Taxonomy Boot Camp London Conference

I was fortunate to attend and present the inaugural Taxonomy Boot Camp London conference earlier this month. After 11 successful years in the United States (initially in New York in 2005, then for four years in San Jose, CA, and six years in Washington, DC), Taxonomy Boot Camp held its first overseas conference at the Olympia Conference Centre in London, October 17-18, 2016. Although taxonomy related topics are presented at many other conference, Taxonomy Boot Camp remains the only conference dedicated to taxonomies.

Conference Format 

The conference was very similar and comparable to Taxonomy Boot Camp in the U.S., with respect to scope and range of topics covered, level of detail, and quality. The only different was some more UK examples/case studies, rather than US examples/case studies.  Sessions were also a similar mix of general topics and case studies. The format was also similar, but not identical.  Whereas the U.S. conference has, in recent years, two tracks on the first day and a combined track the second day, Taxonomy Boot Camp London maintained two tracks on both days, except for the keynotes and one plenary session. As a result, I had to make more decisions about which sessions to attend. The number of speakers is about the same at both conferences, so by holding more concurrent sessions, Taxonomy Boot Camp London had slightly longer sessions per speaker on average. At Taxonomy Boot Camp in the U.S., an individual speaker may speak for only 15-20 minutes in many sessions. A half-day afternoon pre-conference workshop on “Taxonomy Fundamentals” was also part of Taxonomy Boot Camp London, whereas Taxonomy Boot Camp in the U.S. has not had half-day pre-conference workshops, shared with KM World, since 2009, as now the conference starts on the Monday of the KM World pre-conference workshops. Instead, Taxonomy Boot Camp in the U.S. has a 1.5-hour taxonomy basics session on the first day, concurrent with other sessions. 

Attendance was strong for a first time specialized conference with 173 (including 42 speakers). While not as many attendees as Taxonomy Boot Camp in the Washington, DC, which has about 200, this was more attendees than the U.S. Taxonomy Boot Camp conference in its earlier years.  There was, as expected, greater international participation from throughout Europe. There were probably slightly more whose interest in taxonomies is for internal organization information management, rather than for published content, whether corporate, nongovernmental organization, or government agency. While there were some publishers, there was a noticeable lack of those involved in ecommerce. I led the half-day pre-conference workshop, and received the list of 37 attendees and their affiliations for the workshop, and I assume they are a representative sample of the conference attendees.

As with Taxonomy Boot Camp in the U.S., the conference is not held by itself, but is co-located with another conference by the same organizer, Information Today Inc. Whereas in the U.S. Taxonomy Boot Camp is currently co-located with KM World, Enterprise Search & Discovery, and SharePointSymposium, Taxonomy Boot Camp was co-located with Internet Librarian International (ILI), which has been taking place in London every October since 2008. Taxonomy Boot Camp London and ILI (which now has the tagline “The Library Innovation Conference”) are not as integrated as Taxonomy Boot Camp and KM World are. The attendees were more distinct in their professions and interest. Whereas in the U.S. attendees may register for a “platinum” pass which allows access to any of the co-located conference sessions, in London the registrations for the two conferences were distinct. There were no shared keynotes, and meals and breaks were in slightly different areas.  Taxonomy Boot Camp attendees had access to the ILI sponsor booths, but ILI attendees did not have access to the three Taxonomy Boot Camp sponsor booths, which were located within one of the session rooms. I imagine this might change in the future, if the number of Taxonomy Boot Camp London sponsors grows. On the other hand, the relatively contained nature of Taxonomy Boot Camp London made it excellent networking opportunity.

Taxonomy Boot Camp London also had an association partner, the International Society for KnowledgeOrganization (ISKO), whose UK chapter is very active. Its chapter for Canada and the United States is not so active. It’s membership also tends to be more academic, with variations by chapter, but its vice president, Stella Dextre Clarke, who gave a brief presentation, said that the organization hoped to broaden its membership more beyond academia.

Specific Sessions

The two keynotes, one on each morning, were both excellent and relevant to the audience. Mike Atherton, a content strategist at Facebook and formerly and information architect at the BBC for its websites, spoke on “Designing Future-Friendly Content” as the opening keynote. He presented a case study of designing the website for the IA Summit conference, which is redone every year. Some of his key points were: Agree to the strategy, argue the tactics, stand up for taxonomy for information architecture, and be a teacher. 

Patrick Lambe, partner of the knowledge management consultancy Straits Knowledge, and a frequent speaker at Taxonomy Boot Camp in the U.S., presented the second day’s keynote: “Gathering evidence for a taxonomy – knowledge mapping or content modellings.” He spoke of the key issues/decision points as: purpose, constraints, principles, and scope. He said that subject matter experts should only be engaged for feedback on specific questions at the end of a taxonomy project. Design is based on evidence and desired outcomes. Warrant is the evidence behind the design and includes content warrant, user warrant, and standards warrant. There are different approaches for building different kinds of taxonomies. For building an internal/enterprise taxonomy, Patrick recommends undertaking knowledge auditing and knowledge mapping, mapping both activities and assets. For building an external-use taxonomy, or one with both internal and external sources and scope, knowledge mapping does not work. Rather, content modeling is done with use case scenarios and just a sampling of content.

Other informative sessions of note included “How to fast-track taxonomy projects using linked data” by Dave Clarke, CEO of Synaptica. He explained the difference between linked open data and linked enterprise data (behind the firewall), and both have their uses and benefits. Mapping to linked open data resources can be done for semantic enrichment, pulling information from outside into an organizational system. 

Ben Licciardi, Manager (consultant) at PwC, presented “Taxonomies and the systems in which they reside: Is the technology-agnostic approach right for you?” He presented the benefits of both scenarios. Developing a technology-agnostic taxonomy, in addition to enabling the taxonomy to be used in different systems, also gets you thinking outside the box and helps future-proof the taxonomy. A system-focused taxonomy, on the other hand, keeps you grounded in reality, is designed to the customers, and is budget-conscious.

A panel comprising two consultants and a user experience architect spoke in a session titles “Working within multi-disciplinary teams – taxonomist tales from the trenches.” Among other things, they discussed that more people want to be involved on the team of developing taxonomies, and more people should be talked to, including scrum masters, QA team, tech leaders, user experience people, software people, content strategists, product managers, business analysts, data modelers, enterprise architects, etc.  

Congratulations to conference chair Helen Lippell for a successful conference. The date for the next Taxonomy Boot Camp London conference has already been set for October 17-18, 2017, at the same venue.

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