Taxonomy. It’s the word on everyone’s lips these days. No, it’s not the study of 1040 Forms. Nor does it have anything to do with stuffing and mounting small animals. It’s the art of writing down words on index cards and then shuffling them until they are ordered into a controlled vocabulary.
Amy J. Warner, in “A Taxonomy Primer” (2002) (from Lexonomy via The Information Architecture Institute) says taxonomies, thesauri, classification systems and synonym rings are all “controlled vocabularies: organized lists of words and phrases, or notation systems. They are used to tag content and then to find it through navigation or search.”
The reason you need a controlled vocabulary is to develop a navigation and/or search scheme-so the user can find your website’s content. Here’s an example: suppose your user is looking for a recipe for zucchini. Natural language tagging simply won’t suffice. You need synonym rings, so that all your recipes for courgettes will come up too. See?
“The next level of organization of your terms is to arrange them in some way. Usually, a hierarchy is used,” says Warner. “This level of organization is generally what people are referring to when they use the term taxonomy…. Hierarchies also show the relationships among content items.”
Vegetables / Squashes / Zucchini is one path. Relating terms across hierarchies (associative or related term relationship) is the most complex level of control, according to Warner. That’s how you arrive at Main Courses / Vegetarian Dishes / Zucchini Parmesan.
When all this taxing taxonomying is done, you’ll probably be hungry. Just search for Zucchini Parmesan-and voila!-you’ll find those tasty courgettes.
The good news is that you can apparently buy these vocabularies as there are “literally hundreds, if not thousands…floating around.” Warner suggests shopping around first to see if there are any you can adapt to your website, but more than likely you’ll end up building your own, “so that you can create a stock of structured terms to organize as you wish.”
One final word of caution from Warner: “Make sure that the results you get from developing, using, and maintaining a controlled vocabulary [taxonomy] are worth the investment…. Otherwise, it may not be worth the effort.”