Tags are not categories

Tag clouds are great. Tag clouds are useful. Tag clouds are even web 2.0 sexy.

Why? They let you put a lot of information in a small space, while making it fairly obvious even to a newbie what’s going on, what’s important, and how to use it.

But they have a place and a time … and a size.

I skipped over to Business Blog Consulting this morning, as I digging deeper into the use of blogs in corporations right now. And their tag cloud occupies portions of 3 screens.

That’s their tag cloud, shrunk down to about 30%, to the right.

You can’t view that gargantuan tag cloud on just one page. Which absolutely murders the primary advantage of tag clouds right off the bat: instantaneous understanding of What Something is Aboutâ„¢.

If you have to scroll, it’s already broken.

Secondly, using tags as your major navigation method on a blog is dangerous. Why? Because tags are not categories.

Let me repeat: tags are not categories.

Categories don’t change. Well, they do, but slowly, like glaciers moving. (OK, glaciers moving before global warming kicked in.)

Tags, on the other hand, are new every day. New with every new thought. New with every new idea you read on XYZ blog (someone should own that, by the way). New with every funky new web 2.0 company name that you want to link to, talk about, and diss.

So if you use them for site navigation as if they were categories, this is what you get (straight from Business Blog Consulting’s blog):

  • rss
  • rss+buttons
  • RSS+Industry+Roundtable
  • RSS+Investment
  • rss+marketing
  • RSS advertising
  • rss aggregators
  • RSS feeds
  • rss marketing
  • rss readers
  • rss research
  • rss spending
  • rss sucks
  • RSS
  • Survey
  • rss to email
  • rss usage

Ummm … yeah.

Not cool, not scalable, and not easy on the eyes. Since most of those tags have been applied to only 2-3 posts, they’re tiny and unreadable. Wouldn’t a simple “RSS” have sufficed for almost all of those tags?

(I won’t get into that they betray the whole concept of tags, which is that you don’t use two words for tags unless you totally, totally have to. You use the two words when you’re searching, and the searching will get you wanted. But that’s an aside.)

So: tags are not categories. Don’t use them like categories.

(Use them like tags.)

[tags] rss, tags, categories, information, architecture, blogs, business blog consulting, john koetsier [/tags]

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • I reckon tags work best when clustered into categories – but you have to plan your tagspace before hand – otherwise it gets out of hand really quickly.

    del.icio.us has the right idea with “clusters” but its hard to keep up with the number of new tags that are generated everyday – yeah and you cant share tags between clusters.

    Having tried both – ad-hoc tagging and planned (categorical) tagging I can honestly say that the latter works much better, gives a cleaner tagspace and is easier on the eye …