As volumes of content and information management needs have grown, so has the interest and need in taxonomies. Taxonomies are controlled and structured lists of terms used to tag content so that it can easily be retrieved. Taxonomies can be found in library research databases, ecommerce websites, enterprise content management systems, intranets of organizations, and many other areas. While information management technologies have expanded in areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning as applied to text analytics and text mining, the value of taxonomies has not decreased, but, in fact, has increased.
Functional Uses of Taxonomies
Taxonomies serve as an intermediary to connect users to content, whereby the taxonomies are tagged to content at the back end (whether manually or by auto-tagging technologies based on natural language processing or machine learning) and are interacted with by users at the front end. There are different ways that taxonomies may serve end users. Digital information taxonomies were originally created only for information retrieval, but innovations and trends in digital content and data have given rise to additional uses for taxonomies, such as to support recommendation, personalization, data-centric enterprise knowledge management, voice-of-the-customer analysis, chatbot design, etc. Taxonomies may be implemented for the following uses:
- Browsing: If taxonomies are presented as displayed hierarchies, users can view browse to find and select a desired concept and then the retrieve content tagged with it.
- Searching: Users can enter words or phrases into a search box, and those words are matched against taxonomy terms that are tagged to the content. The matched taxonomy terms might display to the user in a drop-down list that comprises type-ahead or search-suggest matches to the search string.
- Discovery: Users may find content that they did not expect or did now know to look for, either by following links to related terms or following the link of a taxonomy term tagged to selected content.
- Filtering: If taxonomies are presented as facets for different aspects of content, users can limit their search results by selecting taxonomy terms from each of several facets and thus refine their search.
- Sorting: If taxonomies are organized into metadata property types, users can sort a list of results by matching criteria, which include being about topics of tagged taxonomy terms.
- Visualizing data: Taxonomy terms may be visualized in tag clouds where relative size of the term label font indicates frequency of occurrence, hierarchical topic trees, or networks of concepts and relationship links, which can provide an understanding of the subject domain.
- Personalizing information: Content can be delivered that meets a user’s profile or custom alerts which are based on pre-selected taxonomy terms.
- Recommendation of content: Content similar to what a user had selected can be recommended, based on shared taxonomy terms.
- Content management: Taxonomies can provide controlled metadata values of different types to manage content rights and workflow management.
- Content and data analysis: If taxonomies are linked to ontologies, which contain specific attributes and relations, search and analysis can be for data attributes and not just content.
Industry Uses of Taxonomies
Digital taxonomies were originally used for research content provided by libraries, but they have since been adopted for a variety of business purposes, including management and retrieval of product information, customer information, marketing information, human resources information, and various knowledge management initiatives.
Taxonomies may be used to support both users within an organization and those who are external, such as customers, prospects, partners, or researchers. Sometimes the same taxonomy is used with the same content for different audiences. Often, however, different audiences are served by different taxonomies and different content. Sometimes different audiences use different taxonomies to access the same content, or a subsect of the same content.
Taxonomies for external users of content and information
Organizations or agencies where information publishing or sharing for external audiences is core to their business or mission have long recognized the importance of thesauri or taxonomies. This began with periodical/journal articles and has since spread to include all kinds of content and data. Examples of industries in which external users make use of taxonomies to access the content include the following:
- News or other online report publishers, library/research database vendors, or other subscription content services.
- Organizations where public or member information is significant, including government agencies with content-rich websites, international organizations, non-profit organizations, and professional and trade associations.
- E-commerce and marketplaces, including business-to-consumers (B2C), business-to-consumer (B2B), and consumers-to-consumers (C2C), and product information sharing between manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers.
- Educational publishers or education technology companies, which provide digital learning.
- Services selling or distributing digital media, such as movies, music, eBooks, images, animations, video clips, graphics, etc.
- Job board websites or sites that match consultants/contractors/freelancers to contracts or projects.
In addition, with the growth of content marketing, which is the use of web-based content by companies and organizations to attract visitors to their sites, the content of websites has grown immensely, with more pages, blog posts, posted media files, documents to download, etc. To help website visitors find information and content on their sites, taxonomies have now become important for organizations in all kinds of businesses or services.
In all of these cases of publishing content for external users of taxonomies, there continues to be an internal use of taxonomies as well, for managing the content, including content reuse, rights management, retention/lifecycle management, quality management, new content integration, multilingual management, etc.
Taxonomies for internal users of content and information
Over the past decades the amount of internal digital information, and the applications in which they are contained, in organizations has grown exponentially. Taxonomies can aid in the management and retrieval of information and content items in content management systems, document management systems, digital asset management systems, collaboration spaces, intranets, etc. This applies to all industries, although in some sectors the management of internal information or assets is especially critical.
- Media, entertainment, advertising, and marketing are industries or functions that deal with large volumes digital assets or media (images, videos, audio files) that need to be managed. Digital asset management systems make use of taxonomies to describe the assets and can be linked to other systems with shared taxonomies.
- Highly regulated industries, such as pharmaceuticals, banking and finance, energy, and telecommunications, need to manage documents, information, and data better to help with regulatory compliance. Taxonomies can be used to manage document status, link related information together, and connect content and topics to applicable rules and regulations.
- Manufacturing, technology, engineering, R&D, and related industries have large volumes of technical documentation, manuals, policies, and procedures that have become digitized, and taxonomies are important for the management and retrieval of such information.
- Organizations such as professional service or research-focused firms that have critical content management tasks, such as internally publishing reports, proposals, or presentations which involve a degree of content reuse. Taxonomies help knowledge workers find the information they need, including previously created content so that they do not have to recreate it.
In addition, large companies in any industry now have so much content that taxonomies have become valuable to in helping their employees find the information they need quickly, whether on an intranet or other enterprise content management system. Having content in multiple systems could lead to multiple taxonomies, so a centrally managed taxonomy that is kept in sync with multiple types of content management systems is a recommended strategy.