The Economy of Language or Why we Argue About Words

Human language is extraordinarily economical. We can say an extraordinary amount in very few well chosen words. This economy is essential to its function. Language is what in computer science is called a soft real-time system. That is, you have a limited amount of time in which to convey your meaning. After that, your audience will get bored or go to sleep, or the event you wished to discuss or avoid will have taken place. The night will have come without the fire being built. The deer will have fled without the arrow being loosed from the string. read more

Taxonomy Won’t Save Us

One of the great hopes of content management is that taxonomy will save us. Developing a consistent and rigorous taxonomy, it is hoped, will remove inconsistencies from how describe and label things, enabling us to find and reuse content much more easily. It is a lovely vision, and it is doomed to failure.

The underlying assumption of this confidence in taxonomy is that differences in terminology are accidental and that if we simply assign clear and well defined meanings to the terms we use, we can all use the same vocabulary and communicate more clearly and with less ambiguity. read more

The Key to Organizing Web Content is Stickiness

Sticky bun.

The stickiest content rises to the top. Image courtesy of Maggie Smith /

The most important thing you can do to organize your Web content so that people can find it is to make it sticky. Making it sticky is more important than categorizing it or placing it in a hierarchy or taxonomy. It is even more important than linking your content set effectively. In fact, if you don’t make it sticky, neither of those other things are likely to matter much.

It is easy to think of the Web as simply a vast ocean of content. But if it were that, it would not work at all. What the Web actually is is a vast index of content. It is not a fixed index, like in a book, but a complex, dynamic, volatile, multi-stream index. For purposes of findability, how your content is organized on the Web comes down to how it appears in that index. And while you can definitely contribute to how it is indexed in small ways, its indexing is largely controlled by others. The Web organizes itself communally. read more

Findability vs. Searchability

I argued in Too Big to Browse; Too Small to Search, that search works best when it has a large amount of content to work with. But it occurs to me that there is a really important caveat to be made, which I can best express as the difference between findability and searchability.

The distinction I want to make is not clear in the common usage of the words “find” and “search”. They are often used as synonyms, particularly in computer interfaces. But I think there is nevertheless a significant difference in the connotations, which points to a significant distinction we should pay attention to when we think about the findability of our content. read more