie lynn spears john mccain links media movies music music news NEWS news by rmc politics technology video yahoo” – while the tags are arranged in an alphabetical order, more popular items are capitalised.

Each posting may carry a list of tags, representing keywords and key concepts that serve to categorise the piece. These tags, in turn, help content-seekers to find items according to a list of keywords they supply. While ‘normal’ search engines derive keywords from a complex system of rating, based on website ratings and the ratio between keywords searched – and final destinations, or ‘clickthrourghs’, blogosphere tags are generated by those who post content online, as well as by those who search and respond to those tags. This group tagging is Folksonomy.

Community of purpose

According to Wikipedia “A Community of purpose is a community of people who are going through the same process or are trying to achieve a similar objective.” Here, again, the process described is driven by social networking — the group involved can be made, for example, of work-colleagues, who are situated at close proximity to each other, or members of a global organisation who use social-networking technology to communicate with each other across the world.

Providers and seekers of Content are likely to be affected by these trends, which are already creating major shifts in the way people write content for digital consumption — as well as the way people search and retrieve content. The eclectic creation of Mashup sites, their ‘Folksonomic tagging’ — and the subsequent creation of ‘clouds’ of contextual meaning, and, finally, the coming together of individuals with a mutual purpose and vested outcome, are ushering in a knowledge-environment of indescribable proportions. Dynamic, versatile and flexible, this living knowledge organ will both task harshly, and reward handsomely both providers and seekers of meaningful content.

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