Sunday, August 4, 2013

Taxonomy primer (very quick and dirty!)

Taxonomies are tools which conect people to content. They can take many forms and appear in a number of places. They can be visible (e.g. as a navigation aid on a website) or invisible (e.g. as a list of search engine synonyms to help people looking for information).

Taxonomies have 3 major functions:
  1. They provide a visual map of a knowledge domain. (a knowledge map)
  2. They group related things together. (a classification scheme)
  3. They enable the creation of a controlled vocabulary. (a semantic representation)
Knowledge domains are usually represented visually as lists, trees, hierarchies, facets or maps and controlled vocabularies are expressed in dictionaries, thesauri or ontologies.

All taxonomies are comprised of terms (words or phrases) which represent concepts. See taxonomy-structure diagram for a visual representation of this.

Alongside taxonomies are metadata schemes which describe files (e.g. author, creation date, title, keyword, category etc.) making them easier to store and locate.

Taxonomies and metadata are the unsung heroes of navigation and findability. They, along with governance policies, are often left out of content management discussions and plans, but when properly implemented can make the difference between success and failure.

Preparing the ground 
There are several stages involved in taxonomy and metadata development when preparing for a content management system, but a good place to begin is to clean up your existing file store.

The list below provides a practical starting point for tidying up your existing files and will help you when moving through subseqent stages.
  • Identify existing folder owners and enlist their help sorting through the contents.
  • Go through all sub folders and move unused files into an archive.
  • Rename all remaining files, if necessary, to make them more meaningful.
  • Adopt a consistent file naming convention e.g. file-name (lowercase, word separated by hyphen or underscore).
  • Rename all top level folders with meaningful names which represents their contents.
This is your new basic structure. This simple exercise should significantly tidy up your existing file store and prepare you for the next stages in developing your new content system.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Do you understand what I’m saying?

Something from the heady world of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) this time.

As an occasional teacher in our English Language School (Meridian School of English), we often discuss the flexibility of the English Language and how is possible, and very easy, to say the same thing but in a different way. We do this mainly to emphasise certain elements of what we want to say to bring attention to something specific. As native speakers, we do it without even thinking about it. But for students whose native language isn't English, it can be very tricky to understand and grasp the subtleties of how this works.

So here's a quick and dirty example of saying the same thing in 3 different ways (there are many other ways of course) to bring together a past event with a present experience.

In English, there are many ways of saying the same thing but with a slightly different emphasis. Take for example the clause:

Did he understand what you wanted?

There are two quick observations we can make:
  1. It's a question.
  2. It's in the past tense.
The question is simple. You want to know whether someone understood something you asked them to do at some point in the past. So you choose the past simple forms of the verbs 'do' and 'want' ('did' and 'wanted'). The focus is on the past.

But, suppose you want to change the emphasis to focus on the present? You could either mix the tenses or use an 'aspect'. You could say:

Did he understand what you want?

This links the past with the present by combining the past tense of 'do' (did) with the present tense 'want'. What's the focus of the clause now?

You're linking a past action with a present condition. You asked someone to do something but you're still waiting for it to happen. So the focus is now on the present. This is quite subtle but effective and is one of the finer points of English.

There's one more thing you could do. You could change some of the words in the second part of the clause and turn one of the tenses into an aspect, like this:

Did he understand what you were asking for?

Now we've changed the second verb 'want' (wanted) into 'were asking'. This is usually presented grammatically as the past continuous (or the past progressive).

Again, it links the past and the present together by combining, this time, the past tense with the past continuous aspect.

It's important to note that the meaning hasn't changed but the focus or emphasis has.

This is one of the subtleties of English and is typical of what we teach our more advanced students.

So, to recap. Our 3 clauses are:
  1. Did he understand what you wanted?
  2. Did he understand what you want?
  3. Did he understand what you were asking for?
All are different ways of saying the same thing but with a slightly different emphasis.

So, I hope you agree; English is a pretty cool language, and very flexible.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Where does the time go?

I never seem to get the time to blog anymore. It's pathetic really. I have every good intention of doing so and then 10 billion other things seem to get in the way.

It's not lack of inspiration; it's lack of time. But is it that we really are too busy these days or is it that we fail to manage our time properly? It's probably a bit of both. So what can we do?

Well, for one, we could cut down on the number of tasks we undertake each day, It shouldn't be too difficult to say "No". We just need to get into the habit of doing so. Not everything's vitally important; it can't be. So we need to make some judgements about what to cut out. Try it. It's fun!

The other might be some good old Time Management training. I don't mean spending your hard earned cash on some dodgy corporate sounding course. I'm thinking of the many excellent sources of information widely available on the web.

For instance, there's a very good resource at Mind Tools which I use regularly. There's a ton of really useful resources on the site and most of it's free. I use it for revisiting half remembered management and self-development concepts and for boning up on issues I'm less familiar with.

