20 year content strategy veteran, Sharon Burton. Sharon Burton consults about content strategy, content business issues, social media and managing post-sales customer experience issues.

Taxonomies and folksonomies

Taxonomies and folksonomies
Taxonomies and folksonomies
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While I was at Lavacon a while ago (a great conference if you can possible do it), I listened to a talk about taxonomies. How understanding the words that perhaps your content development group uses to talk about things improved the content. Understanding the taxonomy and simplifying it can reduce customer confusion and, if you localize, reduce localization costs.

The speaker recommended identifying the main term and the current alternates and then deciding the relationships between them and what term you might standardize on. While this was not news to me, it was good to see the tables and other devices she used to show to clients and help the process.


What she didn’t talk about – probably due to time – was the other side of that coin: understanding the way your customers construct the world in their heads. That world, that grouping of terms and concepts, may not be your understanding. This matters because you need to also communicate in a way your customers understand.

For example, your customers may not understand the way your company has divided up your product line. The groupings in your product line may be by feature and your customers are grouping by activity they use the product for. This can result in a product in a line not doing as well as the market research says it should.

By discovering and exploiting the folksonomy in your customer’s head, you can help them be more comfortable with your products by speaking their language about your products. In a way, we’ve known about this for years – it’s part of what professional indexers do. They tap into the folksonomy of the readers and link that to the formal taxonomy of the content.

Other applications

But it’s wider than indexes. One of the things I want to do when I work with a new client and their product is to listen in on groups, such as LinkedIn, to start learning the folksonomy of the community.  If I’m going to improve the post-sales customer experience through product instructions, social media, and so on, I want to know how the community talks about their life. I want to learn the language of that community so I can talk like a native in that domain.

Do you have a taxonomy for your content? Do you also speak the language of your community? Have you considered mapping the folksonomy to the more formal taxonomy?

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By Sharon Burton

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