Thomas Vander Wal

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Thomas Vander Wal.

Thomas Vander Wal is an information architect best known for coining the term "folksonomy". [1] He is also known for initiating the term "infocloud". [2] His work has primarily dealt with the Web and with information design and structure especially in the context of social technology.

Folksonomy is the system in which users apply public tags to online items, typically to make those items easier for themselves or others to find later. Over time, this can give rise to a classification system based on those tags and how often they are applied or searched for, in contrast to a taxonomic classification designed by the owners of the content and specified when it is published. This practice is also known as collaborative tagging, social classification, social indexing, and social tagging. Folksonomy was originally "the result of personal free tagging of information [...] for one's own retrieval", but online sharing and interaction expanded it into collaborative forms. Social tagging is the application of tags in an open online environment where the tags of other users are available to others. Collaborative tagging is tagging performed by a group of users. This type of folksonomy is commonly used in cooperative and collaborative projects such as research, content repositories, and social bookmarking.

World Wide Web System of interlinked hypertext documents accessed over the Internet

The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as the Web, is an information system where documents and other web resources are identified by Uniform Resource Locators, which may be interlinked by hypertext, and are accessible over the Internet. The resources of the WWW may be accessed by users by a software application called a web browser.

Information that which informs; the answer to a question of some kind; that from which data and knowledge can be derived

Information can be thought of as the resolution of uncertainty; it is that which answers the question of "what an entity is" and thus defines both its essence and nature of its characteristics. It is associated with data, as data represents values attributed to parameters, and information is data in context and with meaning attached. Information relates also to knowledge, as knowledge signifies understanding of an abstract or concrete concept.



Vander Wal attended high school at Lincoln High School in Stockton (California, USA), then went on to get his BA in communication at Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga. He has also attended the Center for Medieval Renaissance Studies at Oxford and holds a MPP from Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute. [3]

Stockton, California City in California, United States

Stockton is the county seat of San Joaquin County in the Central Valley of the U.S. state of California. Stockton was founded by Captain Charles Maria Weber in 1849 after he acquired Rancho Campo de los Franceses. The city is named after Robert F. Stockton, and it was the first community in California to have a name not of Spanish or Native American origin. The city is located on the San Joaquin River in the northern San Joaquin Valley and had an estimated population of 320,554 by the California Department of Finance for 2017. Stockton is the 13th largest city in California and the 63rd largest city in the United States. It was named an All-America City in 1999, 2004, 2015 and again in 2017.

Saint Marys College of California Roman Catholic college

Saint Mary's College of California is a private Catholic college in Moraga, California. It is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and administered by the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

Moraga, California Town in California, USA

Moraga is a town in Contra Costa County, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The town is named in honor of Joaquín Moraga, member of the famed Californio family, son of Gabriel Moraga, and grandson of José Joaquín Moraga, famous 18th century expeditionaries of the Californias. Moraga incorporated in 1974, when the communities of Moraga Town, Rheem, and Rheem Valley, united into one town.

He currently lives in Bethesda, Maryland with his wife and son. [4]



Vander Wal is credited with coining the term “folksonomy’ in 2004. [5] Folksonomy is sometimes called collaborative tagging, social classification, social indexing, or social tagging. It refers to taxonomies created by users applying their own tags to pieces of information (including articles, pictures, and websites). The tags aid users in categorizing information for both personal management and sharing with others. These user generated taxonomies stand in contrast to professionally created ontologies and taxonomies used for resource discovery and retrieval in more traditional knowledge organization systems.

Taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. The word is also used as a count noun: a taxonomy, or taxonomic scheme, is a particular classification. The word finds its roots in the Greek language τάξις, taxis and νόμος, nomos. Originally, taxonomy referred only to the classification of organisms or a particular classification of organisms. In a wider, more general sense, it may refer to a classification of things or concepts, as well as to the principles underlying such a classification. Taxonomy is different from meronomy, which is dealing with the classification of parts of a whole.

