Waste Baskets and Taxonomy Testing

Mark Schneider hits the taxonomy purists where they hurt: posting on the advantages of “waste basket taxons” to catch the stuff that doesn’t easily fit into the official taxonomy:

“Taxonomies are a lot easier to manage if they include a “wastebasket taxon” which is a catch-all for things that don’t fit elsewhere. Eventually, if a wastebasket taxon starts to catch a large number of items that fit together, it is time to create a new taxonomy category.”

I’m with him so far. Then he extends the argument to suggest that giving people “mysites” works like giving them the Not Otherwise Classified/Miscellaneous/General basket. I’m not sure it does. If you give people a taxonomy and no waste basket, people will tend to make superficial or distorted decisions for content that doesn’t readily match their understanding of the taxonomy categories. Providing a waste basket alerts you to the taxonomy failures (which can also be a failure of people to understand the nature of the content). Either way you get an alert, and you can start figuring out the implications for your taxonomy or your training and communications, from what’s happening with the waste baskets.

If you just give people their own space to play with their content, and some of that content can be – but doesn’t have to be – contributed to the taxonomy-organised “official” spaces of the company, you don’t have that clear an evaluation decision going on where every piece of content is matched against an official taxonomy and either matched or not matched. You can certainly get evidence you can use for taxonomy management, but you’re not getting the sharp testing of the taxonomy as you are where every piece of content has to be deposited in the taxonomy or in the “I give up” bucket.

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