Talk:Developing an organizational taxonomy

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See the original thread of this E-Discussion on D-Groups

Shannon O'Shea, 2009/02/20


In UNICEF we are planning to develop an organizational taxonomy (or taxonomies).

I am looking to hear other's experience with this (eg: how long did it take to have something? what were the costs? what were some of the challenges? etc). We will likely need to employ a taxonomy consultant for this and if anyone has suggestions of people or firms that we might contact it would be most appreciated.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Programme Specialist, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Jaap Pels , 2009/02/20

Hi Shannon,

My advice: keep it simple. Below how we tackle tagging within our WASHCost project.

Folksonomy for tagging

An information collection can be kept on a spectrum between perfect order (a well ordered library) and chaos (someones desk piled with paper). To be accessible, information has to be (and has always been!) tagged. Tags help users to find information. For example, The Universal Decimal Code (UDC) has been used for more than 100 years to categorise human knowledge. Libraries have their own standardised tagging systems for looking up books. Telephone companies have directories and most individuals have tagged, alphabetical or chronological lists. Young people with good Internet access often have tagged information networks in social website (Facebook, LinkedIn and Hyves), MSN or other messenger software, and mobiles. The task of building up these directories is known as taxonomy and the resulting systems helps users to wade through the information maze. To agree and apply taxonomy takes a lot of effort, and one cannot be sure it will ever be used! For example, the IRC website uses tag names for all its stories, and these are useful for finding stories on a topic. But often, the writer is undecided as to which tags are most appropriate, and sometimes none seems quite to fit the subject matter adequately. The alternative to a fixed taxonomy of pre-determined tags is to offer a good search engine combined with a 'folksonomy'. While the tag list of taxonomy is managed by one or a few people, in a folksonomy, you choose your own tag words for your documents. It is argued that this "tagging by all", folksonomy, leads to a tag list at least of equal value to that of strict taxonomy. The WASHCost wiki allows this kind of free-flowing tagging. A wiki page with a report attached can be tagged as 'report' or 'India' or 'knowledge management' or 'learning' or 'thought piece on IT', or all of these things. When a lot of WASHCost team members have tagged reports or pages freely, they have collectively generated a folksonomy. The wiki keeps track of all the tags and auto suggests while the user types. This way typos are kept to a minimum. Those who post material on the WASHCost wiki, and indeed those who read it and who have editing rights, can tag it as they wish. As all members the WASHCost team have editing rights over some pages this can be very useful. It means that when you have read an article, if you do not think that the current tags would help you to find it again, you can add some more. For example, the readers of this article could choose to tag it as 'basic guide' or 'wiki' or even 'nonsense', if they felt that way. (If most users tagged it as nonsense, it would clearly be time to re-think and re-write.) The technology also allows blogs and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds to be based on tags. RSS is a protocol to receive updates from digital repositories by e-mail or in a reader; in other words it sends you a message with a link. If you e-mail the wiki with a first line 'Category: This, That, MyBlog' the content will be tagged with 'This', 'That', 'MyBlog'. The tag 'MyBlog' is used to generate a RSS of the weblog 'MyBlog' and can be read by e-mail.

Senior Programme Officer Knowledge Management, IRC International Water and Sanitation, Section Information & Communication.