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I work for a company that manufactures electronic parts. Over the last 20 years, the company has developed more and more software. Now we have well over 50,000 pieces of software that customers cannot find.

Originally, I thought that I could create customer-friendly categories for the software by running an open card sort. The trouble is that the individual pieces of software have names like "Roland542" or "WaferZip 2020" -- non-descriptive nonsense labels that no one would be able to sort.

How would you create useful categories from meaningless labels?

  • I would push an audit on the 50,000+ (!!!!!) pieces of software to find out what gets to live and what needs to sunset. Having so many offerings is unlikely to be helpful to your customers. – Evil Closet Monkey Nov 28 '18 at 16:26
  • @EvilClosetMonkey That's a sweeping claim not borne out by reality. See the App Stores. Or any content library. The volume of content is often an attractant, and comforting to users. – Confused Nov 28 '18 at 18:40
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    Can you clarify the connection between the hardware (electronic parts) and software? How are they related? What is the software being used for? – DA01 Nov 28 '18 at 19:19
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    @Confused - Be careful equating choice with satisfaction. Choice can be an attractant, but the simpler solution wins with higher satisfaction on usage. OP does not appear to be speaking of an App Store, with multiple dissimilar apps, but of a single parts manufacturer. Meaningful software (features) could be getting lost in a mass of software (feature) creep that isn't necessary. I've performed such audits with far fewer assets with (exactly as you say) sweeping results. – Evil Closet Monkey Nov 28 '18 at 19:19
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    @DA01 asked the right question behind my poorly worded and opaque statement. For a parts manufacturer, 50,000+ software applications seems really out of place on the surface to me. – Evil Closet Monkey Nov 28 '18 at 19:20
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In short: get more data

TLDR; If the only information you have consists of 50,000

non-descriptive nonsense labels

As you mention in the question, then there really is no way to create useful or relevant categories.

Unless you can assemble a group of other people for the open sort who can make sense of a label.

However, from hints in your question, there may be other information that you could use to create categories, such as:

  • price ranges for the software from free to expensive
  • popularity: categories based on number of sales/ downloads/ searches
  • recency: ranges from recently added to old
  • relation or link to hardware, if a software item is linked to hardware
  • keywords from software descriptions
  • etcetera

Based on the question, the best and only advice I could provide here is to try and get more data related to each of the 50,000 labels.

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I have multiple answers (and question) since your problem is quite global and I don't know the company you're working for.

1) Is there a way to rename every piece of software into something that's more comprehensive for new users ? (Maybe not, that's why you're asking. But still something to consider for your business)

2) Is there a way to integrate them into a single "bigger" software who's name means something? (Exemple : Software "Plus", "Minus" and "Division" in the bigger software "Calculator")

3) Do you have any "Keywords" associated to your multiple softwares? If so, maybe you can sort them in this way (Creating group of software and then describing every single one of them in one line)? (Exemple : "Plus", "Minus" and "Division" in the bigger group "Calculation" with a short description for each)

Mainly, find a way to organize those depending on your company business with useful names for your users. You could even do some user research to find which type of business or users needs your softwares and then organize everything according to it.

  • Unfortunately, the individual names of the software cannot be changed in the short term. Most of the software is related to the hardware -- either as firmware, controllers or monitors of the hardware activity (IoT). A few items are stand-alone pieces of software. There is some meta info associated with the software: related product lines, date of upload, last update time, but that's about. Adding to the keywords/tags/metadata is probably the best bet. Then we could categorize the software by product line, function, associated hardware, language or compatible systems, etc. – RobC Nov 30 '18 at 15:49

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