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Friday, March 14, 2008

Achieving findability without taxonomies

12:23:00 PM Posted by Oscar Berg , No comments
Theresa Regli, Analyst at CMS Watch, provides some answers to those who argue that taxonomies are not needed to increase findability because their own taxonomy initiatives have failed for some reason or because new (semantic) search technologies will soon emerge:

"While that may be the case for some future date, it's not the case now for business trying to find information today. Yes, text mining technology is getting better at extracting meaning from content and in turn categorizing or using it in a useful way, and one day my cell phone may just let my doctor know immediately if I'm having a heart attack. The technology exists now to be able to do that. But the car has also existed for over 100 years, and most of the continent of Africa doesn't have roads. Useful technology without infrastructure doesn't go very far.

For now, content is stove-piped in multiple systems, and search has made people lazy. People think the answer should be as easy as a keyword. But the answers to our biggest findability questions are no more easily found by typing in a keyword than a non-French speaker might get a ticket on a working M├ętro line during a strike. Getting there is no easier than what Amtrak had to do to get the tracks laid down for Acela, and they still couldn't get the train to go as fast as it could have due to organizational and regulatory disarray."

This is classical human behaviour. Instead of climbing the mountain to access the riches on the other side of it, we decide to stay put at the foot of the mountain and wait for some inventor to come by with a teleporting machine that will teleport us to the other side. If you think that is a good strategy, then you should probably not bother to deal with taxonomies.

And let's face it - to make content findable, we need to continue (or start?) describing content with both descriptive and structural metadata until the following occurs:

  1. Search engines can actually analyze and understand the semantics of both the query and the content that they index
  2. Search engines know what people are asking for even if they don't know it themselves
  3. People can ask questions in a way that not only other people but also search engines can understand


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