Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Taxonomy Boot Camp London, 2018

This October, for the third year in a row, I have enjoyed the opportunity to attend and present at Taxonomy Boot Camp London (TBCL).

Similar in subject area scope, but with unique presentations, to its parent conference Taxonomy Boot Camp (TBC), usually held in Washington, DC, in November, I find it worth my time to attend both conferences. Despite what might be considered a niche topic for select audience, TBCL remains a strong conference with consistent attendance (about 170 participants), comparable to TBC in its earlier years. The size is large enough to offer a choice of two tracks but small enough to easily network with others. The conference speakers and attendees are quite international, representing 22 countries this year.

Conference Format

TBCL continues to differ from TBC by having two tracks on both days, instead of just on the first day as TBC does. It also has a pre-conference workshop day, which TBC lacks, a full-day Taxonomy Fundamentals workshop (which I lead), and two half day workshops on more specialized or advanced taxonomy topics, which are not the same each year. This year the half-day workshops were on text analytics and taxonomies in SharePoint

For the first time, Taxonomy Boot Camp London presented two awards (which Taxonomy Boot Camp in Washington, DC, does not do.) The winner of the Taxonomy Practitioner of the Year award was Tom Alexander, Taxonomy Manager, Cancer Research UK. The winner of the Taxonomy Success of the Year award was SAGE Research Methods Thesaurus, led by Alan Maloney & Martha Sedgwick, SAGE Publishing.


The exhibit/sponsor showcase is very different at TBCL from TBC. TBC has a small dedicated exhibit on its first day, but then shares the much larger KM World exhibit with the four other co-located conferences. TBCL’s exhibit space is similar to that of TBC’s first day, with just three software vendor sponsor-exhibitors (Synaptica, Access Innovations, and Semantic Web Company/PoolParty). However, there was a larger number of organizational supporter-exhibitors: Association for Independent Information Professionals, the Information Retrieval Specialist Group of the British Computer Society, the Danish Union of Librarians, the Knowledge & Information management Special Interest Group of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) of the UK, the Information and Records Management Society of the UK, the UK Chapter of the International Society for Knowledge Organization (ISKO), the Network for Information & Knowledge Exchange of the UK, the SLA (Special Libraries Association) Europe chapter, and the SLA Taxonomy Division. This was a greater number of organizations than last year. The significant involvement of professional associations in TBCL contrasts with the relative lack of professional associations involved in TBC.

TBCL continues to be co-located with another Information Today conference, Internet Librarian International, but their exhibit areas are somewhat separate (although attendees of both conferences can visit booths of either conference), since their audience and market is different. Other than the drinks reception the first day, the two conferences do not share anything, such as keynotes.


There were three keynote presentations, two consecutive contrasting keynotes the first day and one the second day.  

The opening keynote was indeed a keynote style talk, which was on the broader subject of information on the web, rather than on the specifics of taxonomies. “This is the Bad Place: 13 Rules for Designing Better Information Environments,” was presented by Paul Rissen, Product Manager at Springer Nature UK and previously at BBC. In his thought-providing presentation he aimed at establishing “ground rules” for using the web (especially social media) and for public discourse in general.

This was followed by a more down-to-earth state of the profession talk by Dave Clarke, CEO of Synaptica, titled “Catching the Wave: What Tools do Taxonomists Need to do Their Job.” Although Synaptica was the lead sponsor of the conference, this was not promotional talk. Dave started out be summarizing what taxonomists do and enable as organize, categorize, and discover, and explained the different tools for each. More of Dave’s presentation was about what taxonomists are doing based on the results of a survey of taxonomists he has been conducting (https://twitter.com/DavidClarkeBlog). Then Dave turned to what he considered to be the future trends and issues. Artificial intelligence (AI) is relevant to what we do, but it will not replace the need for human-curated taxonomies or ontologies. Rather, taxonomies and ontologies will empower AI with the semantics and log to improve search and categorization and perform machine learning. Ontologies and linked data can help build smarter search and discovery applications by leveraging the logical dependencies. Linked open data is shared openly, and linked enterprise data is behind the firewall where the linked data model also works well.

The second day’s keynote addressed an important topic. “Selling the Benefits of Taxonomy: Numbers and Stories” was presented by taxonomy and text analytics consultant Tom Reamy. Tom’s argument was that return-on-investment (ROI) studies, with their numerical data on time spent, are not sufficient to convince decision-makers of the benefits of taxonomies, and that use case stories and internal advocacy are also needed. Stories can describe the increased richness of knowledge discovery, better decisions, and analysis of complex issues. He also suggested selling the vision of a taxonomy by means of a mini demo. Tom then turned to text analytics as the important means to make taxonomies usable, as he is rather dismissive of manual indexing. He explained that text analytics is often called auto-categorization, because that was the first use of it, but that text analytics can be used for other things, too.

Conference Sessions

The more basic track had sessions on taxonomy development, user validation, taxonomy resources, taxonomy development approaches, information architecture, enterprise information management, tagging, and taxonomy standards and architecture. I attended mostly sessions of the more advanced track, though.

A theme of the conference, as stated in the program was “Making taxonomies go further,” and conference chair Helen Lippell stated in her welcome the opportunity to “push your practice further.” This was especially true of several of the advanced track sessions I attended. “Using Ontologies for more than Information Categorization,” presented by Ahren Lehnart and Jim Sweeney of Synaptica, suggested using ontologies for project and product management and in support of various other business functions in sales, marketing, partner and competitor information management, etc.  “Beyond Taxonomy Classification: Using Knowledge Models and Linked Data to Unlock New Business Models” was presented by Ben Miller of Wiley. He spoke of knowledge models, as comprising content acquisition and content enrichment. Jim Sweeney also presented “Taking Your Show on the Road: Publishing Taxonomies and Ontologies as Linked Data,” which was a good introduction to Linked Data. In this presentation, he also introduced graph databases and their benefits. While not explicitly discussing taxonomies, Rahel Anne Baile’s talk, “Introduction to Information 4.0,” suggested another application for taxonomies which content is in “molecules and objects,” rather than on as documents, or based on pre-determined topics.  Multilingual taxonomies and taxonomy implementation in SharePoint were the topics of other presentations.

I am looking forward to Taxonomy Boot Camp in Washington, DC, next week, and Taxonomy Boot Camp London again next year which has been scheduled for the same venue October 15-16, 2019, with preconference workshops on October 14.

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