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Organizing digital information for others

My new book on Organizing Digital Information for Others is out.

When we interact with web and intranet teams, we find many struggling to move beyond conceptual-level discussions on information organization. Hours on end are spent on discussing the meaning of “metadata”, “controlled vocabulary” and “taxonomy” without any strategic understanding of how everything fits together. Being so bogged down at this level they fail to look beyond to the main reason for their pursuit—organizing information for others (the end users) so that they can find the information easily.

Web and intranet teams are not the only ones facing this challenge. Staff in companies are finding themselves tasked with organizing, say, hundreds of project documents on their collaboration space. And they usually end up organizing it in the only way they know—for themselves. Team members then often struggle to locate the information that they thought should be in “this folder”!

In this short book, we explore how lists, categories, trees and facets can be better used to organize information for others. We also learn how metadata and taxonomies can connect different collections and increase the findability of information across the website or intranet.

Using tag bundles in intranets

Our new article on tag bundles is up. Here’s the summary:

It’s common for enterprises to have a document library in their intranets that houses all types of administrative and operational content. Such a document library usually has a taxonomy to improve the discoverability and findability of content. However, there is one problem: documents need to get into the library first! Submitting a document to the library involves filing or tagging the document with the right taxonomic terms, a procedure that can make people see red if not done properly. Tag bundles can help simplify this procedure and also improve the use of such document libraries.

Polyhierarchy in the real world

Snapped this at a local video store. There are multiple Top 1s, Top 2s, etc.


Faceted vs. Parametric search

From an interview with Peter Morville:

Peter Morville: The terms “faceted navigation” and “parametric search” are often used interchangeably, but for the sake of comparison I find it valuable to define interfaces that require the simultaneous, up-front specification of all search parameters as exemplars of parametric search. Like the Boolean queries of yore, this forces users to formulate and execute a search strategy without guidance or feedback. Sliders and pull-downs are easier than ANDs and ORs, but syntax is only part of the problem.

In contrast, faceted navigation lets users begin naturally with a keyword or two. They’re rewarded with traditional results plus a list of facets (or fields) and values, usually on the left. This SERP (search engine results page) serves as a custom map that offers insights into the content and its organization. And, this is a map that’s also the territory. Users can take a simple next step to clarify or refine their query by clicking on a facet value. And, by taking several of these simple next steps, users can construct a sophisticated, powerful query. So, not only do users find what they need, but they also learn along the way.

Design Patterns: Faceted Navigation

Very nice article by on faceted navigation by Peter Morville and Jeffrey Callenderi. I really like the part where they differentiate faceted browse from parametric search.

“On the other hand, the distinction between faceted navigation and parametric search is relevant. In parametric search applications, users specify their search parameters up front using a variety of controls such as checkboxes, pull-downs, and sliders to construct what effectively is an advanced Boolean query. Unfortunately, it’s hard for users to set several parameters at once, especially since many combinations will produce zero results.”

Starhub’s genres, classification problems, and an idea!

My new post over at PebbleRoad is around the new categorisation of TV channels proposed by local cable TV provider Starhub. My peeve is that the new categorisation is designed to serve internal needs and not the needs of the viewers. We’re required to just memorise the new numbers even though the assignment is ambiguous and confusing. To complete the article, however, I’ve also proposed a faceted classification of the channels and even given a mock of an iphone like interface to replace the last-century-looking remote. Enjoy!

Google enhances search results to include page sections in snippets

Google announced yesterday that they’ve enhanced their search results page to include page sections of long pages in the snippets area. Here is an example they’ve given.

The rationale is that we can do directly to a section in the page if that’s what we’re interested in. That’s a nice idea—it’s an attempt at auto-indexing the page using page sections. It provides more information on the page, assuming that the page sections are labeled properly.

But what’s really interesting that is the fact that this is another opportunity to reveal sequence, like in a table of contents. Showing a sequence in a page really gets to the guts of what the page is all about. Google already shows a sitemap in the search results, which gets to what a site is all about.

Now the only thing Google needs to figure out is how to reveal sequence across pages and sites. So for example, if I were to search for “diabetes” then I should get a sequence that links to different pages and sites and the sequence includes what is diabetes to treatments to living with a diabetic to home remedies. Guess that was what the Knol was supposed to do.

Creating user-centered taxonomies

James Kelway from User Pathways tackles the creation and use of navigational taxonomies.

"This two-part article is a step-by-step guide for those wishing to create new taxonomies for their business unit or client. It will outline the many different elements that make up a quality taxonomy and the pitfalls you should be aware of when starting a new project."

