Taxonomy Trends and Future

What are the trends in taxonomies, and where is the field going? The future of taxonomies turned out to be a unifying theme of last week’s annual Taxonomy Boot Camp conference, in Washington, DC, the premier event in taxonomies, from its opening keynote to its closing panel.

“From Cataloguer to Designer” was the title of the opening keynote, an excellent presentation by consultant Patrick Lambe of Straits Knowledge. He said that there are new opportunities for taxonomists, especially in the technology space, if they change their mindset and their role from that of cataloguers, who describe the world as it is, to that of designers, who plan things as they could be. New trends involving taxonomies that he described include search-based applications, autoclassification, and knowledge graphs (such as the automatically curated index card of key information on a topic, as appears in some Google search results).

As this was the 10th annual Taxonomy Boot Camp conference, the final session was “10 Years Back, 10 Years Forward,” a panel of consultants who had presented at the first Taxonomy Boot Camp conference in New York in 2004 (and at most of the conferences since), and who answered questions about how things of have changed and offered comments on various predictions.

The spread of greater understanding of taxonomies was a common theme of that panel. Gary Carlson of the consultancy Factor noted that now taxonomy can be discussed with the executives, whereas in the past only some people in an organization would show an interest in taxonomies. This was echoed by Seth Earley of Earley & Associates, who observed that organizations are beginning to understand that a taxonomy is more than just terms but is also a process: “Organizations are starting to get it.” Tom Reamy of KAPS Group recalled that in his earlier projects he had to help his clients strategize more to figure out how a taxonomy can help, but now they already know about taxonomies and just want to do it. He also pointed out that the early adopters of taxonomies were the large science and financial enterprises, but now smaller companies are also implementing taxonomies.

Looking to the future, the panelists’ shared predictions included greater use of linked data, taxonomy visualization, and text analytics. Joseph Busch of Taxonomy Strategies commented on the “power of re-use,” so that we will spend less time doing taxonomies on standard things, such as geographic places, and “not re-invent universals.” With respect to taxonomy visualization, he observed that it “helps people think.” Regarding text analytics, Tom Reamy, the conference’s biggest champion of the technology, explained that it fills the gap between the taxonomy and what it should do.

Other sessions, such as the panel “The Curious Lives of Full-Time Taxonomists” also addressed the issue of new themes in taxonomies. “Taxonomy is seeping into the culture, as part of the enterprise knowledge of the world, “explained Barbara McGlamery of Pearson. “People are asking for problem solving and not just a taxonomy, as they have more awareness of taxonomy,” observed Sarah Barrett of Factor.

New trends and technologies were discussed in individual presentations, too. Using the agile method for taxonomy development was described in two presentations: the main topic of “Using Agile to Build a Taxonomy/Ontology,” by Evelyn Kent of Smartlogic, and as a feature in “Developing Use Cases Before Developing the Taxonomy,” presented by Vivian Bliss of Taxonomy Strategies. Greater sophistication in sentiment analysis that enables leveraging of taxonomy was a key point in Tom Reamy’s presentation “Taxonomy and Social Media: Social Taxonomies.” Technology was also at the forefront sessions, such as “Taxonomies in Search” comprising four presentations, and “Automated Taxonomy Management,” comprising three presentations.

Finally, the growth in interest in taxonomies was reflected in the conference attendance (around 200). While exact numbers of attendees of Taxonomy Boot Camp cannot be counted, because some attendees have platinum passes allowing them the choice of co-located conference sessions to attend (including KM World and Enterprise Search & Discovery), Tom Hogan, CEO of Information Today Inc., the conference owner, informed me that dedicated Taxonomy Boot Camp registrations had doubled since last year and commented on how it had grown for just a small add-on to KM World, to a significant conference in its own right.