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.