When is a concept not a concept? When it's a term

Although in everyday life the words concept and term may be used interchangeably, when it comes to information management concepts and terms are different things. A term is a word or a phrase that may be used as a simple keyword or tag for content. Content management systems such as AEM frequently use tag lists to provide tags that can be applied to content items. Terms are useful for simple tagging, but have some flaws:

  • It is difficult to store synonyms for terms
  • It is difficult to store relations to other terms
  • Terms are fragile; if terminology changes in the business, editing and usage of terms becomes difficult

A concept in a taxonomy management system is more sophisticated than a term. A concept is an object that represents a topic, and contains a number of properties beyond simply a word or phrase. These might include:

  • The preferred label (possibly across different languages)
  • Alternative labels or synonyms for the concept
  • Relations to other concepts (this one is similar to that one, or it is a more specific or more general example)
  • Descriptions and definitions. These can be used to spell out unambiguously the meaning of the concept, its scope and examples of how it can be used.

Most importantly, a concept is a fixed and permanent thing, and can therefore be used across the business to ensure that it represents the single source of truth for the topic that it represents.

Taxonomy management systems use concepts rather than terms. Any system that links a piece of information to a taxonomy concept is also linked to the properties of that concept, such as a definition or synonyms. This helps to improve precision and remove ambiguity.

See my article Why things work better than strings for more.


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