“The Accidental Taxonomist,” 2nd edition

Recently I was asked what I added to the newly published 2nd edition of my book, The Accidental Taxonomist. The additions and changes are summarized in the book’s preface, so I have decided to post the entire preface here, which follows:

When I published the first edition of The Accidental Taxonomist, I knew that changes would be needed within a couple of years, mostly to reflect the changes in thesaurus management software vendors, as software is a volatile industry characterized by new companies, acquisitions, and some vendors going out of business. It was also expected that the website examples, given as screenshots in the book, would change. As it turned out, the changes were more widespread than anticipated. I ended up replacing all screenshots and adding some new ones (totaling 44), since even existing software vendors or websites had updated their user interfaces. More than half of the various website URLs found throughout the book also had to be updated.

In the area of software, what I did not anticipate was that software changes have gone beyond just who the vendors are and what features vendors have added. There have also been some notable trends, such as in the adoption of Semantic Web standards, the convergence of taxonomy and ontology support, and more web-based, cloud/software-as-a-service offerings. Thus, in addition to adding more software vendors (and removing a few), I have also added a short section summarizing all of these software trends.

Also with respect to software, the first edition made no mention of SharePoint, since SharePoint 2010, the first version to support taxonomies, came out the same year my book did. So this new edition includes some discussion of managing taxonomies in SharePoint. There is not the space here to go into all the details, so I explore specific topics, such as managing polyhierarchy in SharePoint, on my blog, also called The Accidental Taxonomist.

The standards have changed too. ANSI/NISO Z39.19 2005 Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Controlled Vocabularies was reaffirmed in 2010, but more significantly ISO 2788 Guidelines for the Establishment and Development of Monolingual Thesauri and 5964 Guidelines for the Establishment and Development of Multilingual Thesauri have been replaced by ISO 25964 Thesauri and Interoperability with Other Vocabularies, Part 1 in 2011 and Part 2 in 2013. This is not merely a reorganization of parts. The changes also comprise new content in the area of interoperability, including the exchange of taxonomy data and mappings between vocabularies. Now ANSI/NISO Z39.19 is coming due for a new version, but it is a long process. With an eye to a wider international audience, in this edition I cite the ISO standard along with the ANSI/NISO standard whenever relevant.

In addition to the change in the ISO thesaurus standard, there is also a change involving the wider adoption of other kinds of standards, most significantly those associated with the Semantic Web. Although development had begun earlier, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) formally released the SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organization System) standard only in August 2009, when I was busy finalizing my manuscript for the first edition, before the extent of the eventual adoption of SKOS was known. Now it is quite common for taxonomy management software to follow the SKOS specifications of concept modeling and taxonomy output. So, more attention to SKOS is given in this edition.

Another trend, which was already underway at the time I wrote my first edition, but which I simply did not bother to consider in detail, is the convergence of metadata and taxonomy. So, I have added a short section on the topic. I needed the intervening years to actually work in areas where taxonomies and metadata meet, whether through consulting or in a department called Metadata Standards and Services, before I felt I could say something original on the subject.

As for the people who do taxonomy work, the accidental taxonomists, I conducted a new survey, which has shown that their backgrounds remain as diverse as they were when surveyed six years prior, but there are new stories and examples of how people got involved in this type of work and what they like about it. Meanwhile, the opportunities for taxonomists continue to grow. I executed the exact same search for jobs in fall of 2009 and again in fall of 2015, on the job board aggregator Indeed.com, and found the numbers of currently posted openings had significantly increased.

Although I considered myself quite experienced with various taxonomies at the time I wrote the first edition, I have continued to gain additional taxonomy work experience since, so here and there throughout the book I have added information based on further reflection. Thus, in the chapter on planning and designing a taxonomy, I have added some advice regarding designating facets for enterprise taxonomies, questions to ask during stakeholder interviews, how to conduct stakeholder workshops, and methods of testing taxonomies.

I had also started writing my blog the year after the first edition, but the blog post topics are not the same as the additions to this book. The Accidental Taxonomist blog allows me to explore tangents in more detail, and this book is already longer than needs to be!

Taxonomies are interesting in that some things about them are fundamental and do not change, such as the notion of a concept, its varied names, its hierarchical and nonhierarchical relationships with other concepts. But, as anything related to information technology, there are things about taxonomies that do change, such as how they are managed, implemented, and utilized. Thus, it is not only the varied subject matter that makes taxonomy work interesting, but also the various implementations and opportunities to take advantage of in new technologies, such as those related to the Semantic Web and Linked Open Data. Although this new edition addresses these topics, my ongoing blog will cover further considerations in such areas.