A Reader Asks:
What’s the difference between Taxonomies and Ontologies? And do I even need to care !?
Editor’s Note: For basic definitions of the terms in this article please see our online glossary of terms.
Dr. Search Responds,
Wow, that’s a great question! I know how *I* would answer it, but believe it or not these subjects can be very controversial in some academic circles, so I decided to consult with a few other search experts. Like any good doctor I don’t hesitate to consult with others, so I chatted with Avi Rappaport (SearchTools), Walter Underwood (Netflix and Ultraseek fame), Ross Leher at WAND, and Rennie Walker (of Wells Fargo and SageWare). What I present here are the aggregated opinions. I’ll also throw in a few other terms at the end either overlap are otherwise related.
I’d summarize the similarities and differences this way:
1: For casual users, these are very similar concepts. Purists have many reasons to treat them as separate disciplines, and we’re not disagreeing with that, but I’m just saying that when a mere mortal is shopping for tools or consultants for either, I’d search for both terms on the web, and treat them initially as synonyms for each other. To be safe, you might want to include the singular and plural form of both; depending on your search engine you might actually do taxonomy OR taxonomies OR ontology OR ontologies – not necessary on more modern search engines.
2: The preference for one term over another (ontology vs. taxonomy) seems to also depend on the group that’s discussing it. “Ontologies” seems to be preferred by academics and deep researchers, while “taxonomies” are almost universally used in the commercial space.
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