Since it’s my job to create taxonomies for clients within their content management system, it’s somewhat ironic that I encourage letting the “crowd” (e.g., employees at the company) create the taxonomies instead of me using my years of professional experience to build them.

I mean, how can a “civilian” create a taxonomy when they’re not aware of the many pitfalls and challenges, such as conflicting terms, disambiguation, polyheirarchy, etc.? How can mere mortals build what has taken information professionals years to learn and master as a discipline? Trust me, it can be done.

Now, I’m not losing sleep over a bunch of sales reps or HR admins stealing my thunder (or my job). It’s not going to happen, because those folks don’t want to create taxonomies full time, especially in a content management system that is difficult to manage or learn how to use. I’m relatively safe in my profession, thank you. What I want to do is encourage these people who, whether they know it or not, are subject matter experts in their own right. I can interview them all day long in workshops or one-on-one interviews, and still not get the kind of language that they use every day -- the kind of language that makes even the most valuable, professionally-designed taxonomy really start to shine.

Tagging in SharePoint 2010

Let’s take the Enterprise Keywords feature in SharePoint 2010. Now, I know there are differing opinions about SharePoint as an Enterprise CMS. I happen to like SharePoint and have worked in it for years. With SharePoint 2010, and the addition of the Term Store Management Tool, users (the “experts” I identified earlier) can add their own labels to documents, web pages and lists while they’re creating them. Yes, they can select from the “official” keywords, but they can also choose to create terms that more accurately describe the information they’ve created.

These keywords will live on in the CMS, and can be used by others to tag their own content. Below we can see two screenshots from SharePoint 2010 where keywords are added as users create and tag with them. In this case, someone added “DBA” to tag documents or pages, even though it’s not an “official” tag and they had already tagged the document with “Information Services” from the official taxonomy. I can now upload my document and use that same tag.


Learning Opportunities


Tips for Letting Users Tag Content

Want some tips and best practices for letting users tag content in a CMS? It depends on the system, of course, and every CMS out there worth it will allow some form of tagging. But basically, you should first enable the system to accept user tags. Second, let users know they can add their own tags. Third, now that the genie is out of the bottle, someone is going to have to monitor these tags so they don’t get out of hand. (I once found an unfortunate reference to someone by name in a user-generated tag that was not only insulting, but also potentially harmful to the company. I removed the tag, told the person who created/used the tag that everyone in the company could see it, and that he probably shouldn’t do that again. He’s still with the company, by the way, but his tagging days are over.)

Encourage Users to Tag

Professional taxonomists should love users who tag, and should encourage tagging in the CMS. As long as the users’ keywords are monitored and perhaps even blended into the official taxonomy, it should work to the company’s benefit and the end-user’s benefit.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: