Rumours of Taxonomy’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

From Theresa Regli at CMSWatch this nice punchy counter to the argument that in the age of Google-powered search, taxonomies are obsolete.
”...the best technology, or the ideal technology, takes a long, long time to be commonplace, and there will always be regulatory, organizational, financial, and personal barriers to their adoption. And this is why we still need taxonomies and metadata for today’s technologies function, at least for the immediate future.

For now, content is stove-piped in multiple systems, and search has made people lazy. People think the answer should be as easy as a keyword. But the answers to our biggest findability questions are no more easily found by typing in a keyword than a non-French speaker might get a ticket on a working Métro line during a strike…

One thing we often forget about search is that the answer to our question is not necessarily what’s literally in the text of the document that answers it. Documents about the Eurostar might never have the words “high-speed train.” This is where the technology still falls short, for now, and where taxonomies and metadata strategies fill holes. However, I don’t think the technology will fall short for very much longer. Despite many years as a taxonomist, I agree with Steve: some day, content technology won’t need taxonomies to function. Someday we will get accurate categorization automatically. Eventually, categorization may not really matter at all. But that time isn’t now. The technology we all deal with today has a long way to go.”

I’m not sure about Theresa’s final qualifier. To my mind (and as I argue in my book) human beings are built to create diversity – diverse understandings, diverse vocabularies, diverse ways of organising. The ways we can do this defy technology’s logic. Logic is always going to be a constraint for technology’s ability to fully deal with the automatic search dream, because humanity’s capacity for diversity always exceeds logic (and hence predictability). Google’s magic is not technological at all, but the in smartness of its algorithms, crafted and nursed by highly paid people who study the behaviours of the crowd and find ways to use the patterns of the crowd to pay off for them.

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