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Got Metadata? Building Taxonomies to Support Your Technical Content (STC Summit 2014 Session)

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Metadata is key to enabling single sourcing, content reuse, dynamic delivery, and a host of other nifty intelligent-content behaviors. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important that technical communicators understand not only how to apply metadata, but also how to design and manage it. This session includes an overview of the types and uses of metadata taxonomies and then provides practical guidelines for selecting and developing taxonomies to support content development and delivery requirements.

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Got Metadata? Building Taxonomies to Support Your Technical Content (STC Summit 2014 Session)

  1. 1. © 2014 Toni Mantych Got Metadata? Building Taxonomies to Support Your Technical Content Toni Mantych @tcmpdx STC Summit, Phoenix May 20, 2014
  2. 2. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 2@tcmpdx #stc14 Questions We’ll Explore … does metadata matter? … should we, as technical communicators, learn about metadata and taxonomies? … is metadata? … is a metadata taxonomy? … types of taxonomies exist, and when should each be used? … does one develop useful taxonomies to support technical content development and delivery?
  3. 3. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 3@tcmpdx #stc14 Why Are You Here? Raise your hand if … you know what metadata is … you know what a metadata taxonomy is … your organization is already using metadata in its content development and delivery processes … you explicitly apply metadata to the content you develop … you define and/or manage metadata and/or taxonomies … you have heard speakers at this conference emphasize the importance of metadata and/or taxonomies … you haven’t had an opportunity to raise your hand yet
  4. 4. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 4@tcmpdx #stc14 Who I Am •  I’m a Deputy Sheriff –  Nearly 15 years in the Tech Comm industry –  Before: Academic, professional writer/editor/indexer •  Information Architect, ADP –  Moving 60+ writers to Structured Authoring/DITA –  Implementing a Component Content Management System –  Work remotely from my home in Beaverton, OR •  Adjunct Instructor, Portland State University –  Since 2007, have taught a range of courses in the graduate Professional and Technical Writing Program –  Mostly in-person, but some blended and online courses •  Other Stuff –  Willamette Valley STC: Former Competition Manager, Education Chair, Tools & Technology columnist, and President. Currently Mentoring Coordinator. –  Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) since 2010 –  AIIM-Certified Taxonomy and Metadata Practitioner since 2012 –  MA and ABD in English Literature (Taught literature and composition > 10 years)
  5. 5. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 6@tcmpdx #stc14 Metadata Is Famous All the cool government, corporate, and retail spies are doing it “It’s famous” idea and NYT captures courtesy of Rebecca Schneider; see her ICC14 slides here:
  6. 6. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 7@tcmpdx #stc14 Metadata Is Useful (in Less Morally Dubious Ways) It helps increase consistency, improve interoperability, enable reuse Source:
  7. 7. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 8@tcmpdx #stc14 Through navigation schemes, improved search, implicit and explicit content filtering, targeted recommendations and content… Metadata Enables Better Information Experiences
  8. 8. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 9@tcmpdx #stc14 More Things Metadata Can Do For You •  Improve the findability and retrievably of end-user content (whether a machine or a human being is “looking” for it) •  Facilitate content personalization •  Enable the creation and delivery of “intelligent content” •  Serve as the basis for conditional and dynamic publishing •  Provide consistent structures (which improves user experience and also makes it easier to exchange content with other systems) •  Make cross-functional content sharing easier to accomplish •  Help you work more efficiently, because you can use it to find, monitor/track, and reuse source content more easily during content development
  9. 9. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 10@tcmpdx #stc14 Still Not Convinced? Learning how to create, manage, and apply metadata is also a good career move •  All content is now digital (and it is only to become more and more technologically enabled). Metadata is what allows computers and software to process and manipulate content. •  Taxonomy models and metadata strategies are integral to “content strategy.” •  We are becoming “Content Engineers.” –  Already need to comply with taxonomy and apply metadata –  May have to define and manage metadata and taxonomies •  As Chris Lyons mentioned in the opening session, we are seeing more “hybrid” jobs. See Joe Gollner’s “Introduction to Content Strategy, Technology, Engineering, Management, and Solutions” (5/2014, and “So You Want to Be a Content Engineer” (2/2014, Also of interest, Scott Abel’s “5 Revolutionary Technologies Technical Communicators Can’t Afford to Ignore” (10/2013,
  10. 10. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 12@tcmpdx #stc14 What Is Metadata? •  Wikipedia (and etymology) –  “data about data” •  Patrick Lambe –  “the collection of structured information about a document or piece of content” •  Darin Stewart –  “…whatever form it takes, it facilitates the identification and discovery of a discrete package of information” •  My take –  Data about content elements –  Allows computers to manipulate and perform actions on content elements, even though computer can’t understand the content –  In semantic-based markup, “the stuff between the opening and closing angle brackets”
  11. 11. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 13@tcmpdx #stc14 A DITA-Based Example <step audience=“manager”>
 <cmd>Enter the code.</cmd>
 <note type=“warning”>The new code will take effect immediately.</note>" </info>" </step>" "
  12. 12. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 14@tcmpdx #stc14 Other Names for Metadata •  Tags •  Attributes •  Properties •  Conditions
