What’s so funny about Taxonomy CoPs, FAQs, and Tips?

Dec 06, 2005


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Major highlights of the Fall 2005 Gilbane Conference on Content Management Technologies and the accompanying fourth international Summit of the CM Professionals community of practice were both educational and entertaining. Getting riotous laughter while discussing the fine points of taxonomy is not the norm for today's technical sessions, but two experts on taxonomy, Seth Earley and Theresa Regli, had CM Pros rolling in the aisles.

It helped that Earley (whose Earley and Associates is a leading firm helping large organizations with taxonomy development) is a genuine stand-up comic on the side. But Regli's back-talk kept Earley on his toes, both with jokes and specific taxonomy practices. They lined up some Frequently Asked Questions on taxonomy: Do taxonomies make managing content easier? Do content management systems need a taxonomy to function? Isn't taxonomy the same as navigation? Are subject matter experts necessary to create a taxonomy? Does a taxonomy have to have at least three levels? Can taxonomy development can be managed as a project? Their format was a debate, with Erik Hartman, CM Pros vice president flipping a coin to decide who would take the affirmative on each question. Earley and Regli have heard years of clients rehearsing all the positions pro and con on all FAQs.

This session did more than amuse me. It reinforced my awareness that good taxonomy answers are hard to come by and my new Web site--TaxoTips.com--hopes to offer some. Inspired in part by a taxonomy community of practice (CoP) formed by Earley last summer as an open Yahoo group (now 350 members) called TaxoCoP, the TaxoTips site will feature those TaxoFAQs, unfortunately lacking his wit but including some of the ongoing debate.

Folksonomies like Flickr and del.icio.us show that untrained users can "free-tag" content, adding metadata without the benefit of a taxonomy to organize the tags, but taxonomy experts are skeptical free tagging can scale and be useful for corporate intranets. A full-blown multi-level taxonomy may not be absolutely necessary, but some vocabulary control seems essential in a corporate environment. This may take the form of authority files with keyword lists, subject headings, glossaries, or even folksonomies, all of which are basically single-level, "flat" controlled vocabularies.

At TaxoTips, I'm going to tackle these and other more sophisticated options like multiple hierarchies, thesauri, and faceted classifications, as well as the ontologies, semantic networks, topic maps, and conceptual graphs that underpin the new thinking of the Semantic Web that aims to add machine-readable meaning to content. TaxoTips also features pointers to Earley and other leading taxonomy consultants like Joseph Busch and Ron Daniel of Taxonomy Strategies, Amy Warner of Lexonomy, Marcia Morante of Kcurve, Fred Leise of Conceptual Analysis, Jean Graef of Montague Institute, and Leonard Will of Willpower, among others. Books, articles, white papers, analyst reports and links to Web inars and workshops round out the site. With these, I include a calendar of industry events and a substantial glossary of taxonomy-related terminology with the hopes that TaxoTips will provide a resource for this essential, but often misunderstood, aspect of content management. Not everyone can attend entertaining and informative events like Earley and Regli's talk, but I will strive provide access to quality content like this.

Content Management Meets Reality
In another entertaining turn for an otherwise staid industry event, EContent Contributing Editor Tony Byrne hosted a television show parody called CMS Idol, at the Gilbane Conference. Six CMS vendors vied for the top spot in two rounds of clever criticisms by a panel of judges and voting by a lively audience. In the afternoon, six vendors were winnowed to three, with the evening's round two settling on the overall winner. Competitors were Ektron, Fatwire, Interwoven, RedDot, Stellent, and Web SideStory. Ektron, Red Dot, and Stellent made it to Round two, with Stellent-- winners of the last CMS Idol competition at KM World--coming in second this time to RedDot, which will wear the coveted Idol medal until the next event.

The clever judges showed a deep understanding of content management technology and the smart, sexy, and stylish reasons behind Idol success stories. Erik Hartman, Lisa Welchman, and Theresa Regli roasted the contestants on personality, drilled into their tools' capabilities, and tickled the audience with titillating double entendre. Evaluating content management systems can be a lengthy, tedious, difficult and demanding process lasting many months or even years and costing many too many dollars. CMS Idol showed that a pretty definitive analysis can be done in a couple of hours, if you get the right experts together, and be very amusing in the process.

No doubt that most wouldn't consider taxonomic debates and CMS evaluations a laughing matter. That said, I had my video camera on hand to record both these events, so they should show up soon as video streams on sites like CM Pros, CMS Review, CMS Watch, Gilbane.com, and TaxoTips for those who missed the fun.