With social computing coming to the fore, it’s never been more obvious that everyone does not, and will never, categorize things in the same way. It doesn’t even matter what’s correct anymore… I will assert that the days of the traditional, definitive, and single-hierarchy taxonomy are long behind us.
I think that this is accurate — insofar as it uses the traditional, definitive and single-dimension definition of taxonomy that I agree ought to be left in the dust along with corded telephones and dot matrix printers. I mean, I can’t even remember ever building a taxonomy that was meant to be traditional or had a single-hierarchy.
The term “taxonomy” has grown to mean so much more than this… We use taxonomy in a very broad sense – suggesting that all metadata comes from the taxonomy. Everything is about classification and structure. Certainly “taxonomy” has become an abused term. The say taxonomy when they want their information world to be a better place. There is a comforting, ordered ring to the term. It sets all things in the world in their proper place.
The fact of the matter is business people don’t get metadata. Sure, they know it’s “information about information”, but start a sentence with metadata and watch their eyes glaze over. It’s an abstraction, its technical, its stuff that they can’t connect with. It’s best left to IT. Don’t bother them with that sort of stuff. It sounds like something that will bore them or extra work that won’t bring in more revenue… at least taxonomy sounds kind of mysterious. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the sentiment: I heart metadata. I have the t-shirt. But I won’t put stock in it becoming the new buzzword.
For whatever reason, people can relate to taxonomy. That’s what they need. They want order, not mess and chaos (despite all the web 2.0ness out there – order eventually emerges from the chaos). The old way of defining taxonomy – as a strict uber hierarchy is definitely dead. The new way is more like an ecosystem. Things change and evolve, but there are principles and constraint. Then knowledge evolves and value emerges.
CMS Watch should not be predicting the death of taxonomy, but the evolution of taxonomy.
BUT, don’t take my word for it. I thought I’d pose the question to my network of peers on the Taxonomy Community of Practice. Ok, not exactly an unbiased survey (kind of like asking a room full of dentists if they belive in flossing), but I will post again in a week’s time with a collection of the responses here. Let’s see what a virtual room of almost 1000 taxonomists think… stay tuned!
(co-authored by Seth Earley)