The Hierarchies Are Flat (?)

I recently started reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. I know, I know. The book was published in 2006, and I’m only just now reading it. However, the ideas I think are very relevant to what is happening in the current economy and discussions around the future of taxonomy.

Tapscott and Williams write about corporations: “While hierarchies are not vanishing, profound changes in the nature of technology, demographics, and the global economy are giving rise to powerful new models of production based on community, collaboration, and self-organization rather than on hierarchy and control.” Since taxonomies are a reflection of the needs and culture of an organization, I apply this notion to the future of hierarchical vocabularies as well.
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Audience Modeling

Ever since Polish biologist Jastrzębowski coined the term “ergonomics” in 1857, we have been trying to decipher the tricky relationship between machine and human. Regardless of whether you’re designing front-end interface functionality or crafting an information architecture that serves as the clothes hanger for your content, user-centered design is undeniably a major player in achieving results. It’s certainly a crucial consideration in every taxonomy project. Project stakeholders often envision the ideal taxonomy as being “all things to all people”. It’s a wonderful idea in theory, but the resulting structure would be a chaotic mishmash that in practice fails to meet most user needs. Part of the solution is in the art—and science—of understanding and categorizing your audience.

Personas
Creating usable systems requires user research in order to understand audience goals, needs, and capabilities. This process results in a host of raw data, but the data is only valuable in its effective application to system design. Quantitative data can be measured, charted, and graphed, but that only tells one part of your audience’s story. Popularized as an interaction design method by Alan Cooper, personas are a decision-making and communication tool that can organize the numbers in your data, but also describe patterns of why actual users behave in their particular ways. This qualitative information is the meat of reliable personas. Continue reading

Taxonomy & SEO – Integrating Perspectives

My last few blog posts on keyword research tips have generated interest from our readers regarding the relationship between the SEO task of keyword research and taxonomy. The purpose of today’s post is to examine the intersection between the two and offer a little advice for reconciling the internal perspective of taxonomy with external internet search.

We can harmonize these perspectives using a data-driven approach to understand the “mental model” of the external searcher.

Taxonomies Drive Information Organization

The purpose of a taxonomy is to define consistent organizing principles for information based on language people use to achieve their goals. (Whether finding a product, executing a task, solving a problem, etc)

Taxonomy terms can standard industry vocabularies, language unique to the organization or even general marketing speak.

Regardless of the context, taxonomies define the preferred terminology along with its synonyms, word stems, variants and relationships to other concepts. These classification schemes are intended to help users locate specifc documents and content as they go about their business.

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