Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Dewey Decimal and controlled vocabularies

Author:Jon Udell
Posted:9/9/1999; 6:01:53 PM
Topic:rss channels via email
Msg #:10845 (In response to 10839)
Prev/Next:10844 / 10846

I have been arguing in favor of what you advocate -- standard classification schemes, controlled vocabularies -- for years. And I have not given up believing in these things.

The challenge though is to empower large numbers of contributors to self-categorize.

I'm coming around to the conclusion that what's needed is a hybrid approach. Contributors who at least suggest categorizations for their stuff, however arbitrary, create low-level hooks for one or more higher-level schemes overlaid on top.

People who are trained and qualified to organize information properly -- and that is definitely not everybody -- can, as they always have, map the raw material into classification schemes and controlled vocabularies, just as they always have. From this perspective, the user-supplied tags are just hooks that may enable some degree of automation of this task.

A given item could quite reasonably fit both into Dewey Decimal, and DMOZ, and other schemes besides. There can -- and perhaps should -- be multiple mappings. To the extent one or more of these schemes gains traction, contributors are incented to learn and use them. For example, because a well-categorized item might be likelier to show up someplace you'd like to see it listed than a badly-categorized one. To this end, it is certainly desirable to make the content-creation tools aware of one or more schemes (e.g. Dewey) and to do everything possible to enable users to apply such schemes properly.

Having said all this, I'd like the basic process to support and encourage a lot of freeform churn. Things are evolving at a ridiculous rate, there's no slowdown in sight, and it just seems impossible that any a priori scheme can stay ahead of the curve. Somehow or other, we need to figure out a way to collaboratively evolve the schemes as we invent stuff and write about it.

Here's an analogy. I run my own newsgroups, and the raw material that flows through there doesn't have any particular shape or organization. I create that, for some subset of the content, by selecting from the raw material, and framing it in thematic editorial views. Other interpretations and filterings of the same raw content stream would be possible -- and welcome! If users could self-categorize their postings, it wouldn't automatically yield the kinds of views of the content that I invest editorial effort in creating. But it would enable certain kinds of automatically-generated views to be created, and these would have some value. Such autogenerated views would, in turn, give me a leg up on the editorial process.

In short I don't regard self-categorization as the whole answer by any means, just one piece of a system that also, at other levels, relies on conventional organizational principles.

Jon Udell <>

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