Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Remote Taxonomist

One of the characteristics of taxonomy work is that taxonomists can work remotely from their managers, colleagues, or clients, and many do. It’s not because those attracted to taxonomy work specifically want to work from home. Rather, taxonomy work is a narrow specialty, in which relatively few people are sufficiently skilled. So, when a taxonomist is needed to fill a position or serve as a consultant or contractor, often the ideal candidate is not to be found locally, and someone qualified, interested, and available lives far away.

Taxonomists are also accustomed to working independently. As an employee, a taxonomist is typically in the role of an “individual contributor” without supervisory reports yet not in a junior position that requires close supervision. In many organizations the taxonomist knows more about taxonomy than his or her supervisor.

Furthermore, taxonomy work lends itself to consulting and contracting work. Taxonomy design and development is of a project nature that requires intense work only temporarily (after which maintenance work can be part-time). Consultants make a number of visits to their client (to conduct interviews or lead workshops), but the bulk of their working time is spent remotely at their own office. Contract or freelance taxonomy editors are needed onsite even less than taxonomy consultants and like other editorial freelancers, indexers, translators, etc., typically never meet a client face-to-face.

Taxonomy work requires the involvement or input of many different people: project sponsors, managers, user interface designers, software engineers, product managers, customer service representatives, indexers, content creators or editors, and sample end-users. In most cases these stakeholders are not located in the same office anyway, so there will inevitably be some degree of remote contacts as a part of taxonomy work. Organizations that require taxonomies tend to be large, and if they are large they tend to have multiple locations. So, the taxonomist will always be remote to some of the taxonomy stakeholders, even if the taxonomist works in the headquarters office. What this means is that even in-house taxonomists develop experience and techniques in working with remote colleagues. If a taxonomist is going to be remote to many stakeholders, the taxonomist could almost as easily be remote to them all.

When I have been in a job-search mode, I have identified suitable positions in other cities and have applied to them with the query about telecommuting. More than once, the hiring manager of a position that did not mention telecommuting as an option was open to the idea of me working remotely from home when I proposed it. It can depend of the position level, though. Junior taxonomists who may require more mentoring are less suitable as remote employees that those who are experienced. On the other end, upper level positions might also be better served in-house. Recently I noticed a position for a Director of Semantic Services in another city. A director is a somewhat senior position, and while the director could be remote from those reporting to that manager, it would probably be better if the director was in the same office as that person’s manager and other senior managers to collaborate on ideas of taxonomy strategy and new opportunities.

If you are trying to decide whether to hire a remote taxonomist, it is important to consider whether that individual has had prior experience in working remotely from home, especially to be employed full-time. The remote worker needs the technology setup, organizational space, and self-discipline to separate work from personal activities. Fortunately, experienced taxonomists tend to have such remote-work experience. The further a long a taxonomist is in his or her career, the more likely that person will have had stints of working from home. Thus, it is easier to count on telecommuting experience among senior taxonomists.

I have now worked as a taxonomist from home in various capacities: a job full-time job entirely from home, a part-time (30 hours/week) job entirely from home, a full-time job one day at home but for a supervisor and team in an office across the country (the position’s originally posted location), a full-time job originally 4 days in the office but later 4 days at home, and several years of consulting and contracting from home.  I wasn’t specifically seeking to work from home, but that’s how it worked out to get and keep the jobs I wanted.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Taxonomies and Content Management

Taxonomies are relevant to various applications, implementations, software products, disciplines, and industries, whereas taxonomy itself is not really a discipline or industry.  This is apparent in how taxonomy shows up as a topic in presentation session in many different conferences. These include conferences and fields of: knowledge management, enterprise search, content management, digital asset management, semantic technologies, text analytics, document management, records management, indexing, information architecture and user experience.

Content management and content technology was the subject of the most recent conference I attended, the Gilbane Conference in Boston, November 28-29. The Gilbane Conference, now in its 9th year takes place annually the week after Thanksgiving in (end of November or beginning of December) in Boston and often also in San Francisco in May or June.  The conference, named after its founder and chair, Frank Gilbane, has the tag-line “Content, Collaboration & Customers – Managing & Enhancing Experience.” Sessions are divided into four tracks: (1) Customers & Engagement, (2) Colleagues & Collaboration, (3) Content Technologies & Infrastructure, and (4) Web & Mobile Publishing.

Taxonomies at this year’s Gilbane conference were the focus of two presentations, and were mentioned in many others. Just as content management strategies and systems may be specialized for either internal/enterprise content or for external/public web content, so may taxonomies be applied either internally or externally (and sometimes both). So, it was appropriate that one presentation on taxonomies, “Value of Taxonomy Management: Research Results” by Joseph Busch, focused on enterprise content taxonomies, and the other, “Taxonomies for E-Commerce,” which I presented, focused on public website taxonomies.

The connection between taxonomies and content management is a very important one.  A taxonomy does not do much good when it stands alone. Its purpose of existence is typically to facilitate finadability and retrieval of specific content, whether by browsing or searching.  On the other side, content is not of much use if it cannot be found. Content management refers to managing the workflow and lifecycle of content from the planning stage and creation/collection stage through the disposition/archiving stage, with an analysis/evaluation stage bringing it full-circle. There is typically a sub-phase for content organizing, categorizing, metadata-assigning, or indexing. This is where taxonomy comes in: to provide structured categories and/or to provide a consistent vocabulary for metadata and indexing.

The field of content management is often defined in terms of its products: content management systems (CMS) and their variations, which include enterprise content management (ECM)/document management systems and Web Content Management (WCM) systems. The software vendors are an important part of conferences, such as Gilbane, and are also the subject of analysis and comparison by industry analysis firms such as The Real Story Group, CMS Watch, IDC, Forrester Research, and the Digital Clarity Group.  Content management tools do include capabilities for managing taxonomies, vocabularies, or metadata, but the capabilities vary. For anything but a simple or small taxonomy, it might be preferable to create the taxonomy externally in a dedicated taxonomy management tool and then import it into the content management system. The limitations of a content management system in the area of taxonomy management, therefore, should not necessarily limit the taxonomy.

Content management and content management systems focus on processes, and that it’s a good way to look at taxonomies, too. Taxonomies are not static, but need follow a life cycle, as does content: planned and designed, developed and edited, possibly translated, published or implemented, used in tagging, then used in browsing and searching, and finally reviewed an analyzed for further revision. Governance is also an important for both content management and taxonomy management.

The biggest challenge to integrating taxonomies with content management strategy and systems is not technical but rather in human resources. A lot of time, energy, and money is put into selecting and implementing a content management system and planning a content strategy around it. Taxonomy is only one piece of the puzzle, and may not always get the investment of time and money it deserves for a full and proper design and development. However, the better a taxonomy is designed, the better it works.