Over the past several weeks, we have looked at various topics involving taxonomies and thesauri. And we have seen that controlled vocabularies are an important part of search and browsing. But how are taxonomies put to use? What about the terms? Where do they go? Exactly how are they put to use in search? What are the different ways that a taxonomy can be used in search?

To start understanding the answers to these questions, let’s look at an old page on the website of the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE).

From the bookstore search box near the middle, you could search the bookstore for journals and other ASCE publications. You could use the navigation bar to browse by topic. From the site search bar near the top, you could search the whole site. However, do all of those things really provide a complete search? The interface gave the users the feeling that they were searching all kinds of different places, but they were not. They were searching the same place.

Another way of providing website search capabilities is to use your taxonomy or thesaurus to drive the searches.

This is the search presentation layer. At the left, you have the taxonomy. In the parentheses behind each of the terms, you can see how many items are stored using that search term or that taxonomy term.

Near the top, you can see auto-completion at work, using the preferred and non-preferred terms; the potential terms and their synonyms are listed in a permuted drop-down list, permuting on the letter C. You don’t need to know the whole term. You can search on it either in its synonym form or the preferred form. You get a drop-down list as you type. When you click on one of those, it gives you your search results.

When the search comes back, in this case on cells, some related terms display to provide suggestions for further search, as do the the narrower terms of the term originally searched on. All of that is served up from the taxonomy.

Where we are building the foundation for that is in a database management system (DBMS). We have the thesaurus, and we have the indexing. These are interrelated, because we need to use the thesaurus to apply the terms to the records in the DBMS.

In another installment, we’ll take a quick look behind the scenes to see how this works.

Marjorie M.K. Hlava, President
Access Innovations


Note: The above posting is one of a series based on a presentation, The Theory of Knowledge, given at the Data Harmony Users Group meeting in February of 2011. The presentation covered the theory of knowledge as it relates to search and taxonomies.