Introductory articles

  • A taxonomy primer
    Taxonomies… thesauri… classification systems… synonym rings. We’ve heard all of these terms in the context of the web. As web sites expand, the task of organising them has become increasingly problematic and complex.

  • Sorting things out: classification and its consequences
    To classify is human. We all spend large parts of our days doing classification work, often tacitly, and make up and use a range of ad hoc classifications in order to do so. This site provides excerpts from Sorting Things Out by Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star.

Discussion articles

  • Accessible folksonomies
    "Lately I’ve been thinking about one particular artifact of the folksonomy phenomenon--the folksonomy menu that serves as a sort of buzz index providing users with a quick visualization of the most popular tags (technically I think it’s called a weighted list). Popular tags are displayed in a larger font and it’s relatively easy to identify hot topics at a glance. This visual representation of the popularity of any given tag is undeniably cool. However, once the coolness factor wears off it becomes fairly obvious that these menus are also not very accessible."
    (Kirk Biglione - alt tags)

  • Building taxonomies
    A sample chapter from Unlocking Knowledge Assets by Susan Conway and Char Sliga.

  • Collaborative knowledge gardening
    Conventional wisdom holds that people will never assign metadata tags to content. Abandoning taxonomy is the first ingredient of success. These systems--Flickr and use bags of keywords that draw from and extend a flat namespace. Feedback is immediate. As soon as you assign a tag to an item, you see the cluster of items carrying the same tag. If that’s not what you expected, you’re given incentive to change the tag or add another.

  • Defining "taxonomy"
    "I made the claim that a taxonomy cannot be defined by its shape, which is mostly how it does get defined eg 'A taxonomy is a hierarchical arrangement of terms blah blah blah...'. I argued that taxonomies should be defined more by their purpose and use, less by the structural form they happen to take (which can vary according to circumstance). What would a more useful definition be? To start with, we need to go back beyond Linnaeus and the rather narrow sense of 'taxonomy' developed by biologists. Let’s go back to the Greek roots and see what they deliver. "
    (Patrick Lambe)

  • Developing and creatively leveraging hierarchical metadata and taxonomy
    In content metadata and hierarchies, you will often find a goldmine of implicit and explicit data that you can leverage to creatively contextualise content. After a brief introduction on taxonomy and metadata, this article focuses on finding and utilising such relationships in hierarchies.

  • Developing enterprise taxonomies
    "This issue of the Earley Report Articles is to help people who are responsible for the design of Portals, Content Management Systems, Document Management systems, intranets, extranets, web sites, and e learning initiatives to understand how to create and apply an enterprise taxonomy. The concepts can be applied during the planning phase of a project as well as development and deployment. Appropriate audiences include: information architect, project manager, web developer, user interface designer, business leaders, and those who need to understand the process of creation, application and maintenance of an organizational taxonomy."
    (Earley and Associates)

  • Don't forget to add the tax(onomy)
    "So what is taxonomy? How does it differ from information architecture? And how do you create an effective taxonomy for a successful intranet?"
    (Cathy McKnight)

  • Extended faceted taxonomies for web catalogues
    Faceted taxonomies have a major drawback that prevents their deployment and use for real and large-scale applications like the Web. This drawback comes from the fact that it is possible to form a large number of invalid compound terms, that is, combinations of terms that do not apply to any object of the underlying domain.

  • Folksonomies: a user-driving approach to organizing content
    "One of the most common strategies for organizing content is to place it in a taxonomy. A taxonomy is a hierarchical tree structure such as those used in scientific classification schemes. Folksonomies, a new user-driven approach to organizing information, may help alleviate some of the challenges of taxonomies. Sites with folksonomies include two basic capabilities: they let users add 'tags' to information and they create navigational links out of those tags to help users find and organize that information later."
    (Joshua Porter)

  • Folksonomies and controlled vocabularies
    "The advantage of folksonomies isn't that they're better than controlled vocabularies, it's that they're better than nothing, because controlled vocabularies are not extensible to the majority of cases where tagging is needed. Building, maintaining, and enforcing a controlled vocabulary is, relative to folksonomies, enormously expensive, both in the development time, and in the cost to the user."
    (Clay Shirky)

