A good and detailed introduction to some key Knowledge organisation concepts and a few handy links by a learned chemist (interesting how so many “classifiers” are chemists!). I’m not sure I agree with the distinction between the role of the encylopedist and the information professional (having been both) – it seems to me that there is a lot of overlap! I am also not convinced that it is useful to talk about notions of only being able to categorise a topic successfully once it has ceased to grow. That seems to be calling upon a Platonic ideal where all that can ever be known is known. It seems to drive you down the same philosophical hole of deciding that you can’t prove or know anything anyway. In the real world, the notion of “successful” isn’t a Platonic ideal. A categorisation can be both successful and require updating. There are hardly any real world examples of a topic that has ceased to grow, except maybe very specific practical contexts, e.g. a service company that generated no physical products and has gone out of business (until the social historians start studying it). I find it hard to think of any truly “dead” topic in an abstract sense (alchemy? ancient Aramaic? – but people do still study them).
I’ve just finished Taxonomies for business: Access and Connectivity in a Wired World a very detailed survey, based on 20 case studies, of taxonomies in business contexts. Lots of good basic taxonomy theory, backed up by practical examples. Pretty dense, but very informative.
I have just started reading Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness by Patrick Lambe. Of course, I turned straight to the last chapter – where folksonomies are discussed. Lambe argues that folksonomies work best with large quantities of new content, where social tagging creates some way of grouping similar items quickly and cheaply, but when the users start to demand comprehensiveness and accuracy in their searches, and once the size of the collection becomes too large, some sort of formal taxonomic structure works best. Sites are starting to add traditional facets, like location, to control and focus their social tagging.
There is a counter argument that for very small well-defined communities, social tagging works well, because the users have a good understanding of the terminology, tend to think in the same way, and so tend to use very similar tags. This would explain why the folksonomic approach was so popular in the web community – a new highly specialised community all speaking the same jargon were all tagging new content in very similar ways. The danger is that once the community expands, people stop using terms with such precision and the helpfulness of the social tagging get diluted.
I really enjoyed London Online this year. A perfect overlap of my current paid work interests – CMSs and publisher solutions – and my academic interests – taxonomies (software and content) and records management. It was great to say hello to Squiz and see them doing so well – we contracted them to set up an open source CMS-driven website that is working splendidly for us. I was fascinated by VWI-media‘s taxonomy based -solution to managing RSS feeds and enjoyed hearing about semantic search and classification techniques, like those offered by Endeca. I also talked to some interesting people from Lexis Nexis and the IMF!
Edited by Alan Gilchrist and Barry Mahon (Facet; 2004). There were a couple of chapters on taxonomies. The book provides a very easy to read selection of essays from industry practitioners covering a range of IA themes. Problems for multinational taxonomies included the differences in English language usage and company structure between US and European companies.
In arguing for investment in IA, (page 196) “reducing search time and frustration, enhancing knowledge sharing, are goals whose performance can be measured. Reducing the risk of litigation or of losing customers may also be used as sound arguments.”
Here’s a handy definition of a corporate taxonomy, from TFPL:
“TFPL takes the view that a ‘corporate taxonomy’ can be viewed as an enterprise-wide master file of the vocabularies and their structures, used or for use, across the enterprise, and from which specific tools may be derived for various purposes, of which navigation and search support are the most prominent.”
First person: ‘Folksonomy’ takes power from expert librarians, an article by David Bowen of Bowen Craggs & Co in the Financial Times‘s Digital Business section on November 7th highlights some of the advantages of having a well-crafted carefully structured taxonomy instead of relying on folksonomies. He says that folksonomies are great in some cases, but that really valuable information is by definition specialised and therefore doesn’t get read by enough people for mass social tagging to be helpful.
I think there are two key limitations to the usefulness of the folksonomic approach. Firstly, you need loads of people. If you don’t have a huge number of people actively tagging – and only huge mass market websites do – you don’t generate a large enough data set to get a decent signal-to-noise ratio. Secondly, it has to be of no consequence if chunks of your content are never found due to weird or bad tagging. This is fine for Flickr, say, where people just want any old picture, not to see all the pictures. It’s not so great if you want to make sure you have checked every one – that you’ve looked at all the relevant legislation, for example, not just the first couple of laws that happened to pop up.
I went to the ISKO UK conference Ranganathan Revisited on Monday sponsored by Factiva, which was very interesting indeed. There were 5 presentations – two on classification theory, a fascinating insight into how Factiva sort and output the thousands of news reports they process every day, an introduction to a very interesting new meta-analysis energy portal for monitoring trends in reporting, and a demonstration of Aduna’s Autofocus software that gives a visual representation of searches. One of the interesting and perennial themes that came up in conversations was the difference in approach of computer scientists from people with an information and library skills background. Some people seem to think of this as a battleground, but I like to think the best ideas emerge at the confluence of different paths.
At UCL David Nicholas gave an interesting lecture on The Virtual Scholar. He pointed out that people are apparently now happy to make major life decisions based on the results they get from typing 1.8 words into Google (the average for a search).
The information society is not much good if no-one is actually gaining any real knowledge. Do diminishing attention spans mean that we are happy just to flick through a few headlines that confirm our existing prejudices? It’s an Eddie Izzard joke about being “thinly read” but don’t we still need some people to read more than just the summary? I’m as guilty as everyone else of saving a pdf to read later, while feeling that I have somehow become better informed in the process.