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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Taxonomy and Records Management, Part 2

Continuing the exploration of taxonomy in the context of records management, I’m going to focus on the second challenge listed in my earlier post on the subject:  taxonomies and record retention schedules exist but are not being used effectively.

I worked on a records management project in which we were to create the retention schedule for one business unit as a baseline for building out the schedule as the records management initiative was rolled out to subsequent divisions. In this case, it was not that they didn’t already have a retention schedule. In fact, they had an extremely robust, thorough, and complicated schedule created by another consulting firm specializing in records management. It was so robust, thorough, and complicated that no one could figure out how to apply it, and, so, didn’t. While the retention schedule covered everything needed from a records management perspective, it was not applicable from a user’s perspective. What made sense to a records manager and to legal was not useful to the people who needed to apply it. In addition, the schedule was not enforced. No one knew what, if any, retention policies were being applied to records, leaving the organization in a similar state as prior to the creation of the records retention schedule. The solution, in this instance, was to rebuild a simplified retention schedule based on the prior work and new categorization principles to align with a corporate taxonomy.
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Taxonomy and Records Management

Taxonomies, as hierarchical vocabulary structures, clearly define relationships between words and concepts. If a taxonomy is implemented and governed properly, there is a high degree of control over how terms are added, modified, and deleted. Terms used for content tagging can also be controlled in how they are selected and applied. Similarly, records management is a discipline requiring high control over documents meeting legal compliance. An ARMA fact sheet defines records management as “the systematic control of records throughout their life cycle.”

Strangely enough, taxonomies and records management remind me of the Panopticon, a prison imagined by the English social theorist, Jeremy Bentham. Let me explain. The Panopticon is a circular architectural structure with an observer in the middle able to keep surveillance over many prisoners at one time without the prisoners knowing who was being watched at any given moment. This allowed for great control at great economy.

As a liberal with world views shaped by films of the 1980s riddled with paranoia about governmental control and espousing an anti-Orwellian future as imagined in 1984, the concept of control of any kind stirs my blood. The Panopticon could very well be the source of Tolkien’s Eye of Sauron, presented in film as aloft in a tower—a kind of all-seeing eye with a 360 degree view. However, and here’s the connection, the control of records in an organization supported by a taxonomy structure can mean the difference between being fined millions of dollars and providing information during a legal discovery process. This by simply managing which information should be retained, retrieved, and/or disposed of properly and in a timely fashion. There is the bridge between the Panopticon and taxonomy and records management; now to build the bridge between taxonomy and records management.

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Cleaning up the Other Bucket

The Other category: also known as General, Miscellaneous, My Stuff, or, too often, the shared drive.

The Other category is the junk drawer for all those taxonomy terms that just don’t seem to fit anywhere else. Reaching into it is taking a chance as you never know what you may find—the yo-yo you can’t seem to throw away, a pair of rusty scissors threatening to impale you when looking for loose change, batteries, baggy ties, the old cell phone with numbers in it of people you don’t even remember. When it’s time for cleaning up, you can either throw it all away or sort it out and put everything in a more appropriate place. Continue reading

DAM and Controlled Vocabulary

I worked on a project recently highlighting findability issues with unstructured content and the need for appropriate tagging using values from a controlled vocabulary.

At the heart of this project was Digital Asset Management (DAM), a rapidly growing area as more multimedia content is being distributed online, particularly for marketing purposes. The inherent problem with digital assets is the potentially large amount of information about what a piece of content is but the lack of information describing what that content is about. Unlike other content, which may contain text or be located with surrounding textual context, digital assets do not typically contain text, especially any which is structured for discovery by search engines. Any textual and searchable elements must be associated to digital assets through the use of metadata. Metadata describing what the content is, including attributes like video length, number of pixels, and file size, can be associated to the content and is often automatically attributed through business rules.

What the asset is about, however, is not inherent. It must be associated to the content either manually or automatically by loading the content once business rules have been thought out and established.

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