The Old Joining Dots Blog

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28 March 2007

When taxonomy fails...

I'm doing a lot of work around information findability at the moment. And at some point, will hopefully find some time to post some of the research and experiences here.

One element of information findability is content classification. There are various methods to classify content but two words crop up in the boxing ring more than any others - taxonomy and folksonomy. Do a search on taxonomy versus folksonomy and you'll see what I mean...

There's an interesting article in the New York Times - One Picture, 1,000 Tags - that highlights why so many people champion folksonomy over taxonomy. The article discusses the challenges faced by museums in making their online collections accessible - how do you find content when you don't know how to describe what you are looking for? The Metropolitan Museum of Art ran a test and got non-specialist volunteers to apply tags to a selection of art. The results raised eyebrows. More than 80% of the terms used were not listed in the museum's documentation. The experts classifiying content are talking a completely different language to the one used by their contents' audience.

This problem all too often applies to corporate scenarios too. Those who are chosen to design the corporate taxonomy are often selected because they are experts. But those who will be using the taxonomy, either applying it or using it to search for content, may have a different point of view. And that's when the taxonomy fails...

Related posts:

Technorati tags: Taxonomy, Folksonomy,

Final note: If you are interested in the use (and pros/cons) of taxonomy, ontology and folksonomy to improve the findability of your content, there's a great book worth reading: Ambient Findability by Peter Morville