On taxonomies

Patrick Lambe presented this evening on taxonomies at the NSW KM Forum in Sydney – not sure if the slides will be available or not (I will need to check later with Patrick or James).

Firstly, Patrick should be congratulated for making a potentially dry topic most interesting and informative. Of note was Patrick’s “Map of Findability” that gave a visual and powerful metaphor for the different types of taxonomies and how they are used. The map really enhanced Patrick’s story.

Patrick delved into lists (clusters of related things with limited scale), into different types of tree structures for organising knowledge (for example, the heirarchical thesaurus), and into more complex forms such as facets (matrices beyond three dimensions that explore the linkages and intersections between multiple category lists in one related context). A good example of a facet taxonomy was an online wine merchant that used type of wine (red, white, rose’, sparkling, etc.), region (Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Bordeaux, etc.) and price points ($10-$20, $21-$30, etc) from which a customer could use to navigate and then search with and between a combination of the three types.

Patrick also discussed folksonomies and how they can be effective when scale is sufficiently large enough to enhance confidence and predictability from search results (Flickr is one of the best known examples). Folksonomies with user generated tagging also require favourable participatory environments to make them work effectively.

For me, it was good to reconsider the various forms of taxonomies and how they suit different situations more than others (especially the issues related to scale and levels of abstraction). My professional training in library and information science (in the 1980’s) certainly focused on controlled vocabularies and thesauri. Naturally, the development of folksonomies in more recent times has made me more aware of alternative taxonomies and the possibilities they have to offer.

Patrick concluded his presentation with a nice illustration of the taxonomy continuum. At one end, a taxonomy could be low design/low cost/low precision/high ambiguity and at the other end of the continuum there would be high design/high cost/high precision/low ambiguity (and of course the various combinations in between). This enables us to determine our own requirements and to judge what form of taxonomy is preferred in the prevailing context.

I also attended the second day of KM Australia 2007 today. I will make some comments on some of the presentations from this conference tomorrow.

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3 responses to “On taxonomies

  1. Thanks Brad, I’ll be sending the slide set to James for onward distribution! Good to meet you the other evening.

  2. Patrick,

    Thanks for that. Yes, good to meet you in person. I will catch up with you again, at one of your Canberra gigs I think!

  3. Pingback: On KM Australia 2007 (Part 3) « Brad Hinton - plain speaking

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