Varied Taxonomy Uses and Taxonomist Functions

Someone asked me recently if taxonomies were applicable to some marketing analytics he was pondering. I was not sure without further discussion. The interesting thing about taxonomies is that they have such varied uses.  Perhaps because there is no single dominant use of taxonomies, taxonomists have to go into long explanations of how taxonomies are beneficial. There is no neat list of taxonomy uses. Following are some broad categories of taxonomy usage, all but the last of which, I have worked on.

  • A key component of a product of published information for retrieval (such as in a news, periodical article, or reference database)
  • A (partial) solution to an information management problem of an organization
  • A method to connect customers to products or services, typically on a website
  • A method to connect users to information on a public information-sharing or networking website (monetized by advertising or other means)
  • As descriptive metadata in a document management, content management, records management, or digital asset management system, to support tagging and subsequently support retrieval of internal content.
  • A method to model data, information, or knowledge to serve an organization’s knowledge management strategy

Sometimes more than one of the goals may be pursued simultaneously by the same owner of the taxonomy. This is when it gets complicated, and it needs to be carefully considered whether a single taxonomy or separate taxonomies would be best.

Building up a clear list of the applications of taxonomies, not something in marketing-speak, and more specific than the areas listed above, would be a worthwhile service of the websites of taxonomy consultants and taxonomist-related professional organizations.

Taxonomy consultants need to ask from the start whether the taxonomy project they are hired to work on will be primarily for internal or external access, and not make assumptions.  It could be for both, but usually one purpose is seen as primary. Once, in my earlier days of consulting I made an assumption, and my proposal for an “enterprise taxonomy” was even accepted by the client, before I realized that their taxonomy would be primarily for public web content.

Varied taxonomist job functional areas

Just as taxonomies may have varied uses, so the functions of a taxonomist are varied. One interesting aspect about the taxonomy field, and taxonomy consulting in particular, is that transcends both internal (employee facing) and external (customer or public facing) functions of an organization. I have personally found this a very interesting aspect of the profession.

Taxonomists who are employed may work in various different departments of an organization. As such, taxonomists could find themselves either part of internal functioning groups (knowledge management, content management, information technology) or external-oriented groups (marketing and related web services).  I have worked in the organizational departments of editorial, software product development, information technology (as it was overseeing the SharePoint implementation), and consulting services, all of which while in the role of a taxonomist.  Additionally, I have seen taxonomist job postings in departments of marketing, ecommerce, communications, libraries, data governance, financial service operations, information management and technology, and the Information Management and Tech Writing department.

In any organization where one or more taxonomists are employed within a specific department, there are likely taxonomy-related needs in other departments. It would be beneficial to the organization if the taxonomists’ skills could be applied to special taxonomy-related projects outside their home department, such as across both marketing and information management.