Vocabulary - The Never Ending Story

The cornerstone of any consistent keywording system is an excellent vocabulary.  Investing time and energy into creating one is vital.

It is possible - in fact much amateur keywording is carried out this way - to simply look at an image or video and decide what seem like worthwhile words to include.  A template of keyword topics such as appearance, concepts and so on can help this.

But that is a long way short of an organised vocabulary with structure.  And it makes it very difficult to sustain the sort of consistency which will allow researchers to know that when they write in the word "business" that only business images will be returned, and that all business images will be returned.

An organised vocabulary also means that synonyms can be included very easily by linking them together in word strings.  Other organisation patterns, such as word hierarchies going from the specific to the general - eg hibiscus,-flowering plant,-plant, flora - can also be employed.  Although it creating such complex and rigid patterns it is important to realise that speed of amending and improving a vocabulary will be compromised, as will fast inputting.

One thing is for sure - any keywording vocabulary will fall well short of all the words necessary to keyword every image or video in existence.  The Oxford Dictionary contains more than 600,000 words, with about 2,500 being added every three months.  Just keeping up with those words is difficult enough, but there are literally millions of proper nouns, names of species, people's names, brands, slang words and so on.

More complex vocabularies also contain compound terms and phrases such as "beauty in nature".  Once the combinations of synonyms and so on are in the mix, possible keywords and keyword strings which could find their way into a vocabulary are essentially endless.

So the idea that a vocabulary is set in stone, or that the job of creating one is ever finished, is simply an illusion.

If creating your own vocabulary then, there are four important factors to bear in mind:

1. Structure - Will you use a hierarchy, a simple word list, or word strings?

2. Depth - How far will you go in terms of levels of synonyms, numbers of words and so on?  Every vocabulary is a compromise, so it's important to decide what that compromise will be.  In the case of specialist archives these decisions may be easier as there are fewer words to deal with, but a general vocabulary is harder nut to crack.

3. Ease of Updating - Every good vocabulary is altered, improved and added to on a regular basis.  If it is tricky to make changes, this maintenance can become an intolerable burden.

4.  Ease of Use - All the words in the world are of little use if it is difficult to find them and add them to the keywords field.  So think carefully about how your vocabulary fits with your input software and vice versa.  It may be a case that it is more efficient for you to change your inputting methods than your vocabulary.

Finally, when constructing a vocabulary, try to keep the end use in mind.  Highly-structured vocabularies that a librarian might use are unlikely to work for databases being searched by members of the public who need a more intuitive system.