Recommended Organization for Categories and Tags

I’m setting up a forum and wanted to get input on how best to structure things. I realize that “I won’t get it right the first time” like the docs said, but I think I can foresee some issues here. Plus there are a number of older forums in my domain to look at.

My domain is reptiles, and there are primarily two axes on which I need to divide content.

  1. First, is the species and this is primary, because these people tend to be in communities that are almost separate from one another. Let’s call this the “taxological” dimension. The desire to isolate these calls out strongly for categories.

    There are a lot of species, but they can be grouped into ~10 main groups. For example, all the pythons (e.g., Carpet Pythons) could be subcategories under Pythons. However, 75% of the traffic is about 1 species - “Ball Pythons”, so as much as I hate to do so it can merit special treatment.

  2. The second is the nature of the post about this type of animal, and there is generally 4 buckets: care, genetics, breeding and sharing photos. Let’s call these the “purpose” dimension.

A 3-tiered category system would handle this, but as the docs say that’s almost always a mistake. The second thing I lean toward is having the taxological organization be in category and subcategory but the purpose organization be in tags. I think this is mostly right, except, as I mentioned 75% of traffic is in one category, Ball Pythons. So what other forums in the past have done is to give formal categories to the 4 purpose dimensions for this species alone.

The organizational nut in me hates this but it does make the most sense of anything I can think of, because it does seem like categories do a better job at dividing up content than tags do (e.g., the way navigation works, being forced to categorize). But then I am left with what I do for the other categories – do I still create purpose tags for them, and then I basically have overlap between these species specific tags “Ball Python Care” and “care” tag. If I could automatically tag everything in that subcategory with “care” then it wouldn’t be as bad I guess.

Thanks in advance for your advice and/or links to other relevant posts.


If most people are going to be interested in most of the content, the categories sort-of don’t matter that much. When categories are really important is when there is lots of content that people don’t care about. Do the 25% of people who visit want to be able to avoid hearing about them? If so, make sure that the ball python stuff is in a category so that people can easily mute it.

Unless there is something about Ball Pythons that is completely different from other species, the “purpose” dimension is probably what you want. You can then use tags for individual species. I’m no herpetologist, but I’m guessing that most issues of care, breeding and sharing photos are pretty much the same across species. I imagine that genetics are different accros species, but suspect that the basics of genetics are similar across all of them. I’d start with those categories and use tags for popular species. Don’t create a zillion tags for ever species, as they just make it harder for people to find the ones they want.

To assuage your desire to come up with the “perfect” organization schema, you might do a search for “folksonomy vs taxonomy”. TL;DR: It turns out that if a bunch of people tag something “funny cat video” that it’s probably a funny cat video, and a few cases of people accidentally tagging it “funny car video” will wash out. (It’s not a perfect analogy, but it might help you to not worry about it.)


I’m in agreement with Jay. Categories for care, genetics, breeding and photos, tags for the species. The main thing to remember when setting up your IA is start small and add more if you need to. Don’t create a paradox of choice.


Great info guys.

I get what you are saying, and with those premises I think it makes sense. However, these communities (between species) are strongly divided. The care/etc is not the same for the different species (they would be aghast) and they don’t want to see stuff about other kinds of animals. And historically this is how they have been divided up, both on forums in the past as well as in Facebook groups. (Not that I am opposed to doing things in a different way, just going against the current of expectations). Anyway I’m not here to argue, but I will take this info to my domain experts.

What you said was really useful about muting. I realize I need to be fully informed about the differences between Categories and Tags to make this decision. For example categories can be muted, but topics can be created by users.

Would be great to have a Topic that fully enumerates the differences and I don’t see such a thing. I have taken a stab at it in this other thread and would appreciate if you guys could expand to anything I’m missing.