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4554Re: [TaxoCoP] Taxonomy Disaster Stories

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  • Patrick Lambe
    Mar 13, 2013
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      Another anonymised contribution, this time looking at externally facing taxonomy work. What looks like a productive and rational approach doesn't always work out with the technology or the maintenance implications!

      I was tasked to expand a marketing site's taxonomy to increase their SEO footprint, allow for more refinement, and maintain the specificity of inbound mappings. The taxonomy grew from a few dozen categories to over 500.  

      We are now in the process of removing many of these categories from the site for a variety of reasons but primarily because of the SEO hit the site has taken since Google's Panda update last year. Google's Panda update penalizes thin content pages and we never had a strategy or the resources to populate these category pages with relevant content.

      The lesson learned for me is to really really understand whether the organization can support a large taxonomy because there are 'costs' associated.  We all love the challenge and understand the benefits of growing a taxonomy to better organize information but there are costs associated in terms of maintenance and optimization (remapping content, keeping the categories populated with fresh content, training of staff to be aware of these new categories, etc.). 

      I've witnessed that the benefits of growing the taxonomy to the depth I did (from 2 levels deep and a few dozen categories to 6 levels deep and over 500 categories) didn't outweigh the costs.

      Patrick Lambe
      Partner
      Tel: +65 62210383





      On Mar 8, 2013, at 12:21 PM, Patrick Lambe wrote:

      Here's another anonymised contribution - some resonances with Chloe's challenge a week or so back:

      When working in the Asian office of a global company in the late 1990s, I built up a traditional hierarchical 3-level taxonomy applied to file shares that was reasonably successful.  It was based on file-plans that we had been building since 1990.  We centralized the creation of all folders in 9 countries against the taxonomy with web-page request forms, local and central approval and actual folder creation done by technology people in Australia.  The vast majority of end-users were positive about this approach.  They were from all parts of the world, about 1,000 users.

      I transferred in in the early 2000s to the European HQ as the global head for Records and Information Management.  They had no RIM program at the global HQ with 2,000+ employees.  I tried to convince a group of senior functional heads (Finance, IT, Operations, Logistics) that they needed a taxonomy.  They hated the idea.  They said it would never work with Europeans, only Asians would be so "obedient".  After 2 years I was exhausted.  I had sourced a RM system for paper records and installed it with a classification system I was careful to never call 'taxonomy'.  It wasn't very accurate because I wasn't allowed to do the requirements interviews, analysis of existing classification schemes, validation tests with small groups of users that had all together worked well in Asia.  At the HQ it was all by stealth and in the end I was just guessing what would work.  

      Taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification, controlled vocabulary all speak to control (I know some of these are synonyms).  Executives know there will be lots of pushback so they don't want to support these approaches.  They like the IT vendor who comes in and says it can all be done transparently with auto-classification and search.  As taxonomy professionals we know these only work well in conjunction with taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification and controlled vocabulary but the system is purchased and the IT vendor is long gone before someone like us is allowed to make this point to the executives.  

      Now that company has a new global head of RIM, the third since I left.  He recently told me he is trying to convince the management teams to build a global taxonomy for file shares and Sharepoint. How do you sell the idea of a taxonomy to executives who won't listen?

      Patrick Lambe
      Partner
      Tel: +65 62210383

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