Organizing and categorizing the information you manage in SharePoint (or any other system) is critical if you want your users to find and retrieve information effectively. SharePoint, without a well-designed taxonomy, would in some ways be like a traditional “brick and mortar” library without a cataloging system. 

Taxonomy design is a broad and complex subject. We could not possibly cover every facet here. Hopefully, this post will provide you with at least a basic foundation from which you can begin designing your Enterprise Taxonomy.

Approaches to Organizing Information

There are many approaches to organizing information. Traditional taxonomies, such as the categorization of species, are hierarchical in nature. They start at the top with very broad categories and narrow in scope to increasingly specific levels below.

Some information you manage in SharePoint may lend itself to this approach. For example, an organizational hierarchy may be used to categorize some types of information.  However, it is important to consider other ways in which your information could be organized.

Faceted structure: This approach could use a single category or multiple categories to organize information. Yet, in contrast with a hierarchy, the categories are independent of each other.

For example, information could be categorized by product type, brand, color, price range, material, (i.e. leather, vinyl, canvas) or any number of other “facets”. However, each facet is an independent category, separate from the other categories.

The number and type of facets that could be used to organize information is endless. Here are just a few examples: Geographic (region, state, city, building number), Media type, (print, radio, TV, online), Status, (payment status, approval status, project status).

However, you should focus on facets that are relevant to your organization’s business requirements and processes. Determining the most useful facets to use for organizing your information should include input from key stakeholders, managers, and “end users” that work with the information.

Delegation of Taxonomy Creation and Management

A taxonomy is a specifically designed and planned system for categorizing information. It is usually controlled at various levels of the organization from the “top-down”. The upper levels may be managed centrally.

If the amount of information is large, management of the hierarchy may be delegated to various levels, perhaps to a Site Collection Administrator or even the owners of certain sites, lists or libraries. Content managers at these levels may be more familiar with the appropriate categorization of information in their area of responsibility.

Helpful Resources

In this post, we focused on concepts that will help you understand and create an effective Taxonomy.

Naturally, you would want to know “how to” create and configure these features in SharePoint. These topics will be covered in future posts. For now, here are some helpful resources and examples for understanding different approaches to categorizing information.   

 

Resources

Building Enterprise Taxonomies – By Darin L Stewart. This is a paperback book, but it is well worth the purchase. Comprehensive, yet easy to understand, this book will take you through every step of taxonomy design, from concept to implementation. If you need help just knowing where to start, this book will be a tremendous help: http://www.amazon.com/Building-Enterprise-Taxonomies-Darin-Stewart/dp/0578078228

http://www.taxonomywarehouse.com/ : This site has several “prefab” corporate and organizational taxonomy schemas. Great for getting ideas for creating your own Enterprise Taxonomy Vocabulary

http://www.spsdemo.com : (Click on the “Internet Sites Pivot” tile on the homepage, to see a taxonomy driven refinable list view) Additionally, this site has a great collection of SharePoint resources, and several lists and libraries on the site provide excellent examples of taxonomy design.

http://wine.com : (Click on the “Advanced Search” link). This site is an excellent example of a multi-faceted approach to organizing information. The user can search by any combination of color, grape, region, price, year etc.  (For an example of a “single facet” approach to categorizing information, go to Amazon.com and click on the category selector in the search field).