“Taxonomic carpet-bombing.”


What two disgruntled dinosaur hunters can teach us about best practices in product information management.

I watched a new episode of “The American Experience” last night, called “Dinosaur Wars.”  It focused on the bitter rivalry between two nineteenth century American paleontologists, O.C. Marsh and Edward Cope. T Rex skeleton

The two invaded the American West in the 1870s in search of dinosaur remains that would bring them fame and distinction as the nation’s pre-eminent scientists.  They worked hastily and, one might say, sloppily, to come up with thousands of new scientific names for their findings (and publish research papers to go with them), mostly in an effort to generate the most “buzz.”  (Think of producing a lot of tweets and blog posts to attract inbound links and generate Google juice.*)

One of the commentators on the program was renowned contemporary American paleontologist Robert Bakker.  He used the phrase “taxonomic carpet-bombing” to describe this massive dinosaur-naming effort and suggested that if their haste didn’t make waste, it at least led to some inaccuracies and redundancies.  (It was, in fact, this taxonomic carpet-bombing that led to the dumping of the name “brontosaurus” in preference to the earlier name, “apatosaurus.”) 

All this made me think of the importance of having a taxonomy for your organization, especially a product taxonomy for organizing product information. It helps your personnel more accurately define products as unique entities rather than doing a “taxonomic carpet-bombing run” – letting personnel add new products at will without seeing if something by those names already exists.  It also helps smooth the process for adding and introducing new products to your offerings, and it improves the “findability” of your products in site searches.  (Also, check out an earlier Enterworks blog post on this theme.)

Of course, you shouldn’t be restricted to having each product stuck in that one category.  With a sufficiently flexible product information management (PIM) or product master data management (MDM) platform, you should be able to cross-associate and cross-link products to multiple categories to serve a variety of data management and multi-channel publishing requirements.  

Don’t let good data management practices become extinct.  Make sure you have a framework in place to support and enforce a sound product taxonomy. 

(*In his haste to get published, Cope made a serious error in one of his papers, a mistake he knew Marsh would exploit if it came out.  As a result, Cope tried to purchase all copies of the journal that contained the incorrect version.  At least back then, if you had the money, you could attempt something like that.  Make a hasty mistake today on the Internet and it lives forever.) 


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