Synonyms in Practice

The second part of this miniseries on the use of synonyms provides examples of how synonyms can be used in a content system.

How synonyms are managed depends on the DAM or content management software in use; but support for synonyms should be considered mandatory for any system you consider.

Without synonyms, you’ll be forced to add multiple tags to account for all situations. While this is possible, and it is the only option offered by some systems, this isn’t ideal because it requires too much work and maintenance.

Metadata for Content ManagementBook cover for Metadata for Content Management by David Diamond

You’re reading an excerpt from the book Metadata for Content Management by David Diamond. Additional excerpts will be published here over time. You can purchase the complete book via Amazon.

First off, the tagging user must think of all possible terms that could be applied. Instead of adding the single “car” tag, she would have to think about all those other synonyms users might use when searching for cars. This will most certainly result in metadata inconsistencies because the car images uploaded by Olivia might not get the same tags as the car images uploaded by Hector.

If “car” was the only tag accepted by your system, things would be much more consistent. If Olivia tried to add “automobile,” the system would show her the “car” tag instead. She would instantly know that car was the preferred term for automobile. Maybe she’d remember that next time, or maybe not. Either way, it wouldn’t matter–she’d always be adding the correct tag.

The concept of a preferred term is important when you’re looking at a taxonomy organized hierarchically.

Consider the following example:

Vehicles
   ↳ Car
   ↳ Aircraft
   ↳ Boat

Without synonyms, you’d have (at a minimum):

Vehicles
   ↳ Car
   ↳ Automobile
   ↳ Convertible
   ↳ Ragtop
   ↳ Sedan
   ↳ Coupe

Worse, you’d have:

Vehicles
   ↳ Car
     ↳ Convertibles
     ↳ Ragtops
     ↳ Sedans
     ↳ Coupes
   ↳ Automobile
     ↳ Convertibles
     ↳ Ragtops
     ↳ Sedans
     ↳ Coupes

By contrast, if using synonyms, your taxonomy would look like this:

Vehicles
   ↳ Car

This example shows how the use of synonyms can do a lot of good for the simplification of a taxonomy hierarchy. Does “car” provide the categorization granularity you need? Maybe not–more on that later. But it would certainly make tagging faster and more consistent across users.

Synonyms also offer an important advantage for terms that differ in their singular and plural forms. Goose and geese are completely different search terms, yet a person using one would likely be okay with assets tagged with the other.

Also in this series:

The Value of Synonyms in Content Systems

The next installment of this miniseries on synonyms explains when the use of synonyms can adversely affect the quality of your content system.

This excerpt from Metadata for Content Management is published with permission from author, David Diamond, who retains the exclusive copyright. Additional excerpts will be published in the Picturepark DAM Innovation blog over time. You can purchase the book via Amazon.