I just finished taking my online taxonomy and controlled vocabularies class through Simmons College, and I’m excited that it’s turning out to be directly applicable to my everyday work. Fortunately I’m part of a release where the developers seem quite keen on maintaining consistent terminology, so I feel I have internal support to geek out on terms and their relationships.

It’s been a great exercise for me. It feels like a creative process to decide how to relate terms to each other and decide on facets. Meanwhile, deciding on hierarchical relationships really forced me to formalize a whoooole bunch of technical learning that was floating around in my brain.

I’m currently maintaining an Excel spreadsheet of terminology decisions, which I’m calling a thesaurus because it includes hierarchical relationships, nonpreferred terms, and related terms. However, I’ve already gotten little off the beaten track in terms of classic thesauri–for instance, I have to maintain both “accepted equivalent terms” and nonpreferred terms. That’s what happens when your API team and your app software team head in different directions, one going with industry standards and the other with internal standards! No really easy solution there, unfortunately.

At first I was a little bummed to author in Excel when I’d just learned about all sorts of fancy thesaurus software like Data Harmony and Synaptica, but this post clued me into creating collapsible sections in Excel, which eased the pain.

Overall I think it’s the best decision for sharing the thesaurus with other content creators and stakeholders. I’ve already used it as a conversation starter with my co-writer, and we edited it quite a bit as a result.

Here’s a little peek:


Finally, when it came to looking at existing thesauri, I ran up short. That worries me a little about the state of the field–why are so many abandoned ontologies, taxonomies, and thesauri floating around on the Web? I mean–I actually used Way Back Machine to find a semiconductor dictionary.

On a related note, does Linked Data on the web really have momentum behind it? Or is it that taxonomy and ontology efforts have a future in enterprises but not as much on the web? IKSO UK will host a great debate on whether the thesaurus passed its sell-by date.. I’m definitely going to be watching with interest.