Taxonomy Software Trends: Convergence and Visualizations

I recently looked more closely into current offerings of taxonomy software to prepare for an upcoming presentation at the SLA conference in Cleveland in June: “Taxonomy Tools and Tool Evaluation.” I will speak about the tools, and my co-presenter, Marti Heyman, will speak about how to evaluate them. I had last contacted various software vendors in 2015 when I was writing the second edition for my book, The Accidental Taxonomist. I had previously blogged on Taxonomy Software Trends in January 2015 and observed that, since researching software for my first edition in 2009, there is more cloud/web-based software, more SKOS/RDF/Semantic web framework software, and more plugins to SharePoint, content management systems, and search engines. Those trends continue. Now that I look into taxonomy software again, the additional trends I see are taxonomy, thesaurus, and ontology tool convergence and graphical vocabulary visualization.

Taxonomy, thesaurus, and ontology software convergence

Originally there was thesaurus management software (also used for any taxonomies), such as MultiTes, Data Harmony Thesaurus Manager, Synaptica KMS, and other products that no longer exist;  and ontology management software, such as TopBraid Composer, Protégé, ad others. The two kinds of software were very distinct, from different vendors, based on completely different standards and models, with different features, used by different users, for different purposes.

Now, we don’t hear as much about “thesaurus software” as before, but rather vocabulary/taxonomy/knowledge organization system (KOS)/ontology software, where the same software tool supports thesaurus standards (ANSI/NISO Z39.19 or ISO 25964) and ontology standards (OWL and RDF), and especially the SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organization System) model for any kind of controlled voabulary. This makes sense, because an organization often has needs for more than one kind of controlled vocabulary. Newer software offerings have combined taxonomy, thesaurus, and ontology software into one. These include Smartlogic Semaphore, PoolParty, Synaptica Graphite, TopBraid Enterprise Data Governance’s Vocabulary Manager, Mondeca Intelligent Topic Manager, and VocBench.

Visualizations of taxonomies, thesauri, and ontologies

Interactive visualization charts/graphs of taxonomies (what I shall call all controlled vocabularies here) are not something I had paid much attention to, because the feature is not considered so important by a professional taxonomist for creating taxonomies. However, while taxonomists are the primary users of taxonomy management software, other stakeholders in taxonomies are important secondary users. These people include content managers, content strategists, project managers, knowledge managers, information product managers, user interface/experience designers, and subject matter experts. Rather than creating taxonomies, these various stakeholders need to view draft taxonomies and provide feedback on them. Viewing the taxonomy in the user interface used by the taxonomist is often not practical or intuitive. However, viewing the taxonomy as the end-user will see view it may not be possible, because the taxonomy has not yet been implemented into its final system or product. Therefore, a taxonomy visualization feature of taxonomy management software can be quite useful for stakeholder review and input.

Visualizations are especially useful for ontologies with their semantic relationships, but they are also helpful for taxonomies and thesauri. With the convergence of taxonomy, thesaurus, and ontology-creation capabilities in the same software, vocabulary visualization has become a more common feature. However, they are not the same in all vocabulary management software products. Following are some varied examples of visualizations. In many cases, they are interactive, whereby the user can drag and reposition the nodes.

Data Harmony Thesaurus Master offers a “sunburst” visualization for hierarchical taxonomies, as an alternative to the inverted tree display, which is available in the editing interface of the software.

Visualization from Data Harmony Thesaurus Master

Synaptica KMS has a node and link relationship display for taxonomies and thesauri, where relationships do not need to be defined. Synaptica Graphite will have a new directed-graph visualizer feature added later this year.

Visualization from Synaptica KMS

Semaphore, Mondeca, and TopBraid EDG Vocabulary Management each have a node and link relationship display for ontologies that additional describes the types of relationships.

Visualization from Semaphore

Visualization from Mondeca ITM

Visualization from TopBraid EDG Vocabulary Management

PoolParty offers a different type of visualization, focusing on the relationships of a selected concept, with each type color-coded.

PoolParty visualization

In combination with other graph database tools, both Syaptica Graphite and PoolParty can support interactive nonhierarchical visualizations and graph analytics. This brings us to our next topic, knowledge graphs, which I will dicuss in my next blog post.