Taxonomy Project RFP Considerations

We recently had a prospect ask what they needed to consider as part of their taxonomy RFP. Here are some things to include:

1. Specific approaches to taxonomy development: steps for term extraction, approaches for automated and manual content audit procedures

2. Taxonomy testing: What are the methods by which the taxonomy will be tested prior to deployment? What usability tests would be performed and what data would be collected?

3. Metrics: How will search engine and web tracking metrics be used in deriving the taxonomy?
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Wordmap and Taxonomy Management

Here is a terrific article written for Content Wrangler.

Taxonomies and Mental Models

One of the biggest challenges to maintaining quality and value in a taxonomy lies in keeping interests aligned and resolving conflicting perspectives. By its nature, a taxonomy attempts to reconcile diverse perspectives – those of various types of users, engaging in diverse tasks. It also needs to support the needs of merchandisers who are vying for valuable site real estate. But what is the true purpose of the taxonomy from a strategic perspective? Is it to market the company’s offerings? Educate customers? Sell merchandise? Help the customer find answers?

The answer is yes, to all of these of course. But these objectives need to be balanced and there are always tradeoffs to focusing on one versus another. Lets say that the company wants to promote a certain item. It can raise that item higher in the hierarchy for greater visibility. But this may make the item seem out of place and perhaps affect how easy it is to find other items. Similarly, if we are trying to use the taxonomy to educate the consumer on a new type of product, that will have an effect on the ability to find product if not done correctly. The customer has a “mental model” of the world. If something does not fit in to that model, they typically discount, ignore or throw out that information.

For example, if a middle aged person not familiar with gaming consoles is asked to find a console of a specific trade or brand name, they will not know where to begin because it does not fit in with their mental model. This was strongly demonstrated in usability data in a recent project. Using a term that people are not familiar with may cause them to click on that term out of curiosity, but chances are they will ignore it because it does not fit in with their understanding of the world and what they are trying to accomplish. The bottom line is that using non standard or newer terms that are not widely understood violates a core principle of taxonomy best practices – the taxonomy should represent the users mental model – not try to teach them a new mental model.

If this principle is violated, the taxonomy will “editorially drift” over time and become less useful as a way finding device –that is, a mechanism that allows users to come to the site and quickly get to the merchandise they are interested in. This will cause them to become frustrated, abandon the site and shop with a competitor.

Folksonomy versus Taxonomy

A client recently forwarded a blog post to me about folksonomies and asked if this is something we should consider.

Here is my take: Social Tagging (use of “Folksonomies”) has a valid place in the scheme of things. We can use them as a source for candidate terms or new term harvesting. They are also useful for content that is less structured that may be tougher to organize (discussion or blog postings for example) or material that does not justify structured tagging. (Obscure web pages). The fundamental issue here is that they don’t take the place of formal taxonomies but can be used to augment them. In some cases, user generated tags make a lot of sense. (A group of engineers working on a new product might come up with terms that are not yet in the formal taxonomy. They also speak the same technical language and use the same terms. Raytheon uses this approach of social tagging for what are called “featured results”. These appear along with the “officially” tagged content).

Here are the advantages to a folksonomy (or social tagging) approach: Adaptability – new terms can evolve quickly and be applied to new concepts

Lower cost – many hands make light work – by distributing the workload amongst a large number of people, there is not a lot of burden on a central group

Flexible – anyone can tag anything with anything so there are no rigid constructs

Takes into account multiple perspectives – you and I may use different words to describe the same thing. If we both tag according to our understanding, both of our points of view are taken into consideration

There are a number of disadvantages to this approach:

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Politics of terminology

One of the things that we get called in to help with is the set of governance policies and processes that are necessary to make taxonomy projects a success.

There are number of things that need to happen for organizations to be effective in this area:

1. Sponsorship: Someone with power and authority needs to understand the value of taxonomy and nomenclature governance

This person can help settle turf disputes and conflicting organizational requirements. The key is that they are truly engaged and really get it, rather than delegating authority.

2. Ownership: An operational champion needs to own the project. This is the person to whom ultimate accountability falls. They are the one that has to drive communication and get people to participate

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Search as an Application

Challenges of Search

I just returned from a conference in Rome where I presented a session on search. The basic premise is this: Search is not a utility. Search is an application. Search needs to be thought through and integrated into the process that it is meant to support.This does not mean that there is no place for basic search – the plug and play utility model that tools like Google Search Appliance leverage. In that case, search provides a valuable function in helping people access large stores of unorganized content.As much Google bashing as I do, I am a frequent user of Google Desktop. Hypocritical? I don’t think so. GSA is appropriate for what I use it for – searching through email messages and my hard drive for certain types of information. Sometimes I find what I am looking for and sometimes I don’t. But this is because of the relative effort I place on organizing my content versus the time it takes to do so. It’s easier for me to search as I do and risk not finding something than it is for me to organize all of my email. On the other hand, I have a more structured method for the information that I place higher value on – proposals, SOW’s, client project documents and conference presentations.

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Technology before requirements

I have been presenting at several conferences in the past couple of weeks (10 sessions in two weeks) and I am still getting the same situation over and over again. I had an attendee in a workshop on a content management maturity model say: “I am not sure where to start. It feels like this is so overwhelming. Can’t we buy the tool first? That’s what my boss wants me to do.”

I can understand why this is a first reaction to the complexity of content management. There are so many issues and factors to consider. From business problems to content architecture, existing systems that require migration and integration, user needs and scenarios, meta-data standards, taxonomy development, work-flow processes, governance, change management and so on. The first time you are going through this, it is overwhelming.

But choosing a tool before understanding exactly what you need can create at least three major problems:

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