  13. 13. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 15@tcmpdx #stc14 Types of Metadata (adapted from D. Stewart) •  Descriptive –  Explicitly added –  Usually focuses on the who, what, when, where –  Main purpose is to help users find and retrieve content –  E.g.: iTunes song information (artist, genre, etc.) –  TC use cases: Conditional/dynamic publishing; advanced search •  Administrative –  Important to owner/manger/steward of content –  Some automatically created, some explicitly created –  E.g.: Source, owner, creation date, expiration date, authoring rights, etc. –  TC use cases: automated publishing or archiving, workflow management •  Structural (aka Technical, Display, or Use Metadata) –  Defines how information is to be organized, assembled, or presented –  Can define relationships among content objects/information chunks –  TC use cases: Structured authoring architectures (e.g., DITA), publishing processes
  14. 14. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 16@tcmpdx #stc14 What Is (a) Taxonomy? •  Heather Hedden –  Narrow: “a hierarchical classification system” –  Broad: “any means of organizing concepts or knowledge” •  My observations –  “Taxonomy” refers to both a practice and an artifact or system –  Taxonomies define relationships
  15. 15. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 17@tcmpdx #stc14 Three Functions of Taxonomies (adapted from P. Lambe) •  Classification •  Description •  Knowledge Mapping
  16. 16. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 18@tcmpdx #stc14 Classification Function (adapted from P. Lambe) •  Taxonomy serves as a (sometimes hidden) classification scheme •  Primary purpose is to aid discovery •  Groups related things together so that by finding one, you find others •  Gets tricky when things logically belong to multiple groups and/or where classification depends on context •  When using this approach, must focus on “natural groupings” that are evident to your audience •  TC use cases –  Creating categories for end-user navigation, such as menus –  Creating categories for writer assignments
  17. 17. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 19@tcmpdx #stc14 Description Function (adapted from P. Lambe) •  Provides “semantic representation of a knowledge domain”; defines vocabulary and supports standardization •  Controlled vocabulary –  A simple, authoritative, governed “dictionary” of approved terms –  TC use case: “Term Base” •  Thesaurus –  Also a collection of terms, but shows relationships between terms (BT, NT, RT) and identifies non-preferred terms –  TC use cases: Enables/improves search; aligns with product functionality •  Ontology –  Shows relationships based on “triplets” (concept/term + relationship + concept/term) –  Relationship is usually “is a” (e.g., X is a part of Y; B is a child of A) or “has a” (Q has one and only one R). –  Can be very complex and thus difficult to represent visually –  TC use case: Complicated single sourcing/conditional publishing situations.
  18. 18. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 20@tcmpdx #stc14 Knowledge Mapping Function (adapted from P. Lambe) •  Primary purpose is to aid navigation •  May also help with understanding (big picture at a glance) and memory •  Provides an easy-to-comprehend and easy-to-navigate visual structure of a knowledge domain •  Must use predictable structure •  TC use cases –  Creating categories for navigation elements, menus, etc. –  Designing interfaces –  Developing linking strategies (based on interrelationship of content elements)
  19. 19. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 21@tcmpdx #stc14 Taxonomy Structures (adapted from P. Lambe, H. Hedden) Format Key characteristics Lists Simplest; building block of all others; how items relate should be obvious; lose effectiveness if >12-15 items Tree structures Cluster items, but not always by same logic; unpredictable Hierarchies Stricter, more predictable rules; each relationship must be the same; categories must be mutually exclusive; impractical in complex situations Polyhierarchies Item can have more than one parent; but predictability and manageability break down if too many of these cross-linkages Matrices (or Typologies) Good when you have only two or three categories and a large number of items Facets Each facet is a list, tree, or hierarchy that represents only one (of several) attributes. Multiple facets can be utilized during processes, etc. Good for metadata. System maps Visual representation of relationships in the entire domain
  20. 20. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 22@tcmpdx #stc14 Some Specific TC-Related Taxonomy Artifacts •  Term base: To standardize language and to reduce translation costs •  Catalog of Index Terms/Keywords: For search, actual indexes, SEO •  Domain thesaurus: To improve search and align with SaaS functionality •  Workflow taxonomy: Collection of statuses & relationships among them •  Content Development Roles taxonomy: To control access rights, support workflow and project management •  Content Model/Architecture: Catalog of deliverable types, information types, content elements—and rules about how these interact; supports Structured Authoring •  Context-Sensitive Mapping taxonomy: For mapping content to UI •  Conditional Metadata taxonomy: Usually a faceted collection of the categories and values required to single-source content while also delivering content in highly context-sensitive, targeted ways
  21. 21. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 24@tcmpdx #stc14 High-Level Process 1.  Establish requirements 2.  Design taxonomy 3.  Test taxonomy 4.  Define governance model
  22. 22. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 25@tcmpdx #stc14 1. Establish Requirements •  What are you trying to achieve? –  Solve a business problem? –  Meet a business goal? –  Improve end-user experience? –  Simplify processes? –  Increase reuse? –  Improve quality? •  What constraints exist? –  Availability of resources (human and financial)? –  Timelines? –  Functionality of existing authoring and publishing solutions? •  What dependencies exist? –  Product/application architecture, technology? –  Development of APIs, systems, utilities to process metadata to create desired result?