Personal InfoCloud

The Personal InfoCloud is the information that a user collects, organizes, and carries with them, a bit like your personal slice of the web. Instead of focusing on very large and relatively public social spaces on the internet, the Personal InfoCloud represents a desire to use the internet to connect to a small group of people on a more personal level, and keep specific information accessible to that group. The point here is that the information needs to be accessible to the user in a very short amount of time. Thus, aggregation, personal organization and portability all flow from the need for accessibility. Vander Wal links the Personal InfoCloud to concepts like personal archiving, information overload, and what he calls the “Come to Me Web”. [6]

Model of Attraction

Much of his work, including the Personal InfoCloud and folksonomies, is undergirded by what he calls the Model of Attraction. MoA is a metaphor, much like navigation or sense of smell, that helps information architects and web developers think about the way that users interact with information. To think about MoA in relation to folksonomies, certain terms are associated with different pieces of information. The strength of the association can be visualized as a magnetic field, bringing certain kinds of information around a term. When a user searches on that term, they enter into the magnetic field. To think about MoA in relation to the Personal InfoCloud, a user’s associated information and interests create a similar magnetic field, which draws pertinent information to them, and keeps it around them. [7]

Professional Experience

Vander Wal works at InfoCloud Solutions as the Principal and Senior Consultant. [8] InfoClouds Solutions is Vander Wal’s consulting company that advises on the range of digital content/media, folksonomy/tagging, social web, and personal to social information use and reuse.

He is a columnist at KM World, [9] writes on his own blog “Off the Top” and he has worked for the INDUS Corporation in Bethesda, Maryland, is a member of the Founding Leadership Council for The Information Architecture Institute, and the Steering Committee for the Web Standards Project (WaSP). He is also the Alumni Tech Lead for Boxes and Arrows magazine.

He spoke at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies Web convention in January 2008. [10]

Related Research Articles

An image retrieval system is a computer system for browsing, searching and retrieving images from a large database of digital images. Most traditional and common methods of image retrieval utilize some method of adding metadata such as captioning, keywords, title or descriptions to the images so that retrieval can be performed over the annotation words. Manual image annotation is time-consuming, laborious and expensive; to address this, there has been a large amount of research done on automatic image annotation. Additionally, the increase in social web applications and the semantic web have inspired the development of several web-based image annotation tools.

Social bookmarking is an online service which allows users to add, annotate, edit, and share bookmarks of web documents. Many online bookmark management services have launched since 1996; Delicious, founded in 2003, popularized the terms "social bookmarking" and "tagging". Tagging is a significant feature of social bookmarking systems, allowing users to organize their bookmarks and develop shared vocabularies known as folksonomies.

Image sharing, or photo sharing, is the publishing or transfer of a user's digital photos online. Image sharing websites offer services such as uploading, hosting, managing and sharing of photos. This function is provided through both websites and applications that facilitate the upload and display of images. The term can also be loosely applied to the use of online photo galleries that are set up and managed by individual users, including photoblogs. Sharing means that other users can view but not necessarily download images, and users can select different copyright options for their images.

The following tables compare general and technical information for a number of wiki software packages.

Web 2.0 World Wide Web sites that use technology beyond the static pages of earlier Web sites

Web 2.0 refers to websites that emphasize user-generated content, ease of use, participatory culture and interoperability for end users.

CiteULike was a web service which allowed users to save and share citations to academic papers. Based on the principle of social bookmarking, the site worked to promote and to develop the sharing of scientific references amongst researchers. In the same way that it is possible to catalog web pages or photographs, scientists could share citation information using CiteULike. Richard Cameron developed CiteULike in November 2004 and in 2006 Oversity Ltd. was established to develop and support CiteULike. In February 2019, CiteULike announced that it would be ceasing operations as of March 30, 2019.

Tag (metadata) metadata used for classifications or adding of informations

In information systems, a tag is a keyword or term assigned to a piece of information. This kind of metadata helps describe an item and allows it to be found again by browsing or searching. Tags are generally chosen informally and personally by the item's creator or by its viewer, depending on the system, although they may also be chosen from a controlled vocabulary.

Tag cloud type of visual representation for text data

A tag cloud is a novelty visual representation of text data, typically used to depict keyword metadata (tags) on websites, or to visualize free form text. Tags are usually single words, and the importance of each tag is shown with font size or color. This format is useful for quickly perceiving the most prominent terms to determine its relative prominence. When used as website navigation aids, the terms are hyperlinked to items associated with the tag.

VFinity is a privately held software company based in New York City. It was founded by former Chinese democracy leader Shen Tong in 2004, with a consulting and software customization company Wan Net Technology founded in 2000 as its predecessor.

BibSonomy social bookmarking and publication-sharing system

BibSonomy is a social bookmarking and publication-sharing system. It aims to integrate the features of bookmarking systems as well as team-oriented publication management. BibSonomy offers users the ability to store and organize their bookmarks and publication entries and supports the integration of different communities and people by offering a social platform for literature exchange.

The concept of the Social Semantic Web subsumes developments in which social interactions on the Web lead to the creation of explicit and semantically rich knowledge representations. The Social Semantic Web can be seen as a Web of collective knowledge systems, which are able to provide useful information based on human contributions and which get better as more people participate. The Social Semantic Web combines technologies, strategies and methodologies from the Semantic Web, social software and the Web 2.0.

Subject indexing is the act of describing or classifying a document by index terms or other symbols in order to indicate what the document is about, to summarize its content or to increase its findability. In other words, it is about identifying and describing the subject of documents. Indexes are constructed, separately, on three distinct levels: terms in a document such as a book; objects in a collection such as a library; and documents within a field of knowledge.

Human-computer information retrieval (HCIR) is the study and engineering of information retrieval techniques that bring human intelligence into the search process. It combines the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) and information retrieval (IR) and creates systems that improve search by taking into account the human context, or through a multi-step search process that provides the opportunity for human feedback.

The project was a collaborative effort to improve public access to and engagement with US art museum collections. It explored the possibilities of user-generated descriptions of works of art, also known as folksonomy. Project staff in 2011 comprised a group of volunteers, mostly from art museums, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as Archives & Museum Informatics.

Enterprise bookmarking is a method for Enterprise 2.0 users to tag, organize, store, and search bookmarks of both web pages on the Internet and data resources stored in a distributed database or fileserver. This is done collectively and collaboratively in a process by which users add tag (metadata) and knowledge tags.

The following tables compare Enterprise bookmarking platforms.

Elium, previously referred to as Knowledge Plaza, is a Software as a Service used for enterprise knowledge sharing within organisations. It supports use cases for knowledge management, social bookmarking, document management, wikis and internal social network. It was initially designed as an information management tool for knowledge workers and is often used for collaborative research projects, market intelligence, information brokerage, etc.

Elasticsearch A distributed, scalable, and highly available real-time search platform with a RESTful API.

Elasticsearch is a search engine based on the Lucene library. It provides a distributed, multitenant-capable full-text search engine with an HTTP web interface and schema-free JSON documents. Elasticsearch is developed in Java. Following an open-core business model, parts of the software are licensed under various open-source licenses, while other parts fall under the proprietary (source-available) Elastic License. Official clients are available in Java, .NET (C#), PHP, Python, Apache Groovy, Ruby and many other languages. According to the DB-Engines ranking, Elasticsearch is the most popular enterprise search engine followed by Apache Solr, also based on Lucene.

Social navigation is a form of social computing introduced by Dourish and Chalmers in 1994. They defined it as when "movement from one item to another is provoked as an artifact of the activity of another or a group of others". According to later research in 2002, "social navigation exploits the knowledge and experience of peer users of information resources" to guide users in the information space. With all of the digital information available both on the World Wide Web and from other sources, it is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate and search efficiently. Studying others' navigational trails and understanding their behavior can help improve one's own search strategy by helping them to make more informed decisions based on the actions of others. "The idea of social navigation is to aid users to navigate information spaces through making the collective, aggregated, or individual actions of others visible and useful as a basis for making decisions on where to go next and what to choose."


  1. Peters, Isabella. Folksonomies: Indexing and Retrieval in Web 2.0. Berlin, Germany: Gruyter, 2009. 154.
  2. Van del Wal, Thomas. "Understanding the Personal Info Cloud." Presentation at the University of Maryland. June 8, 2004.
  3. "Meet the team". FatDUX. Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  4. Bogaards, Peter. "Thomas Vander Wal: the Infodesigns profile" . Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  5. Furner, Jonathan. Folksonomies. pp. 1858–1866. doi:10.1081/e-elis3-120043238.
  6. Vander Wal, Thomas. "Understanding the Personal InfoCloud" (PDF). Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  7. Vander Wal, Thomas. "Model of Attraction" . Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  8. "About InfoClouds Solutions".
  9. "Authors: Thomas Vander Wal". KM World.
  10. Web Publishing 2008: Speaker's Bios