To make the search and browse capabilities of content, document or records management systems truly functional, we need to develop taxonomies. Whether it is a taxonomy designed for storage and management or one that supports better search, without them all types of management systems are virtually useless, regardless of the platform. Because many organizations are not willing to commit the proper resources to their design, millions of dollars are spent on management technologies without investment in the appropriate categorization needed to organize them.

The challenge is to help users, whether they be executives, analysts, sales managers, support staff, or customers, find and use the right information efficiently and effectively. Many enterprises extract value from the business information they accumulate by organizing the data logically and consistently into categories and subcategories, thus creating a taxonomy.

When information is structured and indexed in a taxonomy, users can find what they need by working down to more specific categories, up to a more inclusive topic, or sideways to related topics.

So where do you start?

Several steps are involved in creating, applying, and maintaining a taxonomy of information. First the taxonomy framework must be created by determining a suitable structure for the subject terms it has accumulated or will accumulate. This structure should capture the relationships inherent in the body of information in an intuitive way, as well as reflecting how the information fits into the overall structure.

Once the categories have been determined, the taxonomy must be populated by assigning each term a place where it belongs. Classification can be immensely time-consuming, not only because of the ever-increasing number of terms to be cataloged, but also because of difficult and possibly controversial decisions concerning where to place terms that could go in more than one category. a taxonomy is created and populated, it must be integrated to improve users’ ability to find and make sense of the information they need. This often includes helping them find the right information when they are not sure what they are looking for, and perhaps are not aware of what information is available.

A huge benefit of a well-designed taxonomy is to help users be confident when a search fails, so they can look elsewhere instead of continuing a fruitless search.

New technology is constantly being developed to help users manage and make sense of their vast and increasing information resources. Taxonomy management software is becoming more powerful as it gains the ability to represent the complex, specific relationships of a thesaurus or ontology.

A taxonomy is really nothing more than a filing system. Some businesses may be functioning well enough with their current filing methods and not benefit enough from a taxonomy management system to justify the cost of implementation. Nevertheless, given the accelerated pace at which information currently accumulates, most companies would benefit from implementing at least a basic taxonomy to improve the navigation of a company’s website and help customers find product information faster and more reliably. This can lead to increased sales and better customer relations.

When you decide to venture down the road of taxonomies, it is important to partner with someone with experience. True findability can be achieved only when you index against a solid, standards-based taxonomy. Access Innovations is one of a very small number of companies able to help its clients generate ANSI/ISO/W3C-compliant taxonomies and associated rule bases for machine-assisted indexing.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in taxonomies, metadata, and semantic enrichment to make your content findable.