Ravelry.com: Vocabulary Management

1.     Does or does not your index have a controlled vocabulary? How can you tell?

Yes, Ravelry has a controlled vocabulary. Ravelry’s controlled vocabulary works in combination with a folksonomy system. Note in Figure A: The “tags” of the folksonomy describe the thematic elements of “style” or “design,” such as leaves, garden, or summer, while the taxonomy and controlled vocabulary describe the properties of construction (needle size, yarn weight, etc.). By combining the ability to search by “tag” and the ability to browse by facet, Ravelry is able to create a system for users to find documentary units effectively. They are able to search by their design-specific keywords and community-related tags, and they are able to browse detailed construction specifications of the displayed index terms.

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( Figure A )

Please note forthcoming references to embedded image, Figure 1 (which can be accessed by registered users at https://www.ravelry.com/yarns/contribute ), to illustrate the controlled vocabulary aspect further:

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( Figure 1 )

The Weight category has been selected to show the controlled vocabulary: yarn weight must be specified as one of these 12 terms. The terms are standard to commercial yarns, and used by professional and hobbyist fiber artists to distinguish the relative gauge of a fiber. The terms in parentheticals refer to “wpi” which is an additional technical term referring to “wraps per inch.” This term is especially helpful for spinners (those who turn fiber into yarn) as it helps delineate what term is applicable to the yarn they intend to sell. Users who are purchasing 14 wpi yarn will commonly refer to it as the commercial term “fingering weight,” but a spinner will classify their yarns by the more detailed specifications of wpi, so it is important to distinguish the ranges for both purchasers and producers – both of whom can be users of Ravelry.

This same structure is applied to each category. However, there is also a “field” for “notes,” where un-controlled vocabulary can be used. This coincides with the social tagging that users can use beyond the required controlled vocabulary of the index.

2.     If your index has a controlled vocabulary:

a.     What systems, if any, are used to manage the vocabulary? Sometimes you may need to deduce the presence or absence of a system for vocabulary control.

The systems used to control vocabulary are the drop-down menus with headings/subheadings to be selected. Figure 1 shows management via one dropdown. Figure 2 (accessible at https://www.ravelry.com/drafts/patterns/edit?step=attributes to registered users) shows how a multi-tier dropdown is structured to address a heading and subheading at once:

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( Figure 2 )

The side dropdown (corrugated ribbing, etc.) are the subheadings of the “colorwork” heading, which appears on the left as a folder.

b.     If the index makes use of an authority file, thesaurus or standard set of subject headings, describe the system. Is it publicly available and if so, where? What kind of information does it contain? Who is responsible for maintaining it? Sometimes, especially in a back of the book index, the index itself serves as the authority file.

The index has a standard set of subject headings. The headings are structured hierarchically by parent categories; Figure’s 1 and 2 show some of these. These relationships of displayed index terms can be seen by users both when uploading and when browsing; it is the existence of this system that allows users to browse the collection. Figure’s 3 and 4 show the public availability to both users who produce the documentary units and users who access them or purchase them, and demonstrate the is:a relationship structure of headings and subheadings within the vocabulary (ie. A cardigan is a sweater, a sweater is clothing):

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(Figure 3 - Producer view)

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( Figure 4 – Purchaser view )

The Ravelry team, a 6 person collective whose biographies can be accessed here by registered users: https://www.ravelry.com/about , maintain the subject headings.

c.     Provide examples or evidence from the index or elsewhere (e.g., documentation)  to demonstrate that your index does or does not have a controlled vocabulary.

Please refer to Figure’s 1-6 for evidence of the controlled vocabulary.

d.     What are the characteristics of the users to whom the language of the index terms is most likely to be useful? Support your answer with example index terms and relate them to user needs.

