Five Myths about Taxonomy and SharePoint

November 21, 2011  
Posted in Access Insights, Featured, Standards, Taxonomy

A couple of weeks ago there was a blog post, or repost by Jeff Carr, on the Early Site.  I enjoyed reading it, and of course I have a few thoughts and places where I do not exactly agree.  Let me take them on this week.  There are 5 Myths.  I will write about each of them separately.

Myth #1: SharePoint now has taxonomy management.

Myth # 1 has to do with the” taxonomy” within SharePoint. Okay they call it a term store and it does have serious limits! But then most people call a thesaurus a taxonomy. SharePoint has certainly made a major step up by embedding the taxonomy capability within SharePoint however it is missing most of the critical features which make taxonomies so useful. No related terms, management within the term store is so painful even Microsoft employees use an outside tool. The set of taxonomy attributes allowed is very meager, tracking of term changes is nearly non-existent, adding synonyms is cumbersome at best, display space is limited to ten lines of the taxonomy at a time, etc. How do you manage a taxonomy when SharePoint is so limited? Most people are recommending using an outside tool. Leslie Owens of Forrester did a great report on the subject last year and reviewed tools which could be used effectively to manage and apply the taxonomies by using a tool which works with SharePoint – like the Data Harmony Thesaurus Master tool.

Obviously a number of organizations are stepping in to fill the gaps in the SharePoint content management arena. Why are there so many ineffective, competing taxonomy tools? Controlled vocabularies and other kinds of knowledge organization systems have been around for over 100 years. They are broadly understood. Why is it that suddenly everyone seems interested in taxonomies and are building tools to manage them when this business has been the purview of librarians since CA Cutter and Melvil Dewey were slugging out the right approach 100 years ago? I suspect it is because the recent advents in information technology, aka the Internet, have made everyone a publisher and all of us are suffering from information overload (or information loss) and looking for ways to help us find things. It is not early Alzheimer’s; it is simply too much information to keep track of.

Rather than finding the existing applications people are building additional ones. It seems like it couldn’t be that hard. In fact there are standards – lots of them to choose from – and a large amount of information already published on subject of building thesauri, controlled vocabularies, authority files etc which would indicate it may not be as simple as if first appears. We hoped for more from the Microsoft SharePoint taxonomy application. It looked like they might have all the answers. But somewhere along the way they got sidetracked. What happened to the vaulted FAST search taxonomy capabilities which Microsoft was going to fold into SharePoint? Microsoft purchased the company but has backed off on implementation of that system broadly. Obviously even with all their money this was not as straightforward as it appears to be. They should talk with the user groups – the SLA Taxonomy Division comes to mind as an interesting place to get feedback and suggestions.

Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on Myth #2.

Marjorie M.K. Hlava
President, Access Innovations