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?!