A Taxonomist Community

Taxonomists and others whose work involves taxonomies have not been a unified professional community. Taxonomy development work is interdisciplinary, spanning different specializations, and different organizational functions, including the following:

  • Information services taxonomies and thesauri, developed by those with a background in library/information science, thesauri, and cataloging, and possibly indexing
  • Product/ecommerce taxonomies, that may be developed by those with varied backgrounds but experience in retail and product information management
  • Digital asset management taxonomies and metadata, developed by digital asset managers and others, who might have a background in image and media curation and management
  • Website taxonomies developed by information architects with a focus on the user experience
  • Enterprise taxonomies developed by those who are primarily knowledge managers but have also learned about taxonomies
  • Taxonomies for auto-categorization of large volumes of text, developed by those with expertise in natural language processing, machine learning, and other text analytics technologies
  • Taxonomies, as controlled vocabularies, to support metadata and master data management, developed by metadata architects, data managers, and possibly data scientists
  • Taxonomies in support of knowledge graphs, integrated with ontologies, developed by ontologists and other experts in semantic technologies

Thus, people who work with taxonomies, accidental taxonomists and others, associate themselves with different professions and belong to different groups or professional organizations. These include:

For information architects, the Information Architecture Institute dissolved in 2019 after 17 years, and until now, information architects have temporarily been gathering on Discord servers associated with the virtual IAConference and the World IA Day conference, but these have been relatively inactive at other times of the year.

Discussion Groups

Taxonomists are thus dispersed among these groups and more. It does not make sense to create a new professional membership association for taxonomists, especially at this time when traditional professional membership associations are experiencing declining membership.

Thus, online discussion groups that do not require a paid professional association membership are a better option. The first taxonomy group, Taxonomy Community of Practice was started as a Yahoo group in 2004. It has become quite popular with over 1000 members posting questions and suggestions about taxonomies. However, Yahoo groups declined, and LinkedIn groups grew, so this group was migrated over to a LinkedIn group, later renamed Taxonomy and Ontology Community of Practice. The problem is that this group, as most LinkedIn groups, is less of a community of practice and more an announcement forum. People are reluctant to post basic questions, as it might indicate that they are not sufficiently knowledgeable.

Communities Discussed at Conferences

The need for a community of practitioners, whether taxonomists, or related specialties, is something that has been raised at conferences.

  • At the most recent Information Architecture Conference (IAConference), in April 2022, the co-presidents for World IA Day, Grace Lau and Andrea Rosenbusch, gave a talk “(Re)Architecting a Community” discussing their hopes and plans to transform World IA Day from merely a single day annual event to community.
  • At the most recent Knowledge Graph Conference (KGC), Katariina Kari led a brainstorming workshop “Building Ontologies and Knowledge Graphs,” as “a working group for publicly sharing best practices, stories, and the particularities of our craft of building ontologies and knowledge graphs,” seeking a “soundboard for ideas” that others could participate in.
  • The upcoming SLA conference will have a live panel session “Communities of Practice: Where Everybody Knows Your Name” on August 2, 2022, in which I will be one of the panel speakers.

A new Taxonomist Community: Taxonomy Talk

Fortunately, out of conversations and research conducted by Grace Lau in leading up to her IAConference talk on an information architecture community, Grace and I discussed in January the idea of an additionally dedicated taxonomist community. I then invited another taxonomist, Bob Kasenchek, to come up with ideas, including what to use for a free platform. Slack, as used by KGC, was dismissed, since the free version has limited data storage and old messages get deleted. So, we decided to adopt Discord, as it has been used by the IAConference. It was launched on April 12, and quickly gained sufficient members that they could contribute ideas and be polled for a name. On May 1 it was named Taxonomy Talk. A charter and mission are still in the works. There are several moderators, including Grace, Bob, and myself.

As of this writing Taxonomy Talk has just over 300 members. It has a number of dedicated subject “channels,” some of which are:


New channels are created as requested, and we might decide to retire or merge low-use ones.

Discord supports features such as direct one-on-one chats and one-one or group video meetings. There are still features I have yet to learn.
So, if you are not yet in the Taxonomy Talk Community and want to join:
(Please use your real full name to prompt networking. Some existing Discord users are continuing to use their Discord nicknames.)

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