Ravelry’s vocabulary is best suited to an intermediate or experienced fiber artist. As I discussed in User Information Needs and Types of Entities, “The users are all also at minimum familiar with some technical terms (such as knit, purl, cast on, knit together, etc.) as they are required to make maximum use of the platform, but novice knitters will find documentary units that are accessible to them as well.” Although the website supports novice knitters by offering access to forums and groups to assist them in navigating the collection, and many documentary units are accessible and usable to a novice once found, the index and controlled vocabulary are designed for optimal use by those who understand the terminology.

Figure 5 (below) is an excellent example of users requiring intermediate to experienced knowledge:

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( Figure 5 )

Construction’s subheadings (bias, bottom up, etc.) are highly specific terms that describe particular strategies of form in knitting and crochet projects. A novice user would likely not find “entrelac” a useful term, because it is a construction technique they are unlikely to be familiar with, nor would they find the resources particularly accessible once selected, as entrelac is a textural knitting technique with relatively complex architecture.

The controlled vocabulary of Ravelry not only requires relatively high knowledge of specialized terminology, but benefits users for whom access to documentary units of a relatively complex nature is a goal.

e.     Is vocabulary assistance (scope notes, equivalence, homographic or relational) provided?  If so, describe and illustrate with examples.

Vocabulary assistance is provided to some terms. As seen in Figure 6, below, the term “bobble” is shown with equivalences “popcorn” and “nupp.”

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( Figure 6 )

Similar vocabulary assistance in the form of equivalence is offered for “chevron” and “flame stitch,” among others. The structure appears, in my opinion, to be that the lead term is the preferred term and each subsequent “ / ” is an equivalent term.

Vocabulary assistance beyond this is not offered formally, though users are encouraged to seek out the assistance of other users via the forums: https://www.ravelry.com/groups/help and due to the large daily active user rate, this is a relatively effective form of addressing confusion around the controlled vocabulary.

3.     To the extent that vocabulary assistance is unavailable or limited, provide some examples of what kinds of assistance could have been used.

Scope notes would be helpful, particularly to address the gap between novice users and intermediate or experienced users. The introduction of scope notes for each term would eliminate a large number of redundant posts on the help forums, freeing up user and moderator time to address more complex or novel questions, and it could be combined with language equivalences to help non-English users better navigate the index as well. Currently, Ravelry assumes a certain level of knowledge of its users; by eliminating this assumption, the vocabulary becomes more meaningful and the index more helpful.

4.     If there are cross-references, give some examples. Are there a lot of cross-references or a few? Are cross-references used only for certain types of entities?

As equivalences are lumped together as one subheading by the “ / ” convention in Figure 6, cross-references are not used.

5.     Comment on the impact of the systems for vocabulary control and for vocabulary assistance (or their absence) on the maintainability and usability of the index. If your index has very little or no vocabulary control, discuss about the kinds of vocabulary control the index could have had and on the impact vocabulary control would have had on the index vis a vis usability and maintainability.

Despite limited vocabulary assistance, Ravelry’s vocabulary control, with highly limited and highly specific heading/subheading structure, allows for effective maintainability and usability. By requiring users who upload documentary units to classify them within a limited number of predetermined headings and subheadings, the collection remains manageably hierarchically structured. Additionally, the index remains highly usable, because there are consistent, is:a, relationships between all headings and subheadings and because the documentary units are products of a specialized practice, users are – with rare exception – able to classify them quite easily within the confines of this specialized language.

As discussed in (3), scope notes could be helpful to address the specialized nature of the terms; although assigning scope notes to all terms would be considerably time-consuming for a small team of 6, the resulting reduction of user queries would likely outweigh the time consumption in the long term. Additionally, scope notes would reduce confusion where a term is not easily translated into non-English languages, and make the index more navigable for those accessing it in a different language. Thus, the scope notes would make the index more usable. I would argue that the scope notes would also not require a tremendous amount of upkeep -  low maintainability cost -  because knitting and crochet are very established practices with terminology that has endured through time with relatively little change compared to a more recent or ambiguous field.