Lauren Clark Hill recently joined the Synaptica team as Client Solutions Specialist. For this interview we discussed Lauren’s experiences, what it’s like to be a Synaptica client and a hint of her new role. Lauren Clark Hill comes to Synaptica with three years of experience working with taxonomies at Meta and LinkedIn and ten years of metadata management experience at institutions including Yale University Publishing and the Smithsonian.
Tell us about your early experiences and your move into the taxonomy sector?
LCH: I grew up in the town where I live now, Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I’ve moved away and returned back several times for education and work. But this is the town where I grew up in Southeast Missouri. My husband is from here as well. We have been together for 19 years, married for 8 and have 2 young children. My brother and his family still live here, our children get to play a lot. It’s one of things that keeps me here rather than being based in a big city again. My mother moved abroad in 2012. She teaches English at international schools. She’s worked in Korea, China, Hungary, and now she’s based in Malaysia.
As a kid I was the one who wanted to do everything. Lots of clubs and activities in high school. I am very much someone who has always been very, very busy. After High School I moved to Northern California for my undergraduate studies. Then returned to Missouri, worked in special education for a year as well as working as a cheerleading coach. Another move to Washington, D.C. for my first master’s program in history of decorative arts. I studied textiles and costume but also gender and racial studies of the American South. While I was based in D.C. I first started working with data and metadata. I worked a lot in museum collections ensuring that the items in the collections were properly recorded and catalogued. Museum systems are not always the best in terms of design and functionality. It was kind of a trial by fire to initially learn on their systems.
In between getting married and starting a family I worked with museums, non-profits, education and community groups. I shifted into consultancy roles working in digital marketing. During all this I improved my knowledge of databases and analysis. There’s a university locally and they regularly posted library roles. One of the requirements was an MLIS or MLS qualification, which led to me studying my MLIS in 2019.
”Part of the application process included a taxonomy exercise. This is standard for this type of position. When I looked at the exercise it was like that lightbulb moment – oh this is it. This is what I have been looking for.
Working in technology and taxonomy was very much one of those like coming home moments.
A friend of mine who works for Google as a UX researcher suggested I look at taxonomy-based roles. Then I saw a role with Meta working with ads for the taxonomy team. Everything came together perfectly. Part of the application process included a taxonomy exercise. This is standard for this type of position. When I looked at the exercise it was like that lightbulb moment – oh this is it. This is what I have been looking for. Working with terms, information and categorizing data, metadata. This is how my brain works and thinks. I stayed with Meta for some time and then joined LinkedIn. Personally, working in technology and taxonomy was very much one of those like coming home moments.
What are you most looking forward to about joining the Synaptica team?
LCH: When I worked at Meta, we used Synaptica software. This was my introduction to working with a technology provider and their software. I was a member of the team supporting the development of the mapping tool that Synaptica produced for Meta. This was the first time I had the opportunity to work with developers. I needed to explain what we needed and work on every step of that process. I was impressed with the responsiveness and the willingness of the Synaptica team to listen and work with clients. The ability to bounce ideas back and forth and shape this great tool. Synaptica quickly earned a special place in my heart. They set the standard of how a software company should work. This is what customer service should look like.
When the opportunity presented itself – would I be interested in joining the team? I was instantly attracted because of the positive experience as a customer. It’s also fascinating to be on the other side, in a position of support and help. Facilitating end users identify the solutions that they need.
”I was impressed with the responsiveness and the willingness of the Synaptica team to listen and work with clients. The ability to bounce ideas back and forth and shape this great tool. Synaptica quickly earned a special place in my heart. They set the standard of how a software company should work. This is what customer service should look like.
Can you tell us more about your new role with Synaptica?
LCH: I will be wearing many hats supporting our new product Graphite Knowledge Studio and, to some extent, our main product Graphite. I will be working closely with Dave Clarke and Sarah Downs on client solutions .
One part of my role I’m particularly excited about is to work on Synaptica YouTube channel and activity. I will be producing learning videos explaining features, how to guides, walkthroughs related to our services and products.
Overall, I’m enthusiastic about this aspect of building client resources and support tools. I will also be responding to clients’ requests and questions – providing day-to-day assistance and advice. I wasn’t able to join the team at KMWorld this year, but I look forward to taking part in this and other community events and conferences in the future. Sarah and I are also developing a series of Synaptica Webinars.
What do you think makes a good taxonomist?
LCH: For me it’s a combination of logic and intuition. Understanding industry standards when constructing taxonomies like ANSI-NISO Z39.19 and ISO 25964 can help. Developing a taxonomy is as much an art as it is a science. Over time taxonomists gain experience when they need to use standard methods, and when to depart from or augment them.