Part 1, Part 2

Better Living Through Taxonomies

Heather Hedden writes about taxonomies for Digital Web Magazine:

"It goes without saying, then, that developing a good hierarchical structure is important for creating a well-designed and easy to navigate website. By understanding the fundamentals and best practices of taxonomy development, web designers and information architects can design better websites. This involves knowing whether concepts or topics are indeed of a broader-narrower (parent-child) relationship and not merely an associated relationship. A concept can be narrower to another concept only if it is a kind of, instance of, or part of the broader concept."

Taxonomy Warehouse

This website, maintained by Factiva, provides a collection of taxonomies that can be reused.

"We are the only site on the Internet dedicated to taxonomies for corporations. Get the information you need to effectively categorize internal and external data collections and ensure users find the information they need with speed and precision."

How to Kill a Knowledge Environment with a Taxonomy

Patrick Lambe has written a post on aiming for a balance when it comes to taxonomy and folksonomy and he does so by referencing Jane Jacobs's "The death and life of great American cities":

"The task of the taxonomist or information architect is not to provide absolute consistency and standardization, maximum tidiness, and complete information efficiency. Optimizing efficiency in a complex system, as Jacobs noted in regard to cities, destroys the resilience of that system and its capacity to adapt to new circumstances. So the task of the taxonomist or information architect is not to optimize efficiency, but to optimize effectiveness, and that always means sub-optimal efficiency. Consistency and standardization must be sufficient for effectiveness and the meeting or your goals and no more than sufficient."

Defining “Taxonomy”

Patrick Lambe has written a nice article on taxonomy. He describes 3 characteristics of useful taxonomies:

  1. A taxonomy is a form of classification scheme
  2. Taxonomies are semantic
  3. A taxonomy is a kind of knowledge map

[Disclaimer: My company PebbleRoad designed both his corporate website as well as his blog, Green Chameleon. I will write an in-depth article on using a simple CMS to manage both corporate information as well as fluid information such as blogs.]

The corporate taxonomy: creating a new order

Introductory look at corporate taxonomies: "A simple definition of a taxonomy is that it is a hierarchy of categories used to classify documents and other information. A corporate taxonomy is a way of representing the information available within an enterprise."

Metadata? Thesauri? Taxonomies? Topic Maps!

"Topic maps are a relative newcomer to this area and bring with them the promise of better-organized web sites, compared to what is possible with existing techniques. However, it is not generally understood how topic maps relate to the traditional techniques, and what advantages and disadvantages they have, compared to these techniques. The aim of this paper is to help build a better understanding of these issues." [Thanks ColumnTwo]

TaxonomyStrategies: Bibliography of resources

TaxonomyStrategies: Bibliography of resources

Nice list of resources covering Information Architecture, Information Management, Taxonomy, Knowledge Management, etc.

Transform Magazine: Putting it Together: Taxonomy, Classification & Search

Transform Magazine: Putting it Together: Taxonomy, Classification & Search

This article tries to make the argument that having a taxonomy, classifying documents into the taxonomy, and having a search function to mine through both is a necessity for large intranets.

theOtherMedia: Why you need your very own taxonomy

theOtherMedia: Why you need your very own taxonomy
"Making a taxonomy is an act of communication. They basically capture an essence of the knowledge that resides in your organization. A conceptual short-hand overview that describes what's important and how things you are interested in relate to each other. Creating a taxonomy, like anything that worthwhile can be hard work, time-consuming and require considerable domain expertise and creativity."

Metamodel: What are the differences between a vocabulary, a taxonomy, a thesaurus, an ontology, and

Metamodel: What are the differences between a vocabulary, a taxonomy, a thesaurus, an ontology, and a meta-model?
"This excellent overview was contributed by Woody Pidcock of the Boeing company. Many organizations and companies are struggling with these terms and the ideas behind them; this set of definitions will help to clarify."

Montague Institute: Ten taxonomy myths

Montague Institute: Ten taxonomy myths
"Taxonomies have recently emerged from the quiet backwaters of biology, book indexing, and library science into the corporate limelight. They are supposed to be the silver bullets that will help users find the needle in the intranet haystack, reduce "friction" in electronic commerce, facilitate scientific research, and promote global collaboration. But before this can happen, practitioners need to dispel the myths and confusion, created in part by the multi-disciplinary nature of the task and the hype surrounding content management technologies."

ERCIM: Extended Faceted Taxonomies for Web Catalogs

ERCIM: Extended Faceted Taxonomies for Web Catalogs
"A faceted taxonomy is actually a set of taxonomies, called facets, each of which is a set of terms structured by a specialisation/generalisation relation. Using a faceted taxonomy, the indexing of objects is done by associating each object with a compound term, ie with a combination of terms coming from different facets. It was recognised long ago that a faceted taxonomy has several advantages over a single hierarchical taxonomy, including conceptual clarity, compactness and scalability."

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