Category + Tag = Digital Taxonomy

I’ll never win awards for organization.  My talents lie elsewhere.  I do, however, appreciate that organization has its merits.  It is, in fact, essential if  you are engaging in any of the more creative pursuits that more likely hold my interest, whether that means writing a poem or creating a website.  Even with blogging software that makes everything easy, organization is important.  The good news is organization is also easy via blogging software if you just understand the purpose of the tag.

If you’ve never done so, go now to to get a feel for the tag cloud.  Any document can be uploaded there to generate a tag cloud, which is a visual representation of the words used in that document and the number of times any given word is used.  The larger the tag the more often that word appears.  Wordle is a fun way to find out how repetitive you’ve been or what you’ve really emphasized in a piece of your own writing, but it also illustrates what tag clouds can do and how they have become the new taxonomy, the new way of organizing knowledge.

Once you understand that tags are meant as records of how often a term has been used, then you can understand how to apply them to your web design.  When you tag a post on a blog, you are creating a way for the site visitor to navigate to that item long after it has fallen off the main page.   Clicking on a tag item in the sidebar will pull up all of the posts that have been tagged with that item.

Categories in WordPress function in the same way.  When you create and use categories, you turn your blog into a navigable site.   Remember that.  It’s important.   If you want to provide information that is not transitory on a blog, you have to label it in a way that leads people to it.

If categories and tags do the same thing, why do we need both?  Ah, I’m so glad someone asked.  The answer is simple.  Every taxonomy needs its hierarchy.

You can set categories and tags to mean anything you want them to mean on your own site, but if you think of categories as major headings and tags as more specific topics, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.  If you are using a blogging platform as a class site, think of categories as units and tags as the items covered in that unit.

Categories and tags both organize information, but they are not visually the same.  Categories appear in the sidebar in list form.  They appear in a uniform list.  Tags appear in a cloud in which some words are larger than others.  The size of the term in the cloud indicated how often that tag has been used or how many items it will point to when clicked.   This creates its own kind of heirarchy, and when used in conjunction with categories in which the site designer has deliberately selected the primary headings under which information is organized, tags can make the site extremely functional.  At the risk of harping, this is how a transitory site becomes a navigable site.