Many to many

Estimated reading time 2–2 minutes

A wise taxonomist once said to me “taxonomies are technology agnostic” and I’ve been thinking about why systems are not taxonomy agnostic. If you underpin a taxonomy with a thesaurus, can you use that to map one taxonomy to another, without altering either taxonomy? You can keep both taxonomies as metadata attached to your asset and expose one or the other depending on user choice. It’s just an interface issue. The mapping would enable cross navigation, so you could wander down one taxonomy, skip to another, then pop back to the first one if you wanted.

You could attach folksonomies too if you wanted to, and just store those as extra metadata.

I can see that there might be terminology issues that need resolving (no small task), or perhaps software or storage issues, but I can’t see why the system itself couldn’t work in theory.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about mediating stakeholder needs to get the best taxonomy, and that is still a valid approach when you need management and control, but I don’t see any reason not to attach other taxonomies to your core taxonomy. Those satellite taxonomies can then serve minority interests or specialised needs. As long as you collect metadata about your taxonomies and make it clear to your user the provenance of the taxonomy or folksonomy they are viewing, you can offer a range of viewpoints.

Perhaps I am missing something obvious, but it seems there is still debate about getting the best taxonomy, or choosing to implement one instead of another. That debate seems to be based on the presumption that you can only have one taxonomy at a time, but why not have lots?

From Walled Garden to Amazon Jungle

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Estimated reading time 2–4 minutes

I enjoyed the LIKE dinner the other Thursday. The speaker Tim Buckley-Owen spoke on the theme “From Walled Garden to Amazon Jungle” describing the changing environment that information professionals find themselves in. He spoke of how disintermediation is often perceived as a threat in the information world, but that this is a mistake, because out in the jungle, the services of an expert guide become indispensable if you are to avoid getting completely lost and falling prey to posionous snakes and other hazards. He pointed out that at least one other profession is facing a similarly shifting environment – the legal profession. We, however, should be in a better position than lawyers because they believe they are masters of the universe, whereas we see ourselves as merely useful. The Trafigura affair showed that information can act as a force that even the lawyers can’t contain.

Although I would never have dreamt of comparing myself to a lawyer, I could see the similarity in the way that disintermediation enabled by an online world is affecting the two professions. For lawyers, distintermediation arises out of the increasing ease of self-representation – e.g. the availability of online forms so that you can manage your own simple legal processes. As Tim pointed out, going to small claims court can already be handled online by the claimant alone. Conveyancing is becoming increasingly straightforward for non-lawyers, as it is largely a question of being able to search effectively (anybody need an information specialist – cheaper than a solicitor?). Perhaps even the processing of divorces and wills can be administered via online forms. (That might not prevent family disputes, but would certainly make them cheaper!) The smart lawyers are, of course, responding by focusing on tailor-made specialised services for unusual cases or one-off situations. This is exactly what information professionals are doing too. Librarians have always offered bespoke research services and the value they add over and above trawling through millions of results on Google is their knowledge of which sources are the best and what are the best sources to answer your specific question (and figuring out the question you really want the answer to, instead of the one you actually asked, which is much harder than it sounds). In a world where information is proliferating while the quality of sources is not necessarily improving, the knowledge of where to look is increasingly rather than decreasingly valuable.

Tim described some research indicating that the people who are least likely to delegate their research are the most senior executives (middle managers are too busy and like having people do things for them). In particular, top execs like to do their own competitor research. His hot tip for the information profession was to work with software developers to produce really effective competitior research services and tools.

Virginia Henry and David Holme have also blogged about the evening.

Like 9 is on December 3rd.

World Audio Visual Archives Heritage day

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Estimated reading time 2–2 minutes

I went to an interesting event last Monday night for UNESCO World Audio Visual Archives Heritage day, held at BAFTA in London.

Professor John Ellis (Department of Media Arts, Royal Holloway, University of London) talked about the growing use of TV archives, particularly news footage, in academia, pointing out that over time such material becomes increasingly valuable in such diverse areas as physiology – for example in studying the effects of ageing by analysing footage of presenters and actors who have had long careers, and town planning, as footage can reveal the buildings that previously occupied a site being considered for redevelopment.

As UK law permits academic institutions to record and keep TV and radio broadcasts for purely educational purposes, a database of material has been collected. Academia remains currently a verbal rather than visual culture, but this seems to be changing. All politicians, for example, are now so TV literate that to study them without reference to their TV appearances would be strange.

Fiona Maxwell (Director of Operations at ITV Global Entertainment), then talked about the painstaking restoration of the 1948 film The Red Shoes. She provided lots of technical details about removing mould and correcting registration errors, but also showed “before and after” clips so we could see the huge improvements.