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Why Taxonomy Rules Matter (Video)

As we begin the new decade of the “Soaring ’20s” for digital, there is a whirlwind of new opportunities and new potential directions for companies planning for the next step in their digital maturity. Concepts like conversational commerce, product configurators, recommendation engines, and mass personalization may be new now, but they might quickly become table stakes for digitally savvy firms.

At KMWorld 2019, Jason Hein, director, delivery services, Earley Information Science, covered the basics of digital success and highlighted a process to build out the assets needed to support digital strategies of all varieties.

Explaining the importance of taxonomy, Hein said, "when you walk into the grocery store, the person has the thing that they're looking for. But the signs up above the various parts of the store don't say 'Lunchables.' They don't say 'Honey Nut Cheerios.' It's 'Breakfast.' It's 'Snacks.' It's 'Dairy.' It's 'Meat.' And the goal of that signage is to get the users from the door, where they are exposed to everything, to the thing that they are most interested in. And you translate that into a taxonomy, right? You think of this as just sort of a series of way points to get any user from the start of your experience to specific types of things that they are looking for. That's really fundamentally all a taxonomy is."

It is important for KM professionals, when they are communicating with people who aren't experts, to explain the whole concept of mutually exclusive collectively exhaustivethe whole "MECE" principle. "I also liken that to the idea that it's a place for everything, and everything in it's place. Both are obviously very important. Those are also the concepts that I've found most success at getting non-experts to understand.

Hein added that with taxonomies, "I talk about making the families a reasonable size. I've worked with a lot of clients, who, their existing taxonomy has, oh, 50 different child nodes under a given parent. And we talk about why that's a problem. We talk about the tyranny of choice. And then obviously, classifying two terminal nodes."

What is in a taxonomy? "The list," said Hein. "You need to know what the categories are. You wanna know how they relate to each other. There's the hierarchy. And then, this is the critical one. It's very easy for an organization to sit down with the product experts that they have and create a taxonomy and to get everybody to sign off on it. But what ends up happening is other people who weren't involved in the design start to interact with the taxonomy. And if they don't have very clear definitions for this is what is supposed to go in this node, then users just start to make their own assumptions."

When Hein used to work at Amazon, he said he did a lot of work with the taxonomy browse team. "And we would create all kinds of nodes for twist drill bits or automotive accessories, right? Those sort of junk drawer nodes that invariably filter into any taxonomy. And that was really the only information that third-party sellers had to interact. So when they were trying to classify their product to the Amazon taxonomy, if all that they have is the node name and no metadata on what it's supposed to be for, you end up with a lot of noise. I'm sure everybody in this room who has ever shopped on Amazon has been browsing through a selection and then suddenly, you're looking at baseball bats. And then suddenly, there's a KitchenAid mixer in your results. That's because it's been misclassified. Probably because the node name is a little vague. So when you're designing your taxonomy, that metadata of defining the definitions is obviously, that's what's capturing the intent. What do you want that node to be used for? If you let outsiders make that decision for you, you're probably going to suffer in the long term."

To access the full session, go to A101. Building Strong Foundations for Digital Success.

Videos of KMWorld 2019 awards presentations, keynotes, and many sessions can be found here.

Many speakers at KMWorld 2019 have also made their presentations available at www.kmworld.com/Conference/2019/Presentations.aspx.


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