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Scalable or usable taxonomies

Donna Maurer

January 31, 2007 at 2:41 AM

Joshua Porter has an interesting blog post titled "Is there an Example of a Scalable Taxonomy?". What I found interesting is that the title is about scalability, and he links to some interesting articles about scalability (comparing taxonomies with folksonomies in the main), but his examples are about usability.

These are quite different things and represent *the* challenge for any type of information architecture. It is somewhat do-able to create a usable organisation system at a point in time, but more difficult to make it scale over time. This is where folksonomy is often pitched as a solution, but may in the end tip the other way - scalable but not usable.

If you are interested in these ideas, have a read of these two articles, representing both sides of the ongoing discussion:


Joshua Porter

January 31, 2007 at 3:46 AM

I guess it's asking too much to have both? :) As you point out, the two topics, while being different conceptually, are practically intertwined... And, as Gene pointed out, I shouldn't have pitted one against the other...I'm just looking for a solid example of a taxonomy that scales and (still) works well.

Joshua Porter

January 31, 2007 at 3:50 AM

Donna, I've amended my post to point out that I am indeed asking for an example of a scalable AND usable taxonomy. Thanks for keeping me on my toes... :)


January 31, 2007 at 2:04 PM

Of course it isn't too much to ask to have both usability and scalability ... and individually both are big challenges


January 31, 2007 at 6:59 PM

Donna you may want to try Raw Sugar and some of the really good tagging tools out there. They are scalable and usable. Raw Sugar builds its own faceted interface. The cost is about 1/10th of building a taxonomy. The two systems (taxonomy and folksonomy) actually need each other. A folksonomy will not be a perfect replacement for a taxonomy, but it is a tool that paired with a taxonomy will allow a taxonomy to scale and actually be far more accurate and fully representative. I have been seeing a lot of interfaces for folksonomies that are much better than and are quite usable. Hopefully the tools will make it to market.

Stephen Collins

February 1, 2007 at 4:34 PM

@Donna (and by association, Josh and Thomas) - you may like to talk to Matthew Hodgson ( about the work he is doing on the meshing of taxonomy and folksonomy where you have disparate and differently driven user groups. His work is interesting to say the least and I have been lucky to be very slightly involved. The work involves consolidation of information from a group of bureaucratic, top-down types, driven by taxonomical definition of their information who need to work closely with a bottom-up community of knowledge providers who barely even speak the same language as the top-downers, even when they are talking about the same thing. I imagine he might have some useful insights for you.


February 2, 2007 at 12:17 PM

I am not sure what "usability" exactly means in this context, anyway I thought I would mention an experimental "usable tags" interface I am working on:


May 9, 2007 at 11:09 PM

@Donna|@Stephen Collins: I think a topic map could solve the issues between the disconnect between various views of the world - all of the folk taxonomic, true taxonomic and even the folksonomic.

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