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  Best Practices for Content Management
Pattern 1.4 Vocabulary Control
Intent Improve our ability to share knowledge by first sharing a common vocabulary that reduces ambiguities and confusion, and provides terms for use in categorization and advanced search.
Context Navigating a website or searching a knowledge base requires the use of keywords and standard terms. When different users have different names for the same thing, the resulting confusion reduces worker productivity and degrades communication between colleagues.
Problem
  • Why can't everyone just use the same vocabulary?
  • This problem is difficult because
    • Everyone comes to their work with different educational backgrounds and experience, and they may have different names for similar subjects or concepts.
    • The tendency to invent jargon is irresistible. Having a standard controlled vocabulary and a standard set of practice descriptors, organized into a standard arrangement, takes a lot of discipline.
    • Sometimes people need training in the accurate spelling of terms important in their workplace.
    • Even CM Pros tend to invent practices and jargon for their marketing advantage, rather than conform to an industry practice.
Solution
  • A controlled vocabulary can be as simple as an Authority File with a list of the approved terms.
  • The next steps clarify ambiguous terms.
    • Allow alternate terms, especially acronyms, which are acceptable synonyms (synonym ring) E.g., ASP as Application Service Provider or Active Server Pages
    • Categorize terms. Whereas the domain of knowledge or discourse is often enough to disambiguate a term, a further Taxonomy/Hierarchy/Classification scheme may help to position the term more precisely. E.g., Facets are a particular instance of the broader term Classification.
    • Relate similar terms, explicitly defining their association. E.g., versioning and version control.
    • Finally, glossing each term with a short description, or even a full-fledged Thesaurus, is the ultimate best practice for controlling a vocabulary.
    • .
  • Using a controlled vocabulary, professionals recognize they are doing knowledge management. Terms are not (merely) inventions or innovations for competitive marketing advantage. They are warranted, and CM Pros adds a stamp approval or warranty. There are three important sources for this warrant.
    • Use warrant. This is the origin of today's mantra of "user-centered design." We need to study the vocabulary in use today by our community.
    • Literary warrant. Terninology should be drawn from canonical examples of writing in our content managment community.
    • Structural warrant. There may be intrinsic natural structures that should be reflected in the choice of terms.
  • Our CM Pros controlled vocabulary efforts should maximize community "buy-in" by providing the content as a "single-source" web service that can be syndicated to participating members' websites. Make them look like the professionals they are.
  • Repurposing vocabulary content (multichannel publishing using XML and CSS/XSLT) is critical. The delivered content should have the same look and feel as any collaborating CM Professionals website.
Trade-offs
  • Pros
    • A standard vocabulary helps keep everyone "on the same page." It makes the learning curve shorter. Understanding is deeper, and communication is easier and clearer.
    • A standard vocabulary enhances acceptance of ideas by the community of practice, especially if they have participated in the design process, and know that the master vocabulary can be changed when practices change and the community wants it changed.
  • Cons
    • Formal structures may discourage innovation.
    • A "finished" look may give a term more authority than it deserves.
  • Difficulties
    • It is hard to maintain the active feedback loops needed to keep a vocabulary current. Witness the recent growth in "folksonomy" as web users reject precoordinate classification schemes.
    • The NIH mentality ("not invented here" and "what's in it for me?") may prevent influential members of the community from participating.
Rationale We have a golden opportunity to make terminology on the CM Professionals website a living demonstration of our own good vocabulary practices.
Proven Uses At the moment, our CM Professionals Glossary page lists many CM vocabularies. We need to make our website a demonstration of vocabulary use, "practicing what we preach," "eating our own dog food," and controlling our vocabulary with the very best content management practices.

"Vocabulary control is the sine qua non of information organization," Elaine Svenonius.

Related Patterns Our master design pattern (Pattern 0.0) also requires a formal structure and a vetting process.
Getting Started Consider starting with Managing Content Everywhere (Pattern 1.0)
References

What are the differences between a vocabulary, a taxonomy, a thesaurus, an ontology, and a meta-model?, Metamodel.com.
What Is A Controlled Vocabulary?, by Karl Fast, Fred Leise, and Mike Steckel. Boxes and Arrows.
NISO Z39.19 - , by Karl Fast, Fred Leise, and Mike Steckel. Boxes and Arrows.

More references in the CMS Glossary entry.

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