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In our last movie, we talked about metadata and how it can help add organization to your content and assist the CMS in managing it. Taxonomy is another tool for organizing content and assisting CMS functionality. Essentially, taxonomy is a way to classify information in a specific, hierarchical structure. This is a little bit easier to understand when it's visualized. Let's say that you're creating a blog about healthy eating. The content on the blog is likely to reflect that focus. Making it easier to categorize the site's content, you might come up with terms like 'lunch', and 'chicken', 'vegetables', 'recipes', 'dinner', 'meat', 'eggplant', and all the rest of these words we've got here.
Now while these are descriptive, they're not really doing much for you in terms of organization. However, what if you rearranged these terms? At the top you could put Recipes, and under that add categories for Dinner and Lunch. Each of those could have subcategories, such as Meat and Vegetables. Inside those, you could go even deeper with individual meat and vegetable ingredients. In addition to the defined structure, you could have an optional descriptive terminology, like low-calorie. This organizational structure is often referred to as a taxonomy, and it's the backbone of how a CMS organizes and structures sites. In most cases, when building a site a CMS will allow you to create at a minimum sections and categories.
The sections are often used to create or describe pages or sections within the site, and categories are often used to identify the content within a page or section. Although it's tempting to confuse metadata and taxonomies, think of it like this: metadata allows you to assign descriptive data to content, while taxonomies give you the controlled vocabulary to do so. For smaller sites or sites with a limited focus, it probably won't be too difficult to create a taxonomy. However, for larger sites or sites with multiple areas of focus, you're going to need to put in some time to create the necessary taxonomy, or in some cases taxonomies, to help properly organize the site.
For large organizations, it's actually quite common to have an individual or a whole team that's responsible for the creation and maintenance of site taxonomies. It is much easier to create taxonomies now than it has been in the past. Most larger content management systems now come with taxonomy-building tools or plug-ins that allow you to access the content management system's default taxonomy, then help you create your own. There are also many outside vendors and tools that you can use to help automate the process of generating vocabularies, or reviewing them to ensure that your taxonomies are structured in a way that assists your site's mission.
Most of the automated services rely on data mining, and that's the process of indexing your site's content to then create associated vocabularies. If you want to research some of these outside tools, check out the list of tools and services at the Taxonomy Community of practice site. These will give you a good idea of some of the tools and services available. The Dublin Core Initiative also has a list of open-source taxonomy and metadata tools, and you can find that at dublincore.org/tools. These are open-source tools that you can use or integrate into your CMS to help build taxonomies and create metadata.
Finally, I want to mention that often the hard work of categorizing an industry or vertical market has already been done for you. There is lot of common vocabularies already on the web that you can use as a logical starting point for your own projects. A great site to learn more about some of these is taxonomywarehouse.com.
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