Showcasing taxonomies and their uses

Lorna Balkan

The first Taxonomy Boot Camp London was held in at the Olympia Conference Centre, London from 18-19 November. It was a chance for experts and novices alike to find out about the latest developments in taxonomies and their uses. It was also a chance to present first findings on the evaluation work I have been doing on ELSST within the context of the SERISS project – see my presentation on ‘Using back-translation for quality control in a multilingual thesaurus’.

The boot camp attracted an international audience from the academic, charity, and corporate sectors. ‘Taxonomy’ was understood in a general sense to cover thesauri, ontologies, and other less formal knowledge organization systems (KOSs). Presentations covered the design and construction of taxonomies, application areas such as search and corporate information/knowledge management, and software tools.

Keynote speakers were Mike Atherton, Content Strategist at Facebook, UK and Patrick Lambe, a well-known taxonomist from Straits Knowledge. Atherton argued that underpinning a website with a domain model makes it easier to maintain and update. Lambe showed how taxonomies can be used to organize corporate knowledge (including processes and procedures) as well as corporate information (data).

Taxonomies in theory

Heather Hedden, the author of The Accidental Taxonomist, gave an interesting presentation on non-preferred terms. She discussed how, in the term-based thesaurus model represented by ISO 25964-1 (and found in ELSST), non-preferred terms stand in an equivalence relationship to their preferred terms, while in the concept-based Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS) model, they are attributes of concepts. Stella Dextre Clarke, co-author of ISO 25964-1, pointed out that both standards were developed in close collaboration and are largely compatible. While ISO 25964-1 is built for thesauri, she noted, SKOS is designed to accommodate other KOSs also.

Taxonomies in practice

A practical session entitled ‘working with multidisciplinary teams – taxonomy tales from the trenches’ was led by experienced taxonomists and offered practical tips for how to negotiate with other stakeholders (project managers, IT specialists, etc.) in the construction of a taxonomy. Of particular relevance to ELSST, in the context of the evaluation work being undertaken in the SERISS project, was Lambe’s warning not to present your taxonomy to an ‘expert’ and ask them what they think of it. Experts should, he argued, be consulted about specific questions only.

Tools and technology

Many different software tools for constructing and managing taxonomies were presented and discussed. Common themes included using automatic indexing and/or crowd-sourcing to populate or improve taxonomies. Many speakers also stressed the importance of semantic technologies (SKOS, RDF, and Linked Open Data (LOD) ) which allow mappings to other vocabularies and LOD. For example, Roger Press of Academic Rights Press Ltd, described musicweb, a music portal that exploits LOD to ‘discover’ information about artists that is not otherwise available.

Andreas Blumauer of PoolParty described the advantages of graph databases over traditional databases, including their ability to map to data and documents stored in other systems and databases, and to support more complex queries.

In short, the need for taxonomies, and for people who know how to construct them, looks stronger than ever.

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