June 23, 2010

571 words 3 mins read

Tags versus Categories – Tags AND Categories

Tag, Microsoft Tag - Bad pun, I know.

For a long time we were running Serendipity here on Snowulf.  S9y had no built in support for tags, and as such we didn’t use them.  Now that we’ve migrated to WordPress, we have the ability to use tags, so the question seemed simple enough: Should we use tags? Should we abandon categories?

Turns out the question wasn’t so simple.  The first thing I had to figure out is “Why bother?”  I mean, sure you can have more tags, and tag maps, but how is that any different from having a list of categories?  Sure, if you don’t have a category system already setup, you can use tags instead.  For those of us who’ve got 5 years of categories under our belt, why should we switch?

I spent some time reading about the debate of “Categories versus tags” and “Tags Are Not Categories — Got It?” and I think I’ve come to understand the difference, and the power of both.  More importantly, I’ve figured out how we’re going to use them here at Snowulf.  So let me explain:

Cat - Closest thing I got to ‘category’

First, Categories are typically broad.  For example we’ve got the category of “Tech", it covers anything and everything technology related.  As of this writing it has 393 entries under it.  We’ve got a number of sub-categories under Tech that are all fairly broad themselves, for example “Hardware".  Having categories setup in a proper hierarchy is very useful because when we Categorize a post under Hardware, it is also put under Tech.  That makes it easy for someone to drill down or drill up.

On the flip side, Tags are very specific.  You can use them in a general fashion, to emulate categories, but without a hierarchy, it is more trouble that it is worth.  Multiple tags are used, generally independent of each other, as “keywords” to help readers (and bots) find the content they are looking for.  Sometimes they are looking for a specific entry and sometimes they are looking for more on a similar topic.  Let’s take the “Android” category as an example.  It doesn’t get any more specific than that, Android.  What if a reader was looking for information specifically involving the Google Nexus One?  That is where the tag comes in.  It covers its one very specific piece, which assists in the flow of information, without needing to create a category “Tree” that contains every little bush in the forest.

How are we going to use it at Snowulf? Basically exactly as noted above.  All entries will still have a broad category, but in addition they will also be tagged with specific keywords/technologies plus any worthy aliases.  So a few examples:  Posts falling under “Databases” maybe contain tags such as “MySQL” or “DB2".  Acronyms such as “DBA” may also get an alias tag of “Database Administrator” (as opposed to ‘Doing Business As').

You’ll find all of our posts from the WordPress migration date (June 9th, 2010) now have tags.  Some older posts have been tagged as we run through them, but at this point in time we’re not going to go back and tag 800+ back posts.  So to drive the point home, we’re not doing this for SEO purposes, we’re just trying to help you (the reader) find the info you’re looking for.  Plus, we’re curious how this “tag fad” will work out.