  • Folksonomies - cooperative classification and communication through shared metadata
    "This paper examines user-generated metadata as implemented and applied in two web services designed to share and organize digital media to better understand grassroots classification. Metadata - data about data - allows systems to collocate related information, and helps users find relevant information. The creation of metadata has generally been approached in two ways: professional creation and author creation. In libraries and other organizations, creating metadata, primarily in the form of catalog records, has traditionally been the domain of dedicated professionals working with complex, detailed rule sets and vocabularies. The primary problem with this approach is scalability and its impracticality for the vast amounts of content being produced and used, especially on the World Wide Web. The apparatus and tools built around professional cataloging systems are generally too complicated for anyone without specialized training and knowledge. A second approach is for metadata to be created by authors. The movement towards creator described documents was heralded by SGML, the WWW, and the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative. There are problems with this approach as well - often due to inadequate or inaccurate description, or outright deception. This paper examines a third approach: user-created metadata, where users of the documents and media create metadata for their own individual use that is also shared throughout a community".
    (Adam Mathes)

  • Folksonomies: how about metadata ecologies?
    "Folksonomies are clearly compelling, supporting a serendipitous form of browsing that can be quite useful. But they don't support searching and other types of browsing nearly as well as tags from controlled vocabularies applied by professionals".
    (Louis Rosenfeld)

  • Folksonomies: tidying up tags?
    "In this article we look at what makes folksonomies work. We agree with the premise that tags are no replacement for formal systems, but we see this as being the core quality that makes folksonomy tagging so useful. We begin by looking at the issue of 'sloppy tags', a problem to which critics of folksonomies are keen to allude, and ask if there are ways the folksonomy community could offset such problems and create systems that are conducive to searching, sorting and classifying. We then go on to question this 'tidying up' approach and its underlying assumptions, highlighting issues surrounding removal of low-quality, redundant or nonsense metadata, and the potential risks of tidying too neatly and thereby losing the very openness that has made folksonomies so popular."
    (Marieke Guy, Emma Tonkin - DLib Magazine)

  • Immersed in structure: the meaning and function of taxonomies
    Taxonomies are an increasingly popular method of organizing information in a digital environment. Adding hand-crafted directories to the search process is one of the most important trends among consumer portals in 2000. Yet debate rages over the implications of deploying hierarchies, taxonomies and other rigid structures of organisation. Some information architects argue that taxonomies limit the open, creative process of finding information. They fear that highly rational organisational and design structures stomp out emotional responses to Web sites. In this view, strictly logical Web sites illicit strictly logical end-user experiences.

  • Metadata and taxonomies for a more flexible information architecture
    This presentation describes a methodology for developing customised taxonomies and metadata schema for a collection and its users. The methodology takes into account both the basic indexable aspects of content objects, and the ways that a particular group of users tends to search for them. The presentation then illustrates how an information architecture based on taxonomies and metadata can be used to make a number of basic web site and intranet functions more flexible and dynamic.

  • Putting it together: taxonomy, classification and search
    The more complex the enterprise, the greater the need to search among multiple sources, but the one- or two-word search used by most people "doesn't give much complexity in the results," says Eric Woods, research director in the software and service group at Ovum, a London-based technology consultancy.

  • Strategies for categorising categories
    How does a site containing thousands of pages of content get users to the content they seek quickly? There are many different strategies for organising content on sites and the folks at User Interface Engineering recently took a hard look at five of them.

  • Social consequences of social tagging
    "I think folksonomy has incredible value—the two web sites that I use most heavily right now are Flickr and And I understand that this is something that can’t be stuffed back into the bottle. Nonetheless, I don’t think that means we have to accept it with an uncritical eye, or adopt every new implementation of tagging without consideration."
    (Liz Lawley)

  • Taxonomic distress: the challenge of developing effective taxonomies for web-facing businesses
    A good taxonomy is a win for both a company and its customers. It’s easy to see why taxonomy development is good for your users: the whole reason for creating a taxonomy for your site is to make information retrieval quick and easy by putting the information into a sensible structure that’s consistently applied. Well-designed taxonomies map out the base structure for your content, providing a navigation scheme that makes sense to your users.