Try the section on Time Management. It's very good; sensible and practical, and mercifully free of management waffle.

There's also an app for your smartphone, (of course there is) which contains the complete Toolkit of topics like:

  • Team Management
  • Leadership
  • Strategy Tools
  • Problem Solving
  • Decision Making
  • Project Management
  • Time Management
  • Stress Management
  • Communications Skills
  • Practical Creativity
  • Information Skills
  • Career Skills

Something for everyone? These are great for dipping into and reading 'on the move'.

If you really like this stuff you can purchase a subscription, for even more in-depth content or just purchase the pdf MindTools eBooks.  But you don't have to buy anything if you don't want to.

Be careful though.

There so much here that you could end up spending a lot of time reading the material and not doing those other things. Then you'll be right back where you started.

Time Management anyone? Dooh!

Monday, April 1, 2013


Not related to information management, copywriting or teaching, but as it’s Easter Monday and I’m not working, I thought I’d spread the word about a great new coffee I’ve discovered right here in Plymouth. 

Owens are blenders and roasters based in Modbury (a pretty little Devon town). See the website at 

The coffee is available to buy direct via the website or, available from a number of stockists throughout the Devon area. They’re available pre-ground or as whole beans in 1k and 227g bags. I like to buy the whole beans and grind them myself for my Gaggia espresso machine. 

The 227g bag is a good size for home as it ensures that, once opened, you should get through it before the beans begin to lose their freshness. Contrary to popular belief, coffee beans don’t last much longer than a couple of weeks before they begin to taste old.

The coffees currently available are small in range, it’s quality not quantity remember, and available in espresso and filter varieties including decaf. I'm slowly and lovingly working my way through all of them. The range so far is:

  • Espresso - A special dark roast blend of Central American, African and Indonesian beans. Rich and chocolaty with a smooth nutty taste and hints of biscuit and caramel.
  • Cuppa Diem - A medium roast blend of Central American beans. Smooth and refreshingly balanced, a pleasing taste to suit most palates.
  • Cafe Negro - A darker roast blend of Central American and African beans. Creamy and mellow with fruity acidity and a hint of honey.
  • Cafe Feminio - Smooth rich, full body with semi sweet chocolate under tones and caramel notes. Owens Coffee supports the Cafe Femenino Project, a social program for women coffee producers in rural communities around the world. This one’s a Taste of the West Silver Medal winner.

I was previously buying the house blend whole beans from Cafe Nero but would much rather support a local business, especially when the quality’s this good.

If you like quality coffee at a good price, check them out.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

SharePoint 2013

As an information manager, I'm getting a little excited about SharePoint 2013. First impressions are that it's a big improvement on previous incarnations. It isn't the new and much trumpeted social features that appeal to me, or the new look and feel, it's the way that it's been redesigned to make the whole process of managing enterprise, and specifically team site, content more intuitive and user friendly.

The new Windows 8 style metro tiles interface is very visually appealing and the re-classification of lists and libraries as 'apps' is a smart move as is the ability to change various settings on the page. One of the biggest headaches for a lot of site owners was the way user permissions worked. This too has been simplified. There is, in fact, a whole raft of changes that will greatly simplify the entire experience of users, and particularly, power users. Ah yes, power users, those people who sit somewhere between administrators and general users. There doesn't seem to be much material around to cater for them. So where might one turn for insight, help and general awareness of those advanced features?

While there's a huge amount of SharePoint material available all over the web, most of it's geared toward Server Administrators - largely an IT function. What about SharePoint Administrators, those with overall responsibility for managing site collections and those aforementioned Power Users? where might they turn for information and guidance?

Two of the best sources I know are:
  1. the AIIM SharePoint Community blog, where various contributors share their insights, experience and opinions. 
  2. SharePoint Videos a subscription based site which uses videos to explain all the different flavours of SharePoint.
I use both of these on a regular basis and find them invaluable. The chief source is of course the Microsoft site, but as mentioned earlier, it's geared toward IT pros. However, there are several places on this site where you can get an excellent overview and feel for the entire product along with some very useful visual representations of different architectures.

Pretty cool huh?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Taxonomy and metadata course

I've just completed the Taxonomy and Metadata online course run by AIIM.
It's a very well rounded course, comprehensive and thorough. Currently only available at Practitioner level. Perhaps a Specialist level is forthcoming. It covers everything you need to know to set up a taxonomy and metadata project: how to build a business case, who to involve and how to plan it all out from beginning to end.
It also introduces the subject in a nice visual, easy to understand way and presents the 3 fundamental concepts of visualisation, relatedness and vocabulary control. It didn't however, walk you through the actual construction of a taxonomy, which was a little surprising and the sections on concept/term identification and facets could have been a little more inclusive. That said though, it's a very good course and well worth doing if this is a new area for you.