When Joshua Schachter first came up with the idea of tagging in 2003, most people didn’t get it. Del.icio.us had its strange url and offered the seemingly simple idea of social bookmarks and tagging. Today, Delicious is seen as one of those classic technology stories. Start up innovates, gains a buzz, and sets off a technology storm. Indeed, when Yahoo! purchased Del.icio.us in 2006, it was quite a catch. (As a footnote, Joshua Schachter who left Yahoo! in June, 2008 has now announced that he is an employee at Google.)
While tagging is great and in today’s Web 2.0 environment, pretty much essential, we at HubPages believes that it is not enough by itself. While tags provide a very nimble way of organizing content, they have limitations as a mechanism for thoroughly organizing a web site. There is a skill in coming up with the right set of tags and not everyone has the time or the interest in making sure that each of their hubs has the appropriate, popular tags associated. It is hard to imagine that any tag will be used consistently and reliably by all authors.
We’ve created a tag suggestion tool to help people come up with tags. There are web sites galore that help people figure out which tags they should use. But even with these tools, tags have many limitations. How many tags do you use for any hub? What happens if someone mistypes a tag. Should we have a tag spelling checker? What happens if one persons add an ‘ing’ or adds a hyphen. The strength and weakness of tags is that they are imprecise.
At HubPages, to address these limitations with tagging, we’ve decided to add categories to HubPages. By categories, I mean a set of terms that are fixed and organized hierarchically. There will be overlap. For example, if a topic fits in two places, we will have a “See Also” reference. We recognize that it will take some time for hubbers to get used to categories. For this reason, an author will be able to change their mind as to which category or subcategory their hub belongs. But the rule will remain that each hub will belong to one and only one category/subcategory at a time.
Categories were the standard approach before Joshua Schachter’s innovation and as a way of organizing content in a definitive and reliable way provide many benefits. In our view, allowing users to flag their hub with both a single category/subcategory as well as tags is the way to go.
A category hierarchy is pretty much static. It provides a way of navigating through the site and making it easier to find related content. If it is chosen correctly, it provides a way of giving a full survey of web site content. If you are looking for ideas on what to write about, a category hierarchy can help you survey what’s out there. Tags are great ways to deep dive but categories are better for a high level survey if they are well chosen.
That really brings up the major reason why categories often have a bad reputation. They are surprisingly very difficult to get right. Deciding where something fits in can be frustrating. Real life does not fit cleanly into categories. A well written hub may easily fit in multiple categories. A category by its very nature is an oversimplification: it emphasizes only one dimension of a multidimensional entity.
That being said, I would still argue that categories when they are well chosen are very useful. One of the most successful categorization schemes is Roget’s Thesaurus put together by Peter Mark Roget in 1852. When I was in high school, it was a must-have for writers as they searched for interesting words. The cornerstone of the library reference section was dictionaries, thesauruses, and encyclopedias.
Many a web site has tried to create a perfect hierarchical organization. I remember the early days of Yahoo! when it looked like its human-organized directory was going to be the definitive way to organize the web. Before Google showed us the power of search, it really looked like directories were the way to go. Here’s an old article from CNET that talks about human powered search being the winner in 1999.
Directories have many limitations. The web is unbelievably dynamic at its very core and changes more rapidly than any human-powered directory. Another problem is deciding which categorization is the best. What is intuitive to one person may be completely baffling to the next. People tend to have their own, personal way of organizing web sites. This is one of the great appeals of Delicious which gives users the ability to tag web sites their own way. Still, despite these limitations, if categories are done right, they become a useful navigation device.
As a child, I was a frequent visitor to our local library. I learned by heart the Dewey Decimal system invented by Melvil Dewey in 1876. With this knowledge, I could browse the entire library by going to the appropriate section for any topic. History and Geography was in the 900s. Science and Math was in the 500s. Of course, you don’t need to know the categorization scheme to take advantage of it. Once you have the library index number for a book, you can find similar books very close to it on the shelf. The real value is the ease with which you can find related books.
At HubPages, we are not trying to do anything as complete as the Dewey Decimal System or Roget’s Thesaurus. Our categorization will only be three-levels deep. Our thinking on this is that three levels of depth gives people the opportunity to pinpoint their topic area for a hub without going into too much detail.
We are planning to put this together with participation by the Hubber community. We will present our proposals for topic categories in the announcements section of the forum. Our plan is to give Hubbers time to review our categories and provide feedback.
To get the ball rolling, I have listed below our currently planned top level categories:
- Art & Writing
- Birthdays & Holidays
- Business & Jobs
- Games, Toys, & Hobbies
- Gender & Relationships
- Health & Beauty
- Home & Family
- Personal Finance
- Pets & Animals
- Politics & Social Issues
- Religion & Beliefs
- Science & Education
- Sports & Recreation
- Travel & Places
So, what do you think?
This is a work in progress so feel free to post your comments to this blog.