Taxonomy vs. Metadata

Having worked with numerous clients and partners on helping define their DAM and CMS strategy, we've seen that it is very easy to confuse taxonomy with metadata or vice versa.

What is Metadata?

Metadata is data about data! Think of metadata as information about an asset beyond the basic filename. Any sort of attribute or element that helps to define or describe a particular image, document, presentation or spreadsheet would be considered metadata.

iTunes and eBooks all use metadata to display information to users about the song they are listening to or the book they are reading.

In the case of Digital Rights, metadata can be used to help protect an asset's intellectual property rights.

What is Taxonomy?

Taxonomy (from Greek "taxis" meaning arrangement or division and "nomos" meaning law) is the science of classification according to a pre-determined system with the resulting catalog used to provide a conceptual framework for discussion, analysis, or information retrieval.

Think back to your High School Science Class, you may remember a certain King Phillip that Came Over For Good Soup. This simple mnemonic was taught to us to help us remember the basic taxonomy for categorizing living species: Kingdom->Phylum->Class->Order->Family->Genus->Species.

Taxonomies are different from metadata in that a taxonomy helps you to organize your content and assets into hierarchical relationships. Classifying content and assets in a taxonomy can make it far easier to search for or browse a Digital Asset Management or Web Content Management System when you aren't sure exactly what you are looking for.

Defining and using a taxonomy can offer additional benefits in that users of the system will be categorizing content and assets using a controlled vocabulary. This controlled vocabulary can be utilized as an integration reference point between different business systems.

In working to define a taxonomy a few best practices should be followed:

  • Taxonomy should be media independent
  • Should have a specific use
  • Should have a logical hierarchy
  • Should be easy to understand by users in different divisions or departments
  • Should conform to other published taxonomy standards when possible (see:
  • Should not be redundant to other defined metadata
  • Avoid acronyms or abbreviations where possible
  • Should not nest further than 5 levels if possible

A reminder that when selecting your DAM or CMS solution, you will want one that will allow you to define your taxonomy and also allow you to create custom metadata for any element of content or asset. Drupal is the leading open source CMS and EnterMedia or ResourceSpace are both leading open source DAM solutions to offer such powerful support.

An important step in defining a Digital Asset Management system or a Web Content Management System strategy is to define the metadata and taxonomy needs that will support an organization's goals for categorizing and relating both assets and content.