Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Taxonomy & Mind Maps

The other day someone asked me what was the best method to build a taxonomy, my initial response was a high level overview outlining the pragmatic nature of the beast but what I forgot to mention is the specific technique/s I use to get started. Over the years I've tried a number of different approaches, none of them perfect. I've used Powerpoint, the Outline feature in MS Word, a pencil and paper, other EA modeling tools and so on. But about two years ago, I became acquainted with Mind Mapping. Mind maps are very well suited for the initial part of the semantic integration process - they are easy to learn, very quick to use and provide a fairly comfortable visual interface to your resulting "Brainstorm" products.

Most Mind Mapping tools have a bit of a constraint though in that they capture "Dual Hierarchies" - in other words they split out trees in only two directions. There are many times when I had thought that the ability to have one tree, centered, would be preferable, but there are some advantages to the dual tree approach. With two trees you can begin to do some preliminary semantic reconciliation or you can use the the second tree (for me this is usually the left side) to capture a set of assumptions or constraints which underlie whatever is built into the right side tree.

The tool I use for this is Freemind - because as the name implies, it costs nothing. There are many other mind-mapping tools on the market and they have a wide variety of features - but for me this tool now fits a specific niche with my lifecycle. While having the ability to save it as data would be nice, it isn't absolutely essential this early in the process. This is a tool that was designed for brainstorming and it doesn't necessarily need to be linked to the initial design as long as that initial design is then linked through the rest of the lifecycle.

an example of a rapidly produced "Dual Branch" Mind Map Taxonomy

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

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