Taxonomy Under Attack

conflictWe have noted on other occasions that ‘formal taxonomies’ are under attack from various quarters. Presumably, classification schemes, thesauri, subject heading lists, authority files are equally destined for the scrap heap, as far as their detractors are concerned. Here’s what a recent blogger had to say [full post]:

“Traditional knowledge management relied on the skill of a privileged team of “knowledge architects” a priori defining information taxonomies, which organisations had to try and conform to in their day-to-day information creation and searching activities. The problem is that information is very rarely the kind of beast that’s happy to be tamed and confined within static structures: its structure and importance morph over time.”

It is indeed a characteristic of information that ‘its structure and importance morph over time’. But so do geographical features; that doesn’t prevent us from finding maps rather useful. People and organizations also morph over time and change their structural relationships, yet Yellow Pages, health records, electoral registers and product catalogues all seem to remain useful.

Yet, that’s a glib rebuff to a facile assertion. Formal KO disciplines are being relegated to the museum in favour of a brash, tag-as-you-go mentality. Are we so sure that they are wrong and we are right?

If your answer is ‘no’, then how would YOU suggest we accommodate both points-of-view?


2 Responses to Taxonomy Under Attack

  1. Alan Gilchrist says:

    The CIO of General Motors was recently quoted as saying that folksonomies were a very attractive option because taxonomies were so expensive. He may have figures to justify that claim (which I doubt), my point being that we have not yet succeded in producing a credible argument for RoI beyond the questionable statistics of how much time is spent on searching for information (how much time should one spend?) or anecdotal stories of the cost of not finding information in isolated and specific cases. With so many senior managers and accountants not looking very far beyond that notorious bottom line we are doomed to struggle on until someone comes up with a cogent cash-based argument.

  2. John Chandler says:

    Here’s one thing that occurs to me about this. Let’s say the some folksonomy activity decides that something like “department” or “electoral riding” or something well-defined like that is something they want to tag some content with. They would probably appreciate an official kind of service that gives them a unique identifier to use to tag the content (thereby getting away from problems like misspelling etc.) and such that when the content is searched the service adds value by allowing you to decide if you want to the search results to be in terms of the the way it is today, or the way it was 5 years ago (right? I mean if department A was merged with department B in 2002, then when I say I want to find stuff belinging to department B, I may want all of A and B or maybe not). Anywhat, my point is that these metadata services would be very valuable and **they** would definitely be imp,ementations of hard and fast old-fashoined, rigorously-managed, vocabulary-controlled taxonomies. Folksonomies could use them for tagging and still be just as folksy as they are now and IMO would be more powerrful.

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