Tag Archives: books


Review of The Accidental Taxonomist

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Estimated reading time 1–2 minutes

Rather late to the party on this one, but I finally got around to reading The Accidental Taxonomist by Heather Hedden. I have to confess to bias as I was very pleased to see that my FUMSI article on folksonomies was mentioned in the recommended reading section. Written in a clear, sensible and readable tone, Hedden gives a very thorough overview of practical taxonomy work. The book works as a textbook, but reads pleasantly and although I anticipate referring to it as a reference resource, I enjoyed reading it chapter by chapter.

I am very pleased to have so much practical and useful information in one place (for example lists of relevant standards, definitions of taxonomies, ontologies, and thesauri, the functions of taxonomies) as in my day-to-day work, I often have to explain the basics to people. I have been recommending the book to my team, especially those who are new to taxonomies, and they have appreciated its clarity and comprehensiveness as a “field guide”. It covered familiar ground, but for me much of that was my “tacit knowledge” that I had never fully articulated to myself, so I am sure that this “knowledge capture” from the mind of an experienced taxonomy practitioner will be very useful.


Controlled Vocabulary

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< 1 minute

A reading list from controlledvocabulary.com. “David Riecks founded ControlledVocabulary.com as a resource to help others learn how best to build controlled vocabulary lists, thesauri, and keyword hierarchies for describing images in databases. He has been involved in many recent standards initiatives as well as being a featured speaker at industry events such as PhotoPlus Expo, the Microsoft Pro Photo Summit, and the first and second International PhotoMetadata Conferences.”

Puzzled by The Future of Information Architecture

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Estimated reading time 2–2 minutes

I read a copy of The Future of Information Architecture: Conceiving a Better Way to Understand Taxonomy, Network and Intelligence because I couldn’t resist the title, but was left utterly baffled by the book. The author appears to have taught at some US universities, but no biography was provided and the preface declared that due to the “political incorrectness” of his ideas, no institution or establishment had supported him in writing and publishing the book. Nevertheless, he seems to have produced quite a few books over the last few years. The publisher, Chandos Press, apparently printed the book directly from camera ready copy supplied by the author.

He writes in an extremely dense and academic style using phrases like “existential dialectics” and “post-human post-civilization”. I usually pride myself on being able to “translate” philosophy into “normal” English, but could not work out what was going on. The gist seemed to be a description of taxonomies and networks in terms of six “principles” (opposites such as simplicity/complexity, order/chaos) and I had expected some kind of conclusion to draw these principles into a proposition. Instead, he suggested that there were many more principles that could be used.

From the title I had hoped for some predictions about how IA might develop under the influence of social media or cloud computing etc., but there was nothing like that in the book. Instead, there were some statements about post-human evolution and the impossibility of predicting what IA will be like when we cease to be humans and become “free floating consciousnesses”.

Practical Information Architecture

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Estimated reading time 2–3 minutes

I have just read Eric L Reiss’ s book Practical Information Architecture (Addison Wesley; 2000). It seemed like a decent and sensible introduction to the subject, but it’s such a fast-moving area something written 7 years ago seems desperately old already. I picked up a few useful tips – for example it’s a bad idea to string several single word hyperlinks together, as people ignore the spaces and punctuation and assume it’s all just one big link and they also tend to ignore very short single-word hyperlinks, presumably because it is hard to guess what extra information the link will provide. Not something I’d thought too much about in an online context, probably because it’s not something you see so much now. In the early days of the web, people went a bit hyperlink crazy and it is very frustrating to click a link to find the only extra information you get is a dictionary-style definition or reams of related but not relevant information. As a reference editor, I was trained to include only relevant and helpful cross reference links and to think about the extra value following each link would provide to the reader. With a printed product, it is (comparatively) hard work to look up an article on a different page, so editors try very hard not to send people off on wild goose chases. My impression is that web editors are a lot less gung-ho with links now than they used to be.

Reiss sets out some useful project management guidelines for big web projects as a series of ‘a’s: allocate (resources); analyse (goals, audiences, etc); architect; accumulate; assemble; adjust, etc. which seemed a little contrived, but the basic stages are probably a reasonable starting point if you have never handled a big project before. Establishing clear goals for what the site is trying to achieve is probably the most important task and one that can easily get lost if lots of different “stakeholders” or departments are all throwing their two penn’orth into the mix. Managing the politics of conflicting desires and demands seem to me to be a bigger problem than handling the technical aspects of the project, but then I am usually more at home with logic than power gaming!