Taxonomy: Do I Need One


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Leigh White's presentation from the STC Summit 2012

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Taxonomy: Do I Need One

  1. 1. Taxonomy:Do I need one? Leigh White ElementalSource, LLC
  2. 2. Yes
  3. 3. What I’ll talk about• What happens without a taxonomy• What a taxonomy is and does• Why a taxonomy is important• A few first development steps
  4. 4. What I won’t talk about• All the different kinds of taxonomies• Details about development• Tools for development – except DITA subjectScheme (briefly!)
  5. 5. A little history
  6. 6. What the he** IS that???
  7. 7. Oh, let’s call it a…• Use the native name• Name it after something familiar that it’s kind of “like”• “Like” is murky; you have to define “like” – How it looks? Shape? Color? Size? – How it tastes? – How it acts?
  8. 8. Earth apples, anyone?• aardappel (Dutch)• pomme de terre (French)
  9. 9. *not apples
  10. 10. We know this because• We have a taxonomy (Linnean classification) that specifies degrees of relationship between living things
  11. 11. Distant cousins, at best apple potatoKingdom Plantae PlantaePhylum Anthophyta AnthophytaClass Eudicots EudicotsOrder Rosales SolanalesFamily Rosaceae SolanaceaeGenus Malus SolanumSpecies M. domestica S. tuberosum
  12. 12. So, a taxonomy is• A way of defining “like”• A way of expressing relationships between things – We might already be instinctively aware of these relationships but need to formalize them• A way of discovering relationships between things• An information model
  13. 13. Taxonomies are• typically organized by parent-child relationships• typically indicated by the phrase is a kind of or is a subtype of• the subtype has the same properties, behaviors, and constraints as the supertype plus one or more additional properties, behaviors, or constraints
  14. 14. Uhh…what?• For example: car is a kind of vehicle, so any car is also a vehicle, but not every vehicle is a car• The level “car” is more constrained than the level “vehicle”• A car has all the properties of a vehicle plus some other properties specific to a car
  15. 15. Taxonomies are all around us• It’s our nature to classify• Many of these taxonomies are internal, arbitrary and personal• A true taxonomy must be uniform and unambiguous
  16. 16. Other familiar taxonomies• Dewey Decimal System• Library of Congress System• ICD-9/10 codes• computer folder system – probably most common taxonomy in tech comm
  17. 17. And one I especially dig• A taxonomy of wrongness! –
  18. 18. We have metadata…why do we needa taxonomy too?• Where did that metadata come from? – You must have had some idea of how your content should be classified – If so, then you already have the beginnings of a taxonomy, at least in your head – So take it a step further
  19. 19. Metadata compliments taxonomyand vice-versa• Metadata describes an individual piece of content but doesn’t capture relationships very well.• Metadata is part of content so updates can be unwieldy; better to maintain the model outside the content• A taxonomy serves as a roadmap…it both describes current content and predicts future content• A taxonomy highlights similarities (and differences) across products• Metadata can pick up where taxonomy leaves off
  20. 20. What else are taxonomies good for?• Controlled vocabularies – indexing – keywords – glossaries• Searching/browsing/filtering – Faceted search – Filtering for custom doc publishing• Content reuse
  21. 21.
  22. 22. So far…• we’ve looked at hierarchical taxonomies
  23. 23. When hierarchy isn’t enough A Cockapoo is a kind of dog. It’s the product of a poodle and a Cocker Spaniel. A hierarchy cannot capture all these relationships.
  24. 24. There’s an alternative (polyarchical)
  25. 25. Purists might say…• that you need different notations to express different kinds of relationships• or that you must express the relationships uniformly
  26. 26. Maybe, maybe not• You need what you need to capture the relationships you need to express• No more, no less - KISS• The relationships already exist; you are just using the taxonomy to express them
  27. 27. Decisions to make• What kind of taxonomy: – hierarchical, polyarchical, something else?• If hierarchical, how many levels?• If polyarchical, what kinds of relationships and how designated?• Tool to use? (meh)• How to associate content with taxonomy?
  28. 28. Questions to ask• What will the taxonomy be used for? – indexing, search, etc.• Who are the users? – content creators, clients, SMEs, support, etc.• What content will the taxonomy cover? – topics, images, demos, videos, etc.• What are the scope and limits? – handling off-topic content—what to include/exclude• What are the resources and constraints? – skills/expertise, timing, technology, funding, stakeholder roles, etc.
  29. 29. More questions to ask• Who is responsible for development?• What are secondary/contributor roles?• How does taxonomy fit in with other metadata?• How to handle ongoing support and maintenance?
  30. 30. Some first steps• Start small—maybe just one small product• Do content audit of everything the taxonomy will categorize• Compare TOCs of existing deliverables – Find commonalities, differences• Compare indexes of existing deliverables – Discover terms already in use• Use folder structure
  31. 31. More first steps• Assemble starting list of categories that cover existing content based on TOC, index and content audit• Place existing content within taxonomy (on paper)• Create taxonomy task force to review and refine – Avoid too many cooks
  32. 32. DITA Classification and SubjectScheme• Subject scheme – Defines controlled values (“buckets”) for classifying content – Defines relationships between those buckets• Classification – Groups content into appropriate buckets
  33. 33. Subject classification scheme
  34. 34. subjectScheme map<subjectScheme> <hasInstance> <subjectdef keys="product"> <subjectdef keys="Widget"/> <subjectdef keys="module"> <subjectdef keys="Meds"/> <subjectdef keys="AdminW"/> </subjectdef> </subjectdef> <subjectdef keys="Gadget"/> <subjectdef keys="module"> <subjectdef keys="AdminG"/> <subjectdef keys="Labs"/> </subjectdef> </subjectdef> </subjectdef> </hasInstance></subjectScheme>
  35. 35. Associate topics with subjects<map> <topicref href="t_configure_med.xml"> <topicsubject> <subjectref keys="Meds"/> <subjectref keys="AdminW"/> <subjectref keys="AdminG"/> </topicsubject> </topicref></map>
  36. 36. Recommended reading/viewing• The Accidental Taxonomist, Heather Hedden• Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge, and Organisational Effectiveness, Patrick Lambe• Joe Gelb’s presentation on subjectScheme: dig-2011-05-11.htm
  37. 37. Contact me Leigh White ElementalSource, 678.467.7706