Product Lifecycle Management and Obsessive Taxonomies

I’ve been reading tweeter stream during my short weekend at home. One of the tweets from Randal Newton caught my special attention. This is the message:

This message made me think about PLM systems, taxonomies and folksonomies. If you’re new to this term, a short intro.Taxonomies is what you most probably know as data classification. From Wikipedia article:

Taxonomy (from Greek: τάξις taxis “arrangement” and Greek: νομία nomia “method”[1]) is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into aclassification.[2][3] The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as “biological taxonomy”, revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa (singulartaxon). A resulting taxonomy is a particular classification (“the taxonomy of …”), arranged in a hierarchical structure or classification scheme.

Taxonomies are created by a single individual or a team, and it is clearly represented as hierarchical structure. Opposite to taxonomies, folksonomy presents a different way of data organization.

A folksonomy is a system of classification derived from the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content;[1][2] this practice is also known as collaborative tagging,[3] social classification, social indexing, and social tagging. Folksonomy, a term coined by Thomas Vander Wal, is aportmanteau of folk and taxonomy. Folksonomies became popular on the Web around 2004[4] as part of social software applications such as social bookmarking and photograph annotation. Tagging, which is one of the defining characteristics of Web 2.0 services, allows users to collectively classify and find information. Some websites include tag clouds as a way to visualize tags in a folksonomy.[5] A good example of a social website that utilizes folksonomy is 43 Things.

Take a look on an interesting picture presenting opposite worlds of taxonomies and folksonomies. It is about top-down and bottom-up:

I’ve been thinking about taxonomies and folksonomies in a sense of system rigidity. Most of PLM systems built with a predefined set of rules and models. It creates a certain level of resistance when it comes to the usage of the systems. Customization of systems is complicated, sometimes is cumbersome. Opposite to that, folksonomies is a model that can be “collaboratively created“. This element of collaborative creation is something that can be very much appealing to most of the engineering that like to think more flexible.

Social is another aspect. Social is trending and some companies are trying to bring it as a differentiation in PLM game these days. It would be interesting to see if social PLM and other systems pretending to be “social” are using folksonomical approach to help people to organize data within lifecycle.

What is my conclusion? PLM needs to learn new words and methods of work that prove themselves in the last 10 years of Web. Folksonomies is one of them. The rigidity of existing systems (obsessive taxonomies) need to be transformed into a more flexible and granular approach. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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6 Responses to Product Lifecycle Management and Obsessive Taxonomies

  1. A Group Technology consultant (who’s name escapes me) would start his presentation by reading from the bible. He would read the passages where Adam ‘classified’ all the animals, birds, fish, etc., as an example of taxonomy, finishing with the statement:

    “Contrary to popular belief, CLASSIFICATION is the world’s oldest profession”

  2. I am relatively new to the PLM/PDM domain with a background in econometrics, information science, and public policy analysis. I am a systems engineer by trade and am currently looking closely at system lifecycle management applications and processes (PDM/PLM inclusive). So, I can’t help but look at PLM as an information problem especially when it is used in big companies (thousands of employees). That said, I am compelled to look at PLM with an “I” in it for information: Product Lifecycle Information Management. It’s that “M” for management in my PLiM view that seldom meets expectations. This flexibility offered with folksomonies for classification is an attractive approach. To me, such an approach, a natural byproduct of increasingly easy social connections (bottom-up) through “Web 2.0″ (so called) applications, poses different challenges to PLM information management such as scaling vocabularies across a huge enterprise, translating meaning across knowledge domains, and whether you can or even want to have linkages between community vocabularies and the “expert” realms.

    I call what you’re touching on here as “meaning management”. And that rigidity you refer to is due to the fact that so many PLM systems are at their core PDM systems, which are measured favorably for exactly that inflexibility Web 2.0 systems abhor.

    Certainly, though, PLM providers MUST plan for these disruptive systems (folksomonies) and use them as opportunities to improve PLiM (Prod. Lifecycle information Management)!

    (I am a long-time reader and this is my first comment.)

  3. Jez Cunningham says:

    ‘Tagging bottom-up’ as opposed to ‘classification top-down’ is a nice idea to help people find what they’re looking for in a qualitative way, but it’s not so easy in the quantitative / semantic world.
    Take the simple example of electronic components. The attributes to describe a resistor (resistance, tolerance, max power, …) are different from those to describe a capacitor (capacitance, tolerance, max voltage) so when creating and describing a new item (new part number) you at least need to classify resistors and capacitors separately to ensure the minimum level of parametric information is collected. But then you find that variable resistors don’t really have a tolerance, so you need to separate those into a sub-class where Tolerance is not applicable. And there are thermistors, which are resistors with a known temperature dependence – their key attribute is the delta change in resistance per degree temperature change.
    Etc etc.
    So whatever you do, if you expect to ever be able to retrieve items, you need to ensure a minimum level of attributes; and the attributes are different per type of item – so you NEED a slightly obsessive classification!

  4. Rick, thanks for the quote :). Like it. Best, Oleg

  5. Duanne, thanks for your comment! Information is certainly a very important aspect of PLM. Many people these days are starting to look on “I” hidden behind “PLM”. Flexible tagging and folksonomies is the right way to improve information management – agree 100%. Best, Oleg

  6. Jez, Tanks for your insight. I think, the right balance can help. However, flexible property allocation can be an interesting approach as well. At the same time “slightly obsessive” is probably a very appropriate way to manage it. Like this term :). Thanks, Oleg

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