29 minutes | Mar 23, 2021

Nicole Buckenwolf: Making Sense of Complex Product Graphs with Taxonomies and Ontologies – Episode 92

Nicole Buckenwolf Nicole Buckenwolf organizes the product information that you see at businesses like Amazon and Etsy. Big retailers use product graphs, ontologies, and taxonomies to classify and categorize the millions of products they carry. Building these massive catalogs involves a variety of users and collaborators. Both the vendors who provide the products and the shoppers who buy them - as well as the in-house teams that build these complex shopping systems - benefit from the valuable metadata that Nicole and her colleagues create. We talked about: her path from medieval studies to her current role as a product ontologist at Amazon the valuable training in taxonomy that she got in her first job her on-the-spot take on the classic "is a hot dog a sandwich" taxonomy question how data helps her taxonomy and ontology work, especially around the lack of standards in creating product ontologies the surprising commonalities between the very standardized topics she worked with in the industrial supply world and the wide-open world of custom goods at Etsy how much she enjoys working at the "hinge point" of the metadata landscape the challenges of categorizing goods at Etsy, where vendors and buyers often disagree about how to classify products how the nature of taxonomy and ontology work can affect work culture how structured data practices can help with taxonomy work the need for fluid taxonomies, since the body of things being classified changes so often how Etsy balances the need to address sellers needs, buyer needs, and the needs of the team building the system how UX researchers at Etsy help with her work some advice for aspiring taxonomists and ontologists Nicole's bio Nicole Buckenwolf is an information professional currently working as an Ontologist for the Amazon.com Product Graph where she gets to live her dream of pondering music data modeling quandaries. As a true "accidental taxonomist" who got her first taxonomy job by Googling "jobs with logic puzzles", Nicole is passionate about mentoring other career-changing library professionals exploring the world of tech. Follow Nicole on Twitter Video Here’s the video version of our conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho0pnHpm4Q8 Podcast intro transcript This is the Content Strategy Insights podcast, episode number 92. Nicole Buckenwolf helps digital teams classify and organize product information. She currently works on product graphs at Amazon, but we talk in this episode mostly about her earlier work at Etsy. In both jobs, she has dealt with complex product lines and a variety of users and collaborators. In situations like these, it's crucial to give all of the folks involved a clear picture of the metadata landscape that they're navigating. Interview transcript Larry: Hi, everyone. Welcome to episode number 92 of the Content Strategy Insights podcast. I'm really happy today to have with us Nicole Buckenwolf. Nicole is currently an ontologist at Amazon working on the product knowledge graph there. But I met her about a year ago at World Information Architecture Day, and she was at that time working with Etsy. Anyhow, welcome to the show, Nicole. Tell the folks a little bit more about your work, how you ended up at Etsy and then Amazon and all the interesting stuff you did before that. Nicole:: Sure thing. Thank you. So right now, I, as you said, work at Amazon. I'm on the product graph team. And the main customer I work with is the Amazon Music team. So I'm building data models for music. Yeah. My bypath here is fairly circuitous as I think a lot of taxonomists and ontologists are. I majored in medieval studies. I was fairly a typical undergrad that I had no idea what I wanted to study. So I played around with some things. Ended up in medieval studies. Graduated with a history degree. Ended up going back to school a few years later for a graduate degree in library science.
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