You know that you can go back and tweak elements. You can include terms, even though it doesn’t quite necessarily work logically. I have often jokingly said “every now and then when you’re working on taxonomies you just have to go with it”. A taxonomist needs that balance.
Why are taxonomies important to enterprises?
LCH: Enterprises want to find the right information when they need it. When you are managing vast amounts of data an effective taxonomy supports this. It helps you find the material that you require, quickly and easily. Your end users are never going to be able to fully use the breadth of your information if there is no taxonomy structure available. Taxonomies help an organization activate their data. This can be amazing, groundbreaking. Data becomes useful when it can be found. Otherwise, massive amounts of information without a taxonomy are simply piles of data.
Enterprises do need to establish who is going to be using this information and how they want to access it. I firmly believe the taxonomy has to resolve these issues. Categorization and tagging can also help, they provide a sense of where things are. Where they are located and can be accessed.
”Taxonomies help an organization activate their data. This can be amazing, groundbreaking. Data becomes useful when it can be found. Otherwise, massive amounts of information without a taxonomy are simply piles of data.
What general advice would you give to people developing a taxonomy?
LCH: First and foremost, determine why are you building this taxonomy. With the same concepts, we could build five different taxonomies depending on how individuals are to use it. Understanding and establishing clear goals is part of this process. I always recommend in-depth analysis, perhaps through brainstorming before people begin to work with the actual taxonomy.
Who’s going to be using this.
What do they need to find.
Use the question words that we work with. Identify these goals first, then it will guide you into how you’re going to build your taxonomy. The next step can include the process of reviewing your guidelines document for this specific taxonomy, or even this subset of this taxonomy. You might want to add extra information and consider the levels of you want to explore; 5 levels deep, it might be fine at 3 or even 2.
What do you look for in a taxonomy tool?
LCH: Reporting is one priority for me. Synaptica products have strong reporting features. It makes it easier to review the taxonomy and clean things up. You can draw a report to check on progress, be able to visualize the information in a different way. You can look for duplicates. Having that kind of structure makes life much easier.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for the industry for the sector in the future?
LCH: It’s going to be related to generative AI. Right now, there is a lot of excitement around adoption and working with large language models. The major challenge will be finding the balance between using new technology and still ensuring you have sufficient human interaction with the product. I understand why people are excited to jump on, but AI is still not quite where people think it is. It’s not a replacement tool, it’s a support tool. It can help you. You still need to have some kind of human review, and more importantly, LLMs need taxonomies and ontologies to give them the domain context to provide relevant focused results
In this ever-changing technological landscape, what do you think are the opportunities that enterprises should address?
LCH: Addressing how technology will improve employee capabilities and performance versus choosing tech because it’s new and shiny. There are companies investing in amazing, super intelligent people and then they’re not providing them with the resources that they need. I think that it comes down to investing in people and enabling them to keep innovating and pushing the boundaries.
Tell us about developing resources to support taxonomy tools?
LCH: People come to taxonomy from many different backgrounds, so resources and documentation can pose a real challenge when starting out. If the resources rely too much on jargon and an assumption of similar base knowledge, then you run the risk of shutting out minds that can add insight and topical expertise.
Ensuring that resources cover the range from beginner to advanced, include quick reference documents like FAQs and glossaries will serve to enable and support users without creating barriers. This also is a great reason to ensure that all support resources are accessible – whether that’s alt-text for screen readers or simply ensuring that there is sufficient color contrast in any graphics.
I am very much an advocate of well written documentation for any software, but especially for taxonomy software.
”Successful adoption of a software tool needs to provide a reward for its users, whether that's improved productivity, improved modelling capabilities, improved reporting or depth of analytical insights, improved collaboration and workflow, or simply pulling together multiple tasks into one tool that previously required working in multiple environments.”
How do you ensure individuals and organizations adopt and use taxonomy tools?
LCH: I’m a huge believer in communication – when people know what a tool is capable of and, importantly, how to use that tool to accomplish their goals, then they are far more likely to use it. When a tool is presented in an overly complicated way or in such a way that users don’t see an advantage to using it over their current methods, then it will just sit, unused, in their virtual toolbox. Successful adoption of a software tool needs to provide a reward for its users, whether that’s improved productivity, improved modelling capabilities, improved reporting or depth of analytical insights, improved collaboration and workflow, or simply pulling together multiple tasks into one tool that previously required working in multiple environments.
Synaptica Insights is our popular series of use cases sharing stories, news, and learning from our customers, partners, influencers, and colleagues. You can review the full list of Insight interviews online including our recent interview with Helen Lippell.