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;


eduBuzz blogs get tagging improvements

Tags are one of the most important tools for finding information on the web. Edubuzz blogs are now much better equipped to make full use of them.

If it’s new to you, here’s an intro to tags from Wikipedia:

A tag is a (relevant) keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (a picture, a geographic map, a blog entry, a video clip etc.), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification and search of information.

Tags are usually chosen informally and personally by item author/creator or by its consumer/viewers/community. Tags are typically used for resources such as computer files, web pages, digital images, and internet bookmarks (both in social bookmarking services, and in the current generation of web browsers – see Flock). For this reason, “tagging” has become associated with the Web 2.0 buzz.

If you’ve an edubuzz blog, you’ll have noticed a new “Tags” box has appeared below your editor window, and might be wondering what that’s all about. After all, you’ve always had Categories. How are tags different? If you think of Categories as being like big, clunky filing cabinet drawers you won’t go too far wrong.  They’re a good thing, but you can have too many of them. It’s best if each post isn’t in too many Categories.

Tags, on the other hand, are used on a much bigger scale. A post may have lots of tags, and that’s not a problem. Tools like tag clouds make it easier to navigate them.

If you’re interested in using tags, the first thing to do is activate the Simple Tags plugin. This plugin, by Amaury BALMER, adds a host of tag-related features to take full advantage of this new capability. Have fun!