Untamed Organization

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One of Trellon's current projects is a site called "Untamed Science," which is designed to be a reference, accessible and useful to all ages, on subjects related to biology and ecology. While the site is still in progress, we wanted to break in and talk about the way we're using the Taxonomy module to organize content on the site.

The content on the site is organized by species, so that each species is classified by a hierarchical taxonomy term. We organized the taxonomy so that it can grow and adapt as the body of content grows on the site. By hierarchical taxonomies we mean, unlike a tagging system there is a defined structure to the Untamed Science metadata with "parent" and "child" relationships occurring between tags. Despite this users can still insert additional terms into the hierarchy.

We're also using the Hierarchical Select module to make it simple for users to add new terms. Hierarchical Select provides a Javascript/CSS interface for hierarchical taxonomies. In this case we took Hierarchical Select and tweaked it so that users of the site can not only select taxonomy terms, but also add a new term to the taxonomy and select that term. When a new species is added to the system, nodes for species and any parent items are created. While automatically created pages are blank holding pages, they ensure that the established navigation and structure of the site are maintained and that orphaned pages aren't automatically created.

The site's interface captures both scientific names (eg. Linnaean binomial nomenclature), and common names for organisms. Both names are captured when a new species is created, the first is stored in the database as the name of the taxonomy title, and the second becomes a synonym. All of the changes to synonym are propagated to all parents and child nodes. This makes it possible to correct typos once and other information, without having to visit and update multiple nodes.

The taxonomy features of Drupal aren't often what we think of as "exciting," based on the description because metadata is the kind of thing that becomes "background noise" in a content management system. It's so basic to how we think about site organization that it sometimes fades into the background, particularly if the taxonomy system isn't specifically tailored to the site. In the case of the Untamed Science site, we were able to design the taxonomy in such a way that it doesn't fade into the background, and provides useful and productive organization to the site. These kinds of customizations are what makes the kinds of highly customized Drupal sites Trellon builds really awesome.