Facets: Christina, Karl and AAT

Christina and Karl had quite a conversation about facets. I hear you, Karl. Not quite as simple as one would think. The process of identifying facets for describing a thing, whether it's art objects or cheese (but please not wine!), is not all that easy and determining meaningful facets really depends on the intended use. What interests me in the discussion of facets is looking at hard to describe objects and seeing what facets large organizations have arrived at to describe them. What interests me in particular is the description of abstract concepts and subject matter.

I always call upon the example of art object facets because that's what I'm familiar with having worked with slide library collections. With art objects the empirically observable descriptive data is easy to put into facets (object type, technique, medium), but it's the abstract description (subject heading for example) that defies categorization by facets I think. The Getty Art and Architecture thesaurus is a good example of a controlled vocabulary for concepts to describe art and architecture. The 7 facets used in that thesaurus reflect the categories that art researchers might commonly use to describe what an art object is about in terms of subject matter. As such, they use some simple aboutness facets that to describe the most easily observable subject matter: Physical Attributes, Styles and Periods, Agents, Activities, Materials, Objects. But what is most intruiguing to me is the Associated Concepts facet which is full of abstract concepts that are probably the most difficult to extract from the art object. They describe this facet as "Associated Concepts: This facet contains abstract concepts and phenomena that relate to the study and execution of a wide range of human thought and activity, including architecture and art in all media, as well as related disciplines. Also covered here are theoretical and critical concerns, ideologies, attitudes, and social or cultural movements (e.g., beauty, balance, connoisseurship, metaphor, freedom, socialism)." Wow. That's the stuff that is hard to describe in terms of facets and that takes a lot of time/effort/analysis by subject matter experts to define a-priori. Having a look at that particular facet hierarchy might prove interesting to anyone thinking about a faceted approach to subject matter. How did they arrive at those sub-facets? Do they account for every possible description in this structure? I don't know. I am still wondering if it's all worth the effort.

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And I realize

And I realize that this topic is the last topic that anyone wants to hear about now because we've all had heads spinning around full-blown implementations like Flamenco and the many wine implementations. But as Christina and Karl have noted, the current literature among IA's is so shallow. I mentioned the AAT in this blog as an attempt to ask, I think, "why aren't more people trying to take some strength from what has already been done in the library/info. sci. field, particularly as regards classification and knowledge representation?" If I can, I am going to start digging up and searching in that literature to bring some of this knowledge to bear in our little IA world.

...literature review?

Fascinating...I've got a whole binder full of that kind of stuff, as I was gearing up to learn more about faceted thesaurus last summer. I'll aggregate the citations :)

@name: Madonnalisa G. Chan
@label: Information Architect

Excellent, Lisa!

Excellent, Lisa! Could you please post them to the site? I was thinking of aggregating all of the most salient/authoritative resources culled on this site in the past using the Drupal outline/book features. The classification resources you have would be a great thing to share with people who want to become more knowledgeable about this stuff.

mutually exclusive

Anyone want to take on explaining why they have to be mutually exclusive? Karl keeps saying "that's the whole point" and I get that facets are exclusive, but not the objects whose facets are determined, still...

Re: Mutually exclusive

They have to be mutually exclusive because the purpose of creating them is so that they can be combined without ambiguity and with maximum specificity.

I just posted this over at Christina's place and thought I would copy it here also:

In rereading some of the SIGIA comments on facets, I think people get confused because they don't keep the two sides of the fence distinct: creating and indexing/accessing. When you are creating, you want to look at your content and break it down into small, mutually exclusive pieces. These pieces are generally in some sort of hierarchy with very broad categories at the top (materials, processes, equipment, etc.) down to the more specific (aluminum, cooking, spatula, etc.). You can obviously take specificity to very deep levels or very shallow levels, as you have the need or resources. The other side of the fence is indexing or accessing the material. Here you look at the specific piece of content that you are looking to classify or retrieve. You assemble the pieces from the thesaurus to create a complete description of the object. You don't put an item into the thesaurus with facets, you start with the object and pull facets from the thesaurus to describe it.

The idea originally occurred to Ranganathan by watching someone use an erector set. They had decided what the pieces should be, but the user was free to assemble them as necessary to create a representation of the object it meant to make.

Thanks, Mike for your insight

Thanks, Mike for your insight.

I like the erector set anecdote. I hadn't heard or read that before. It does communicate the flexibility that he intended for describing knowledge and for representing/using knowledge based on that description/classification. Indeed from the highest facet level Ranganathan's facets are so flexible/broad as to make it possible to classify all of the world's knowledge.

I think it is also important to define those 2 sides of the fence if only to allow people to understand the process of indexing using a thesaurus. Facets can be used as an aid in navigating to the terms you want to apply to content or you can skip the higher-level facets all together to use known terms without ever needing to navigate from that higher facet level.