How would you organize all the world’s information? A project of that magnitude would give anyone reason to pause.

Would it be the same as Wikipedia? During the early part of its development, Wikidata used a hierarchical taxonomy to organize its data entries. The system was called GND—a German initialism, Gemeinsame Normdatei, which translates to “Integrated Authority File.” GND was originally meant to organize bibliographic information across library systems, though it was expanded recently by Internet technologists to work for non-library systems, too.

When you set out to arrange something, how do you decide where the pieces go? Is it based on what looks right to you, what you believe goes together, or what someone told you to do? Or maybe you let gravity or the alphabet determine the order?

To effectively arrange anything, we have to choose methods for organizing and classifying content in ways that convey the intended information to our intended users.

There are different types of classifications. Postal codes are considered an exact classification. One can generally rely on the codes to remain steady and unchanged. If the postal code is 10012, the building is in Manhattan.

Ambiguous classifications require more thought to decide where something goes. The more ambiguous something is, the more it can be challenged.

Movie genres may seem exact. But if you put three movie reviewers in a room and ask them to classify a film as comedy or drama, you will be hard pressed to have a consensus.

Ambiguity and exactness relate to context as well.

Is it postal code or zip code? Both would have explained the point, but one is more exact for the context, which includes readers outside the United States.

The more ambiguous it is, the more likely it is that people will have trouble using the taxonomy to find and classify things.

For every ambiguous rule of classification used or labeled, the intent will have to be communicated even that much more clearly.

The more exact the taxonomy becomes, the less flexible it is. This isn’t always bad, but it can be a challenge.

By organizing all data in a single way, the overall usability of knowledge systems increases considerably. A taxonomy forces system designers to classify metadata fields to content categories. A list of metadata values is then defined to populate each field in-line with the taxonomy.

Using a consistent taxonomy for content storage helps an enterprise understand the information it holds as well as that which is missing.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Data Harmony, a unit of Access Innovations, the world leader in indexing and making content findable.