IPSV taxonomy: 'a waste of time'

Knowledge management expert Steve Dale reports that ‘the debate on the (ir)relevance of IPSV (Integrated Public Sector Vocabulary) has burst out into the open again.’ He muses:

The schema is uneccessarily detailed/over-complicated, and these days most search engines do not rely on subject metadata alone (or even at all) to classify or organise results. Who will be brave enough to admit that the huge intellectual investment put into developing and implementing IPSV has been largely a waste of time?!

Er, I will.
Steve is absolutely right: it’s far too big to be practically useful, with over 3000 primary terms (that’s before you get into synonyms)… and it’s getting bigger, with an extra 350 primary terms added as part of the April 2006 update. And that’s before several major government departments get round to fleshing out the branches which should notionally be their domain. Which, of course, means the production of further revisions… which, inevitably, means everyone has to go back and review the subject tagging they did against the previous versions. And so it goes on.
I just don’t believe big taxonomies can ever work. I think there’s a reason Google (free text) deposed Yahoo (big classification structure) as the web’s #1 search engine. And if you’re writing decent web content anyway, you’ll have all the important keywords in your important fields – like the page title, the H1 heading, and so on. Just your standard Search Engine Optimisation tactics, which you should be doing anyway. Amount of additional effort required: zero.
But I do think a smaller-scale subject tree can be useful. I’ve recently led an exercise to produce a mini-taxonomy. We set very tight limits: a maximum 100 terms, ideally two levels, but three at a push. And I’m very happy with the structure we produced. It prints nicely on a single sheet of A4; people could keep it by their PCs, and refer to it as necessary. (Mind you, with only 100 terms, I’d expect people to know it by heart fairly quickly.) I’d much rather have a guarantee of a ‘near enough’ match, than a situation where exact matches are dependent on people being bothered to tag exactly.
But I’m quite relaxed about it, really. Yes, it’s mandatory… but, theoretically, so was IPSV’s predecessor, GCL. I don’t remember too many people actually implementing it properly either. And I certainly don’t remember the Taxonomy Police rounding people up.
PS: Note to Steve… nice blog, nice photo, but you need to make it easier for us to tell who you are. It took quite a lot of research to find your name?!

2 thoughts on “IPSV taxonomy: 'a waste of time'”

  1. Hi Simon,
    you’re too kind (about the photo!), and I take your point about being unnecessarily mysterious. Sorry you took time to find me, but the reason for my semi-anonymity is that when I first started the blog I felt I was biting the hand that fed me, and consequently I kept a low profile. I’m less concerned about that now, so guess I should get my profile updated.
    Good article by the way, and thanks for the mention. Seems we share a common interest. Will be adding you to my blog list.
    Best wishes
    Dissident (aka Steve Dale)

  2. Delighted to see that people are beginning to come forward and question the usefulness or even need for the IPSV.
    My colleague and I have just been through the rigours of porting part of an old and weary City Council site onto a new CMS which is ruled with an iron fist by the IPSV taxonomy.
    During the work we mused constantly about the relevence of the IPSV taxonomy in relation to the way that real people using real language either search for information or else have expectations about where to find things based on their real-world experiences. In my opinion the IPSV fulfils neither of these. It is a theorists taxonomy, a taxonomy for ‘web civil servents’ and approaches content from a far too restrictive linguistic base. Again, in my opinion, it singularly fails to have at its core a consideration of the way in which real people use words.
    Some time before this current project another colleague and I went out into the community and did some research that enabled us to build a small taxonomy that represented the statistically most significant real-life terms used by our prospective client base and it worked a treat. One cannot help but think of the age old phrase KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid.

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