Getting a crash course in organizing information at Taxonomy Boot Camp

  • By Blaine Kyllo
  • |
  • Nov 12 2015
Categories: |News

Or, hanging out with librarians

Say what you want about librarians. Last week I spent two days in Washington, D.C. with a bunch of them and had the best time.

I also learned a lot.

card sorting

Photo: @seasonsreadings (Season) on Instagram

The occasion was the annual Taxonomy Boot Camp, which is part of the Knowledge World conference. The gathering is an opportunity for taxonomists of all stripes to share learnings and strategies and information.

Fish out of water

What was a content strategist doing at a taxonomy conference? Well, as a content strategist I’ve worked with taxonomists before. I understand what it is they do. Kind of. But I wanted to better understand taxonomy. Attending the Boot Camp was my opportunity to immerse myself in the methods and language.

Five minutes into the first event, a keynote address by Peter Morville, I knew that deciding to attend was a good idea. Taxonomies, he explained, are at the heart of creating environments for understanding. Which is exactly what content strategy is all about.

And how about this: “Categories are the cornerstones of cognition and culture.” It sounds like something I’d hear at a content strategy meetup.

[Tweet “”Categories are the cornerstones of cognition and culture” – @morville at #taxobc”]

Clearly, I was among friends.

Taxonomic fundamentals

My second session was a workshop with John Horodyski in which he delved into the fundamentals of taxonomy. One of the first things we did was a group card sort exercise, trying to come up with the best way to organize items from a grocery store.

There were nearly fights over where to put tofu.

Even the tasks that taxonomists use – audits and interviews, for example – are similar to those we use in content strategy.

And how does Horodyski think a taxonomy project should begin? With this question: “Who is the audience?”

Other lessons learned

From governance to how to sell clients on a taxonomy, the two days I spent at the Boot Camp validated some things I thought I knew about taxonomies and gave me a better appreciation for their importance.

The biggest takeaway, though, is that taxonomies are living things. Which means they are not perfect, nor are they complete.

This was a message that was shared by every taxonomist in Washington, but it was most elegantly expressed by Horodyski: “Taxonomy is never done. It just gets better over time.”



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