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Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Second Edition by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld

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We Like Taxonomies, Whatever They Are

Four years ago, many heads were already throbbing at Microsoft. And an odd and often misunderstood term—“taxonomies”—began to be heard in corridors at Redmond. Although they share a common “X,” “taxonomies” and “sexy” are two words that aren’t often seen together in public. So when “taxonomies” become a common part of everyday conversation, it’s a sure sign that an organization is ready for a deeper look into information architecture.

So Microsoft’s MSWeb team heard the word and knew that the time had come for a more ambitious approach to improving MSWeb. The team—populated by an impressive mix of information scientists, designers, technologists, and politically savvy managers—began to consider what users meant when they called for better (or any) taxonomies. Instead of the traditional biology-inspired definition, Microsoft’s employees thought of taxonomies as constructs that would help them search, browse, and manage intranet content more effectively.

In response, the MSWeb team developed a more generalized operating definition of taxonomies that would be more in line with how other employees were using the term. This flexibility—the willingness to speak the language of clients, rather than rigidly clinging to a “correct” but ultimately unpopular meaning—was key. It set the tone for successful communications between the MSWeb team and its clients throughout the organization.

Three Flavors of Taxonomies

The team defined taxonomies as any set ...

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