  • Taxonomies put content in context
    Businesses facing the need to quickly and reliably find useful information in the mountains of unstructured content held in corporate repositories (and made accessible through portals), are looking to taxonomy technology for help.

  • Taxonomy and metadata strategies for effective content management
    There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo like the word "taxonomy" that is being thrown around to describe how to manage so-called unstructured content like business documents, web site pages, and old fashioned technical reports and articles. On the one hand, we want to remember what we already know about how to create a useful core catalog record to describe a content object so it can be found again later when needed. On the other hand, there are some bad habits and obsolete ideas like inverted file indexes that we need to get beyond. This presentation is about what we have seen in dozens of applied information management projects over the past few years, and how you can take advantage of what you already know to solve big problems like these in your own organisations.

  • Ten taxonomy myths
    Taxonomies have recently emerged from the quiet backwaters of biology, book indexing, and library science into the corporate limelight. They are supposed to be the silver bullets that will help users find the needle in the intranet haystack, reduce "friction" in electronic commerce, facilitate scientific research, and promote global collaboration. But before this can happen, practitioners need to dispel the myths and confusion, created in part by the multi-disciplinary nature of the task and the hype surrounding content management technologies.

  • The corporate taxonomy: creating a new order
    Any organisation that needs to make significant volumes of information available in an efficient and consistent way to its customers, partners or employees needs to understand the value of a serious approach to taxonomy design and management.

  • Understanding information taxonomy helps build better applications
    Taxonomy represents the foundation upon which information architecture stands, and all well-rounded developers should have at least a basic understanding of taxonomy to ensure that they can create organised, logical applications.

  • Understanding taxonomies and search for corporate applications
    As companies grapple with ever-expanding amounts of (especially unstructured and semi-structured) content and the resulting difficulty of even finding information they know they have somewhere, they become more willing to consider the effort of organizing information so that it can be found, and found quickly. This means that IT strategists and many business managers now need to understand what taxonomies are, what their value to search is, how they get developed, what is involved in their design and use, what technology can do vs. what humans still have to do, and what they need to consider before they get started.
    (Lynda Moulton)

  • Unifying browse and search in information hierarchies
    Information retrieval systems offer two main methods to access information: searching by submitting a query and browsing a constructed navigation hierarchy. In most systems, these two methods are accessed and operated by the information seeker in different ways and generate different types of result sets that allow different kinds of operations to be performed upon them. This paper suggests two general principles and a set of techniques implementing them for combining the browsing and searching access methods and interfaces for a system into a unified information navigation access method.

  • What are the differences between a vocabulary, a taxonomy, a thesaurus, an ontology, and a meta-model?
    Many organisations and companies are struggling with these terms and the ideas behind them; this set of definitions will help to clarify.

  • Why you need your very own taxonomy
    It's often easy to forget that better maths, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, fuzzy logic, and neural nets, may never work out that "bubble and squeak" has nothing to do with bubbles or squeaking. But people can make these connections and structures easily. One way to help your search engine to locate "better" matches is to add a little common-sense humanity and create a taxonomy.


  • Unraveling the mysteries of metadata and taxonomies
    Christina Wodtke of Boxes and Arrows interviews Samantha Bailey (former Argonaut and current lead IA for Wachovia Corporation’s website) about Information Architecture, her dream process and the mysteries of metadata and taxonomies.


  • Taxomita
    Taxomita is a tool for creating faceted taxonomies using PHP and MySQL. Version 1 is in beta testing.

  • Facetmap
    FacetMap was constructed initially to demonstrate the concept of traversing multiple taxonomies simultaneously, and now also to offer a data model and programming interface so that web designers can incorporate the process into their own sites. A solution so simple that we can take any metadata you've got, and turn it into a browsing system.