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Taxonomy 101

 

To learn more about taxonomies and to hear some businesses use cases, listen to a podcast interview that WAND did with the Business Intelligence Network:
View the complete interview

What is taxonomy?

A taxonomy is a set of concepts organized into a hierarchical structure covering a topical domain.   You could think of it as a structured vocabulary.  For example, in biology, a commonly used taxonomy is that to describe all plants and animals.   Generally, the categories are arranged in parent-child structure that takes the focus from broadest to most narrow.  Again, to use the example of biology, the Plant and Animal taxonomy starts out at the highest level of Kingdom, and continues down through Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus until finally reaching the lowest level of Species. Each category may have its own set of synonyms to account for different ways of expressing the same concept.

WAND has developed taxonomies in the domains of Products and Services, Jobs, Travel, Medical Specialties and Diagnoses, Product Attributes, and Corporate Policies and Functions.

How is taxonomy different from ontology or thesaurus?

Although they have different meanings, these terms are all used very loosely and often interchangeably in the structured vocabulary world.   To clarify things, here are the strict meanings of each:

Taxonomy – Set of categories or terms organized into a hierarchy with parent child relationships and implied inheritance. Meaning, a child term (ie; Dog) has all of the characteristics of its parent term (ie; Mammal). A taxonomy only contains broader and narrower relationships

Thesaurus – A set of categories or terms organized into a hierarchy like a taxonomy but also including additional relationship types such as synonymous terms and related terms.  For example, Memory Card may be related to Digital Camera.  These terms do not have a traditional broader or narrower term relationship, but it may be desirable to associate the terms to help make information more accessible for a user.  Synonyms help account for different ways of expressing the same concept. For example, Laptop Computer is the same as Notebook Computer and this is explicitly noted in a thesaurus.

Ontology - A set of terms and relationships that represents the complete set of knowledge about a domain.  Ontologies allow for more sophisticated relationship types than either a thesaurus or a taxonomy. For example, in the taxonomy of currency, Penny would be a narrower term to U.S. Coins.  An ontology would add additional information to Penny such as Made of: Copper, Value: 1 cent, President Featured: Lincoln   Ontologies are essentially a web of information about a domain and are the key to powering the Semantic Web.

What are taxonomies used for?

A taxonomy can help make a large body of knowledge more understandable by providing an organization for the knowledge.   It has been said that we are drowning in data but thirsting for knowledge. Taxonomy can help direct a user through the ocean of data so that specific concepts can be found and makes sense of the relationships between individual concepts.

Imagine searching the web for “Pool”.  You may get results back on topics as varied as swimming, billiards, or NCAA March Madness predictions.  Taxonomy put this search in the appropriate context to this search so relevant results can be returned. It adds a deeper meaning to the word.  

Does my business need a taxonomy?

If you have large volumes of unstructured information in your organization, you should be looking at taxonomy.  If your business needs to make information more findable, you should be looking at taxonomy. This could range from a website, business listings, an e-commerce website, internal company documents, spend data, and more.

Be sure to review our solutions section to see how others are using WAND’s taxonomies. WAND can also help you develop custom taxonomies to help you meet your information management needs.