Organize anything with a controlled vocabulary – or why I’m obsessed with taxonomies.

As I alluded to in another post, I’m working on a taxonomy for transportation websites. Why? I’m trying to redesign my library’s website, we’re moving to Drupal, and all my ideas and fantasies hinge on content being aggregated by thematic types. It’s magical, really. OK, not really, but lots of website do it and it eases browsing. It’s definitely one thing I love about the web. Not sure what I’m talking about? Check out Amazon, or Zappos, or even Craigslist. They’re all browsable by some sort of hierarchal structure – the taxonomy.

Anyhow… so I want to use a taxonomy to organize the content of our new site so that we don’t have to worry about that during content creation. If I blog about transit oriented development resources, by golly, you will find it in planning and transit (and maybe TOD?), all because I tagged it with the terms in the taxonomy.

Of course, life would be easy if we could just plug in the Transportation Research Thesaurus and use that. I tried. The TRT broke Drupal. It’s massive with something around 10,000, which for the purpose of organizing a website is excessive. As much as I love the TRT, and I really do (seriously, just ask me about it and I will start frothing at the mouth, going on and on for hours about it), it’s really been designed and maintained as a tool for indexing transportation research for databases like TRIS. (I also love TRIS, if you didn’t know.) Indexing articles for a database is very different than indexing content for a website. TRIS, due to its volume and scope, needs something fairly precise. If you want to find articles about “transit oriented development,” you can! But for a website, I don’t see people looking for that level of specificity, I mean, TRIS can handle that. Think about it like looking for stuff in a record store. I may really only be interested in a handful of punk bands, but I know they won’t have a section for be to browse that “Lookout Records” or “DIY Punk related to Plan-It X”. I’ll look under “punk” and it will suffice.

So since the TRT is too big, I thought I would just pare it down. Cut out the über specific stuff and focus on terms that I would actually need for our site. Well, looking at the broad facets, it was clear that’d be nearly impossible. I would probably end up spending more time figuring out what to keep and what to hack than if I started from scratch, so I am. I will be using the same terms when possible, but with a different hierarchy. (Really, I think the hierarchy gets in the way of the TRT, but that’s a whole other story.) I’m still sketching stuff out, but that’s the plan.

Well, actually the plan is once it’s done, use it to build our new site and then also release the XML file for the world to use. I bet other transportation organizations could benefit from this sort of thing, and wouldn’t be be nice if we didn’t keep reinventing the wheel. (TRT, why can’t you just work? Why?)

If anybody already has an existing taxonomy like this, please let me know! I want to use it! Otherwise, stay tuned.

3 thoughts on “Organize anything with a controlled vocabulary – or why I’m obsessed with taxonomies.

  1. Stuart, thanks for posting the ITRD thesaurus! I’ve usually just looked at it when I’m knee deep in TRT confusion. I think the intro looks good. The problem is still in the ontology, but I think that has more to do with the different application of the thesaurus.

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