I did an analysis of an online discussion forum that I belong to (eGullet.com). I think it went alright, but index analysis is harder than I expected! I think it’s because when an index is well-designed, you don’t really have to think about it – you just use it. It’s quite difficult (for me) to break it down into its working parts, especially with an online index where some of the working parts are combined (ex. locators that also contain their own inherent data). It’s even harder to talk about these components in an organized way – I would set out to talk about one aspect of the index, and end up talking about others as well – they go hand in hand, and it’s almost impossible to talk about one without mentioning others.
It was an interesting exercise, though, especially critiquing the index and talking about how it DOESN’T work well. Really got my mind going on how this particular index could be improved (which I imagine was one of the main points of the assignment).
This past class session, we talked thesauri (which are more-or-less vocabulary indices). THAT was interesting. After showing us the nuts and bolts of thesauri and their notation, the professor had us try to develop a small one for chocolate. It quickly became clear that a thesaurus is not just an index of specialized vocab, but can represent an entire conceptual framework. We talked some more about how preferred terms and hierarchical relationships can become so important, especially when you are creating a thesaurus about culture or religion. I really had no idea. It’s amazing.
There are some crazy-cool thesauri available online too. Here are some she showed us.
Maths Thesaurus (this one still has a few glitches)
That last one is a heck of a lot of fun to play with, but it’s a for-profit product so you only get a limited trial. Still, pretty neat!