1 March 2010

LIKE 11 - Taxonomies in an open world

The London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) meetings are my favourite KM meetings at the moment because they are stimulating, convivial, well organised and held regularly.

The last event, LIKE11, celebrated a year of these events and it is a testament to how quickly they have established themselves as part of the KM scene that it seems as though they have been going much longer than this.

The various KM groups have some subtle differences in their make-up, though many people like myself belong to several groups, and LIKE has a slight leaning towards librarianship which was reflected in the topic under discussion, taxonomies.

I have a growing, if slightly grudging, respect for taxonomies so jumped quickly to book one of the limited places available (these meetings are always fully booked).

We were given a thorough tour of the relevance of, and issues with, taxonomies (and folksonomies) by the erudite and knowledgeable Fran Alexander who has the wonderful title of Taxonomy Manager at the BBC.

Fran peppered her talk with examples of how BBC researchers rely on taxonomies to find information that could not be found through a Google search.

The main point is that a Google search works well only if you know what it is you are looking for, and research is not like that. A taxonomy lets you approach a topic top-down and to gradually drill in to the detail of what you are looking for.

And in doing this it lets you explore topics that are closely related to the one that you are interested in. For example, if doing research on Porsche cars it is useful to know that the racing model 935 is based on the road model 911.

The interesting point was made that encyclopedias, and dictionaries, enabled serendipitous discovery by having unrelated (other than by alphabet) articles on the same page. This learning possibility is lost if you are presented with thousands of articles all on the same subject.

As with the TFPL meeting just two days previously, I was left with the thought that there is still much value in traditional Information Management skills, tools and techniques.

LIKE has had a fantastic first year and I look forward to more excellent meetings like this one in the second year and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised to see information workers hanging on to taxonomies. It's bit like seeing refrigerated ships being used to transport ice. It's possible that BBC researchers and journalists use taxonomies to inform their research. But a moment's reflection suggests this approach is probably in decline, because of the limitations of taxonomies (framing limitations, tendency to be out of date) and the availability of alternatives. I would have thought that the Internet was perfect when you weren't sure what you wanted. This search for example, which could be performed by someone not knowing what they wanted, yields a ton of information about Porsche 935, including its derivation, which is (as ever) more complex than the taxonomic perspective quoted above allows. http://www.google.co.uk/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=porche+935


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