Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Website Taxonomies: The Key to Discoverable Communities

It seems logical that any website has its own range of subject matter – kind of a geography of knowledge that it covers. So for example, Fine Woodworking ( covers anything related to, well, woodworking while it doesn’t pay any attention to, say, US Politics.

So it seems natural that any website would have its own taxonomy – sort of like the map of its knowledge geography. Or perhaps a better and more common metaphor is a Dewey Decimal System, which is itself a knowledge map that attempts to cover the entire knowledge geography of human interest.

Another term for this mapping of a site’s knowledge geography is its taxonomy. Sometimes, as with Yahoo, it’s called an Ontology, which was originally “the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being”, but really is about grouping the items that exist into a hierarchy of related concepts. But for now, the term Taxonomy will serve well.

A site taxonomy can be much more valuable than presenting a comprehensive and comprehensible site map, which is like the card catalog in the Library that employs the Dewey Decimal System.

For sites that enable registration and development of a personal profile, including interest profiles, a taxonomy can help deliver the right content to each unique user. If Fine Woodworking knows I have a particular interest in wood-turning (which would reside in its taxonomy under, say, Techniques), then when I login it can deliver to me, right on the home page, articles, plans and products related to wood-turning. This obviously increases my interest in the site, and could result in better sales for Fine Woodworking.

But when an information and e-commerce site also adds a social component – a means by which visitors can connect and share ideas and experience on the site, then the taxonomy becomes even more valuable. Now a site can connect people – in ways that are unobtrusive and do not violate privacy concerns – by matching their shared interests as revealed by common taxonomy terms in their profile.

These sites can discover these interests simple by recording where a registered user goes on the site, and what content or conversation s/he engages with.

Building the right taxonomy is therefore key to the success of any site that involves content, commerce and community. Hierarchy is important, as it groups similar areas of interest and potentially allows the site to reach a broader audience and perhaps expand the interest of unique users.

And a taxonomy need not be static. It’s important to continue observing interest areas: those without content or interested users can be pruned. Similarly, new interest areas can be added in response to activity on the site.

Finally, keep your taxonomy focused on your own knowledge geography. This is a good discipline to ensure that you know your business and your users.

Written by tstaley

February 18, 2013 at 1:29 am

Posted in Websites

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