If you couldn’t tell by now, one of my particular interests is tagging, a.k.a. content classification, a.k.a. metadata.  We tag stuff to add meaning, and so that we and others – especially information systems – can find it.  But is your approach to tagging business content effective?  Find out – take the Metadata Best Practices Benchmarking Survey from Earley & Associates and Taxonomy Strategies.

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Depending upon context, “tagging” can mean one of three different things: tagging a document, tagging within a document, or tagging a content object.

Tagging documents.  These days most of us think of tagging as the keywords we put on our documents – like our photos and websites – so that others can find them when they search.  User tags are fine for finding photos in flickr, but for tagging to be effective in business we need to make it systematic, so that we avoid ambiguity and improve search recall and relevance.  So we’re increasingly “mature” in our approaches to tagging: We use taxonomy to organize our terms into classes and to manage the relationships between terms.  We develop thesauri and foreign language equivalents.  We integrate taxonomies and thesauri into search indexes for ECM and site search and SEO.

Tagging within a document.  I got interested in tagging in the early days of XML (back when we spelled it “S-G-M-L”), when we were tagging within documents.  By tagging unstructured content inside documents we could do really sophisticated things – not just multi-channel output.  For example, knowing that a paragraph in a document was a step in a service procedure or that a string of gibberish was a part number let us bring life to that content when we transformed it from markup into an interactive electronic technical manual.  Tagging let us turn books into diagnostic software.

Tagging reusable content objects. As content reuse matured with standards like DITA, organizations had more reusable components, with more people creating them in more departments.  Tagging reusable content objects became essential to actually reusing them – if you couldn’t find it, you’d never reuse it.  If you had a single service manual with 100 procedures, now you have at least 100 reusable content objects, so the search scope increased by two orders of magnitude.  At IBM, colleagues report having over a million DITA topics in more than six repositories, with over a dozen departments sharing content across thousands of publications.  Searching for content objects is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, except you’re trying to find the right needle, and you have more and smaller needles to search amongst, in more and increasingly bigger haystacks.

Measuring Metadata Maturity.  Each type of tagging can have measurable benefits on your business.  Five years ago, Earley & Associates and Taxonomy Strategies developed a survey to understand metadata maturity for various types of businesses.  Earley is conducting an updated survey to see how organizations have moved up the learning curve.  Since we have a baseline of responses from five years ago, we’ll be able to describe how metadata and taxonomy practices have matured over time.  Also, the original survey was focused on the impact of metadata best practices on knowledge management and e-commerce search.  We now recognize that metadata is also used by technical communicators – especially those that use XML and other technologies to create, manage, and multichannel publish reusable content.  We want to hear from you all for the first time.

The survey is pretty detailed, so you might want to grab your favorite caffeinated beverage before you dig in.  As compensation for your time (about 15 minutes) Earley & Associates is offering these nifty incentives:

  • A free pass to any future Earley & Associates Community of Practice conference call (a $50 value).  These are monthly, and the next one is Wednesday June 2nd on Taxonomy for Portals featuring Giovanni Piazza, Chief Knowledge Officer of Ernst & Young, and Ralph Poole of Earley & Associates.
  • A $200 discount on registration to the Henry Stewart conference on digital asset management, June 1-2 in NYC.  Seth Earley will be there presenting preliminary results.
  • Free participation in a webcast reviewing the results of the survey (date TBA).

Take the Survey