Taxonomy Boot Camp Conferences 2019

Taxonomies may seem like a very niche specialization, but interest keeps growing, as indicated by participation in the conferences dedicated to taxonomies, Taxonomy Boot Camp in Washington, DC (TBC) and Taxonomy Boot Camp London (TBCL). TBC, now in its 14th year, was held November 4 and 5, and TBCL, now in its 4th year, was held October 15 and 16. Interest in taxonomies is clearly growing, as new people continue to attend the conferences. By a show of hands, a large majority, perhaps 75%, of the attendees of TBC were there for the first time, and more than half of the attendees of TBCL were also first-timers. TBCL also increased the number of its preconference workshops to four this year. While I didn’t get official numbers, overall attendance also seems to be rising.

Taxonomy Boot Camp London sessions

TBCL’s theme, “Anything is possible,” while not exactly a unifying theme, emphasized the diversity of applications of taxonomies. Sessions which may be considered related to this theme included those on knowledge graphs, search, blockchain, automatic tagging, taxonomy interoperability, and machine learning. Case study presentations included BBC content tagging, maintaining large complex taxonomies at CAB International and SAGE Publishing, healthcare taxonomies of Elsevier and NHS Digital, and public sector taxonomies. Practical sessions from experienced taxonomists included presentations  on taxonomy software selection, taxonomies in SharePoint, validating a taxonomy with stakeholders, and selling the value of taxonomies.

TBCL sessions this year that I found particularly interesting included Maura Moran’s on how to sell your organization on the value of taxonomy, get agreement, and start organizing  information silos. I found her advice on working with stakeholders relevant to my work.  Patrick Lambe’s presentation on capabilities that taxonomists need to a quite was also good. Agnes Molnar gave  an informative presentation  “Extending SharePoint Taxonomy”, which explained a way, with third-party tools and technology, to overcome the various deficits SharePoint has in supporting robust taxonomy features.

TBCL had taxonomy-related talks for the keynotes on both mornings. Tuesday’s keynote by Emma Chittendon dealt with the topic of term labels, and Wednesday’s keynote by Nick Poole dealt with the ethics of structured information.

Taxonomy Boot Camp (DC) sessions

Three weeks later, TBC’s theme was “Building Strong Foundations,” which us what taxonomies are basically for. Taxonomy is like infrastructure, and as one speaker said, as such it goes unnoticed until there is something wrong with it. Presentations that fit into this theme of foundations included the opening taxonomy workshop (1.75 hours un the basics track the first morning), defining the business case for a taxonomy, managing stakeholder input, taxonomy governance, tagging with a taxonomy, and content models. There were also case studies, which included those on improving content quality, reuse, and reporting at Intel, a taxonomy and metadata enrichment initiative scaled with AI at Sony Pictures Entertainment, the alignment of siloed taxonomies at Travelers Insurance, dealing with ambiguities in a retail taxonomy at Zappos, and tagging that supports personalization at Salesforce.com

TBC sessions that I found particularly useful included Erica Chao’s presentation “5 Essential Components of Taxonomy Governance,” Michele Ann Jenkins’ presentation “Managing Stakeholder Input,” and Carrie Hanes’ “Content Models and Taxonomies.”

Distinct conferences

As similar as TBC and TBCL are in their subject  scope and detail and in their diverse audiences, the two conferences maintain their own distinct character, largely d to the vision and leadership of each of their respective conference chairs, consultants Stephanie Lemieux of Dovecot Studio for TBC and Helen Lippell for TBCL.

Helen summarized this year’s TBCL to me: “I was really thrilled with the energy and passion of the audience at Taxonomy Boot Camp London 2019. We always try to put together a programme that offers something for everyone, whether they’re total beginners, or expert practitioners pushing the boundaries. When I wasn’t running around and could actually sit in the talks, I thoroughly enjoyed every single one.”

Stephanie shared her thoughts with remarks at the TBC opening: “One of the main things I love about this event: the diversity of experience that it brings together…. What we all have in common, regardless of where you are in the journey, is that we are all architects and custodians of incredibly important foundational pieces of any information ecosystem.”

So, if you’re just getting started with taxonomies then either conference, whichever is more convenient, is appropriate. If taxonomies are your profession, then you should try to attend each conference at least once. It’s worth the trip.

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