Don’t blame the tax(onomy) man, he’s only doing his job.

8 May

Taxonomy: “Taxonomy is the logical organization of content in an ECM system”
(Source: Chris Riley: )

I rather like this definition. I wish I had found it the first time I had attempted to tackle the issue of taxonomy. Instead, I spent about 2 hours trying to explain the idea to people who initially thought it was the practice of stuffing dead animals…

Over the next two days I will be re-addressing taxonomy, attempting to plan out the classification of content for our organisation. I realise that posting a blog prior to this all important meeting seems a little pointless, but having attempted taxonomy once before (attempted being the optimum word) I thought I would try and help you steer clear of the mistakes I made first time round.

1. Leave your blindfold and blinkers at home.

That is to say, make sure you understand the task at hand. Now obviously most people will do some research into what taxonomy is beforehand, but you need to go beyond the basic definition. “Well, its groups of words that are used to classify documents that we can make available globally” just isn’t good enough Im afraid. You need to decide (or at least be ready to decide) what the scope is. Who are you creating it for? Is one taxonomy enough? What are your reasons for doing it? Where is the value going to come from? And other such “larger” questions.


2. The more cooks, the better the broth.

As frustrating as it can be to have lots of people in a meeting, even more so if they are all from different areas and focussing on their own needs, it is important to have an accurate cross section of your user base present. Taxonomy is their classification of their data, so its no good creating something without their input – all that will end up happening is you will spend days or weeks creating it and they will look at you, laugh, stick up two fingers and carry on working the way they have been all along.


3. A picture paints a thousand words.

It is very tempting to immediately start thinking about ways you classify data. For us it was thinking about things that can be used globally, groups of things such as document type, product, division etc. The reason that this is often the go to starting point is because its easy. Granted it may not feel all that easy at the time, but in the grand scheme of things coming up with a large set of words that you already use day to day is easy. The harder bit, and in my eyes the more important aspect, is the overall picture of what it looks like. What is the structure going to be? Who is responsible for maintaining the branches? What sort of size is required? If you are able to come up with an ideal framework, the population of it is easy (and you can even rope in even more help to get the lists of terms).


These are my top three rules, judging by our previous failed attempt. Now I have the delight of sitting in a room with a group of (admittedly rather nice) people for tw days and attempting to really get stuck in to this.

I’ll let you know how it goes… 


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