Thursday, May 21, 2015

Importance of Taxonomy to Drupal

Drupal is a quite powerful content management system (CMS) that is similar to competitors like WordPress and Joomla. It is typically installed on a web server, unlike WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) local programs like Adobe Dreamweaver (now part of Creative Cloud) and Microsoft FrontPage.

Drupal is an open source platform, meaning that publicly contributed extensions have been offered to extend functionality of the CMS. Part of the Drupal Core, taxonomy is integral to what web developers and programmers can or could do with the software. Taxonomy is a system of categorization, and Drupal can use taxonomy for a number of different purposes within its framework by using various techniques and tools available for the platform. Here, we will examine the basics of taxonomy in Drupal (what it means, how it’s used, etc.) and the various types of tasks that can be accomplished by taking advantage of taxonomy within the software.

What does taxonomy refer to in Drupal, specifically?

In Drupal, taxonomy is the core module that is used to determine how to categorize or classify content on the website being built with the CMS. It is also a critical element to the website’s information architecture, on both the back and front ends.

Taxonomies in Drupal have vocabularies associated with them. As part of a vocabulary list, this helps the CMS to determine what items belong with what types of content. So, further, vocabularies consist of terms. The list of terms defines the contents of the vocabulary. These can be part of a hierarchy or simply a compilation of tags. Tags group nodes (elements in Drupal sites that contain content; e.g. articles and basic pages) together. These can then be referenced with search on the website.

Sites built in Drupal can have an unlimited number of vocabularies, so complex sites can be built using the framework. The potential number of terms possible is unlimited as well. The vocabularies and terms associated with your website can serve a number of purposes, particularly for displaying content and managing content assets. It can also be important for reference as well.

Displaying content and manipulating taxonomies

Drupal users are able quickly and easily modify how content is displayed based on how taxonomical data is manipulated with modules, such as the Views module. The Views module manipulates how nodes are displayed within a block, panel or page. At the most basic level, Views can enable developers to display a list of articles that appear only on certain pages that are tagged with certain keyword phrases that make up taxonomy of the site.

For example, on Slanted Magazine Southern Minnesota Arts & Culture’s website, the navigation bar at the top of the site includes several categories of basic pages that are the site’s publishing sections (News, Tech, Arts, Entertainment, Music, etc.). When a section tab is clicked the link brings you to that basic page where a list of articles with teaser text appears. Those article collection displays were built using the Views module that applied filters to display content only tagged with certain phrases such as “tech” or “Music”.

Taxonomy and permissions or visibility

Taxonomy and metadata can also drive the site content visibility and permissions settings, as needed for diverse business needs. The goals of the organization will determine how best to use these settings and taxonomy can play a vital role in how information within the organization is shared (public, confidential, semi-confidential, etc.) with various parties.

There may be nodes or specific content that only certain members within the organization should be allowed to edit. By using the permissions in the administration page within Drupal, developers are able to acutely assign permissions and roles for registered users of the site. This will allow powerful flexibility because developers can assign roles and permissions based on the taxonomy data that has been put together in the Drupal site.

Also, there may be a need for the developer to modify content that the public is able to view. Using the core module taxonomy in conjunction with permissions is a great way to achieve this goal as well. Again, it will be determined by the specific goals of the organization, so important decisions about the usability and navigation of the site will need to be worked out (or at least should be) far in advance to building out these elements of the site. A great outline and wireframes can go a long way when developing a top notch website using the Drupal CMS framework.

Improving search through taxonomy
Search will no doubt be improved through the use of taxonomy within the CMS. Content that is tagged or classified using vocabularies and terms within the framework can be indexed by the Drupal Search module. Additionally, the taxonomy will make your site more marketable because commercial search engines like Google and Bing will able to more effectively crawl the website and make determinations about the site’s content, architecture, design and organization of the website files.

Using taxonomy as part of the Drupal system is a key element to designing a great website on the platform and making the information work smarter for organizations. That is ultimately the purpose of any type of taxonomy. The system and its modules are quite easy to learn to use as well and multiple ways of handling the data is possible. Also, since the software is open source, there is a great opportunity to learn from a community of developers and users. There is also a wide variety of extensions available to enhance features of the CMS and its output.

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