Tags and Categories: learning the difference

Understanding content tagging is an essential skill for effective use of a wide range of internet tools. WordPress blogs now, in addition to Categories, offer a powerful set of tagging tools. But what exactly is the difference?

I’ve now mentioned the addition of the new tagging functionality, briefly in passing, to a few edubuzz bloggers. I haven’t felt, though, that I’ve succeeded in explaining the difference very well. Today I decided to have a look for different approaches, and found this really good explanation of the difference, from Stephanie Booth, who – successfully – argued the case for adding tags to WordPress.

Here are, in my opinion, the main differences between tags and categories, from the “tagger” point of view.

  • categories exist before the item I’m categorizing, whereas tags are created in reaction to the item, often in an ad hoc manner: I need to fit the item in a category, but I adapt tags to the item;
  • categories should be few, tags many;
  • categories are expected to have a pretty constant granularity, whereas tags can be very general like “switzerland” or very particular like “bloggyfriday“;
  • categories are planned, tags are spontanous, they have a brainstorm-like nature, as Kevin explains very well: You look at the picture and type in the few words it makes you think of, move on to the next, and you’re done.
  • relations between categories are tree-like, but those between tags are network-like;
  • categories are something you choose, tags are generally something you gush out;
  • categories help me classify what I’m talking about, and tags help me share or spread it;


Published by

David Gilmour

Learning Technologist East Lothian Council