I spent this past week testing a taxonomy as part of a digital asset management project we are currently working on. One of the test scenarios involved giving art taggers a series of images and asking them to code them using the taxonomy we had developed.
Taggers see taxonomy as a blessing and a curse. On the one hand controlled vocabularies are a tagger’s dream; a nice list of consistent terms that alleviate the problems of free-tagging (e.g. five variations on the same term, plural vs. singular, spelling mistakes, etc.) However, these same vocabularies quickly become a tagger’s nightmare when they perceive the values to overlap or be ambiguous – especially if you are used to only being able to select one value from the list.
Have a look at the following image
How would you describe it?
Style= Cute? Silly?? Whimsical???
(note: extra ?s added to denote level of rising anxiety in tagger)
Taggers are a lot like us (us being taxonomists): we like it when things fit neatly into categories. In this case however, the beauty is that this faceted taxonomy was specifically designed to accommodate the fact that most images don’t fit into one category. Watching the nervousness and anxiety wash away when we explained to taggers that they could use as many taxonomy values as were appropriate to tag an image was the highlight of the week. Instantly the taxonomy transformed before their eyes from a categorical prison into a structure of possibilities.
This is not say to that ambiguous values and overlap are desirable – we definitely want to minimize that. Just that the flexibility in applying values makes it less critical that they all be strictly mutually exclusive. We can be silly, cute, and whimsical, or sometimes just plain silly. The important thing is that options are there.