  23. 23. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 26@tcmpdx #stc14 1. Establish Requirements (continued) •  What are the metadata requirements, specifically? –  What metadata already exists? Is it relevant? Is it consistently applied? –  What metadata categories and values are necessary to achieve desired outcomes? –  If multiple metadata categories are required, what is the relationship (if any) between the categories? •  What processes will need to change? –  How will new metadata be applied to existing content? To future content? –  How easy or hard will it be for content developers to apply metadata? –  How will content developers be trained on the new metadata?
  24. 24. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 27@tcmpdx #stc14 2. Design Your Metadata Taxonomy 1.  Determine which of the three taxonomy functions (classification, description, knowledge mapping) apply to your use case 2.  Based on your collected requirements and the intended function(s) of your taxonomy, determine which structure is most appropriate 3.  Define the categories or facets for your taxonomy and any required relationships among them (if possible, start from existing standards) 4.  Define the allowable values for each category or facet 5.  Define any necessary rules (e.g., required attributes; allowable number of assigned values per category) Notes and Tips •  This process typically requires a lot of trial and error. •  Test things out as you go; it is hard to get it right in the abstract. •  It usually helps to sketch the taxonomy structure and the relationships between categories (e.g., using Venn diagrams). •  This model is bottom-up, starting from scratch. It might also help to work from the top down, from existing structures. Or, try working in both directions.
  25. 25. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 28@tcmpdx #stc14 Factors in Choosing a Structure •  How taxonomy will be used (to enable search, to aid in discovery, to enforce standardization, etc.) •  Number of objects to be tagged •  Number of categories needed and number of allowable values needed in each •  Complexity and nature of relationships among categories •  How important the predictability of the taxonomy is •  How important visual representation of the taxonomy is
  26. 26. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 29@tcmpdx #stc14 3. Test Your Taxonomy •  As you are creating the taxonomy, test it often by trying to apply the metadata to your content –  Do you have the values and categories you need? –  Have you adequately captured and defined the relationships among categories? •  As the taxonomy becomes more stable, test whether content developers understand it and can successfully apply the correct metadata to their content •  Also test the metadata-based processing –  Does your conditional publishing process yield the expected results? –  Do your integrated systems (e.g., your publishing engine, TMS, CMS, or LCMS; or the application you support) successfully consume the metadata and produce the desired outcomes?
  27. 27. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 30@tcmpdx #stc14 4. Define Your Governance Model •  Metadata and taxonomy development are not one-and-done •  Define how requests for changes will be submitted and evaluated •  Establish a mechanism and/or schedule for assessing whether existing metadata and taxonomies are working as expected and meeting important needs
  28. 28. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 31@tcmpdx #stc14 A Few Final Thoughts •  Metadata can be very powerful, but it can also be very hard to design and implement. •  Remember that there are always multiple solutions; there is no one correct way. •  Evaluate your taxonomy based on whether it allows you to achieve your stated purpose and goals. •  Pick a level of granularity that is appropriate to your current/short- term, and perhaps to your medium-term, goals. Don’t try to plan for every possible future scenario or contingency. •  As much as possible, try to align your taxonomies with those of your stakeholders and partners. –  But don’t let this overcomplicate your project or cause “analysis paralysis.” –  Don’t try to boil the ocean. Instead, start small, with a piece of your ecosystem, and build out from there. –  Use existing standards & align with other taxonomies as you can. •  Consider hiring a consultant.
  29. 29. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 32@tcmpdx #stc14 References •  Books –  Heather Hedden, The Accidental Taxonomist (2010) –  Patrick Lambe, Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness (2007) –  Darin L. Stewart, Building Enterprise Taxonomies (2011) •  AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management): The Global Community of Information Professionals ( –  “Taxonomy and Metadata Practitioner” online course (taught by Patrick Lambe) and certification •  Conference/Presentation Decks –  Joe Gelb, “Introduction to DITA 1.2 Classification and Subject Schemes: Building a Knowledge Model for Your Content” (2012): –  Joe Gelb, “Using Taxonomy for Customer-Centric Dynamic Publishing” (2014): –  Rebecca Schneider, “Creating a Metadata Strategy” (2014):
  30. 30. © 2014 Toni Mantych § Slide 33@tcmpdx #stc14 @tcmpdx