Taxonomies and change: the nature of the beast

An interesting problem was posed to a mailing list I am a part of…

Imagine that you have been using a single hierarchy to structure and organize your information for years, and it has been very successful up until now…

But now it is time to move to a different content management system, and not only that – business has changed (of course), and not every way of organizing and understanding the information could possibly have been anticipated. (Or perhaps you did anticipate some, but for practical matters limited the amount of metadata you might apply to content.) So you have new ways that users want to search and navigate, but never considered these at the start. What do you do?

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A very bad index…

Indexing and Taxonomy creation are closely related processes. In the first case we start with a body of content and then pull from it the key ideas, concepts, pieces of knowledge that we think users would like to access and then create pointers to the content. In the second, we look at a body of information and determine the categories that can be used to describe the content. (Usually without regard to the pointers to instances of terms).

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Continuum of value of documents

This is another response to a post about the “shared drive problem.” Shiv Singh of Avenue A- Razorfish commented that “Every document in an organization is not necessarily important enough to tag. Some organizations address this problem by first determining what knowledge/information/data is worth capturing for retrieval and then putting KM mechanisms in place to capture, codify and distribute it.”

My thought is that there is a continuum of value of documents. On one end of the spectrum, news feeds, unmoderated discussion, etc. Chaotic but useful in terms of creativity and problem solving – ongoing discussions like this one. At the other end of the spectrum might be best practices, templates, methodologies – structured, scrubbed, edited and tagged. Higher value knowledge is more costly to vet, tag, file and maintain. A vast majority of documents fall somewhere in between. Many (perhaps most) are intermediary products. Since the value is context dependant (as others have mentioned) and may have value as a need arises, it’s very difficult to organize them without some judgment about current and future value. I’ve seen environments where documents were nominated to be example deliverables – someone thought the document would be useful to others. There was a process in place to measure submissions and people were somewhat incentivized to do so.

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