Reducing the “Tax” on Taxonomies

Information is power, but the interpretation of information is more powerful.  Well, if you are going to attempt to interpret information to create knowledge, you better be able to find the right information!

Organizations want and need a way to classify (tag) content for the primary purpose of locating it throughout its life cycle.  They often implement “Controlled Taxonomies” which are fraught with limitations for users and require plenty of administration. Establishing and using a taxonomy for the purpose of indexing content is a social activity and organizational constipation occurs when you try to formalize a social activity!

Darin Stewart the author of Building Enterprise Taxonomies writes in his blog, “In my experience, using the “T” word in conversation invokes one of two responses. Either people immediately fall asleep or they run screaming from the room. There is very little middle ground.  “Taxonomy” invokes bad memories of AP biology courses and trying to remember if “species” comes before “genus” or vice versa.  Even the more general “controlled vocabulary” has certain “Orwellian” overtones that frightens off users and sponsors alike who suddenly feel constrained or censored because you are restricting how they express themselves or label their content … In the context of the enterprise, taxonomy no longer means a place for everything and everything in its place.”

When most organizations create non-hierarchical taxonomies for the purposes of indexing and searching for content, the taxonomy terms tend to be very broad.  The WSN Insight knowledge management application for Microsoft SharePoint incorporates social activities for tagging content to reduce the user tax of taxonomies.  WSN Insight uses X-onimies (conceptually these are taxonomies, folksonomies and personomies) to classify and search for content.  This approach provides any organization with the ability to use a managed vocabulary with broad terms to address the organization needs for content classification, while the folksonomy and personomy frees content and users from the contraints of the managed vocabulary.  This provides users with the ability to use informal social and personal tags for content, eliminating the “Tax” on taxonomies.

Once again in the words of an expert on taxonomies, Darin states, “Our taxonomies or any domain model (which is essentially what we are talking about) are going to be rough approximations of the real world at best. There are going to be errors and omissions. So its important to give our users some leeway in how they tag things because like it or not, they will anyway.” WSN observed this user behavior “in the wild” and recognized its importance and applicability in knowledge management systems.

Wall Street Network is a KMWorld 100 Companies that matter in Knowledge Management.  They develop Clearview enterprise content management (ECM) and WSN Insight knowledge management (KM) – content enable vertical applications (CEVAs) for Microsoft SharePoint.

I am very interest in your thoughts and ideas on this subject, good, bad or indifferent.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m confused…what is this about? Is the author suggesting that you can build and implement any number of X-onomies and have information just plop out of the clear blue sky?

    • Thanks for your question?

      I hope to clarify for you the concept of using multiple taxonomies (X-onomies) described in the post. In a nutshell, a managed vocabulary (taxonomy) is a defined set of terms suitable for an organization and are usually “rough approximations of the real world”. The unmanaged vocabularies (folksonomy and personomy) allow users to use less restrictive terms to classify content. Here are two examples how this concept can be applied.

      Example 1: An Insurance company has established a managed vocabulary for classifying risk. They used general terms such as “Natural Disaster”, “Earthquake”, “ERM”, “Reinsurance”, “Peril”, “Tsunami”, “CAT Modeling”, etc. which were deemed very easy for most users to classify content without much ambiguity. As users acquire content for a KM or ECM platform, they may need to provide more specific terms to classify the content. For example, content related to a specific event might contain additional group terms (folksonomy) like “North-ridge, CA”, “Fukushima, Japan”, “2011 Property CAT Treaty”. These terms may be too specific and dynamic to be defined in a managed vocabulary. Users in different organizational units may also desire the ability to classify work using their own terms. For example sake, an underwriter may use the term “2011 Risk Modeling” whereas a claims examiner may use the term “2011 CAT Claims”.

      Example 2: A lawyer at a law firm may check-in case content as follows:

      Managed Vocabulary: Bankruptcy, District 3, Section 13

      Group Vocabulary: Judge Brown, WallSt Bank vs US, Matter 12345

      Personal Vocabulary: 2011 Case Load

      This scenario would allow the lawyer to refer to the content by the “2011 Case Load” term while others in the organization may locate the content using common terms within the managed vocabulary or using the group vocabulary terms.

      Solutions using this concept may need provisions to keep personomy terms private, share folksonomy terms and require user to provide taxonomy terms.

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