Screens, Research and Hypertext

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Taxonomy as Curation

The distinction between taxonomy and content is blurry.

Deane Barker has a knack for getting at the heart of interesting problems. Here, in the space of a single tweet, he gets at the fundamental nature of content and taxonomy.

At bottom, this is a CMS question: How do you decide whether a particular set of things counts as a set of categories (a taxonomy) or as a distinct content type? It’s a question that vexes content strategists regularly.

Here’s where we get to the conflation part.

Content is like a work of art. (Yes, I know this analogy may make authors even more precious about what they do. But bear with me.) A piece of content is like a painting—it’s a single, discrete thing that makes a particular point.

Taxonomy, on the other hand, is a work of curation. It’s the connective tissue that binds particular pieces of work into specific exhibits. Sometimes those taxonomies can be quite general (e.g., a gallery map that shows that French impressionists are in rooms 345–349 on the 6th floor). Other times, the taxonomy can be very specific (e.g., a sign explaining that the sketch you are seeing is the 4th draft of Hopper’s sketch for Nighthawks).

Art galleries make for a useful metaphor for re-thinking the overly broad label content.

For more context

What's all this business about art?

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