Taxonomy vs Search

Despite of the variety of productivity tools people tend to misuse them. I find Basecamp the easiest to sabotage.

I have seen people:

  • Tracking tasks in messages
  • Starting a new message thread every time they want to comment on a task or a document
  • Sharing documents for permanent reference in message threads

And then they go: ‘I’ve shared it on Basecamp, let me just see where…’

Or worse: ‘I asked you on Basecamp to do this, didn’t you see?’ Remember this: there are two ways to find something in masses of information:

  • Taxonomy
  • Search

Taxonomy (folders/categories/tags) is good when you’re navigating your own stuff. You’ve defined the structure, made it predictable for yourself and developed a habit to navigate it as it grew.

Search is effective when you’re in someone else’s woods. Algorithm is simply much quicker at finding matches. Additional filters can then help narrow down the results but only if they’re based on a universal taxonomy like alphabet or colours or document types.

To all teams I work with I give the same advice: organise information around tasks.

This way you can search an ever-growing database that many contribute to and have a taxonomy around tasks that everybody understands.

This has enormous advantages.

Tasks are:

  • Intent-based (noise left out, distilled to actions)
  • Transactional (come and go, never too many)
  • Don’t overlap (otherwise, they’re duplicates)
  • Map to experiences (much easier for people to remember)

In 10 years I’ve never seen this approach fail. It’s built on fundamental elements that are the same for any organisation.