[Theforum] Re: Sub-categories

Chris Spruck cspruck at mindspring.com
Sat Dec 15 22:42:46 CST 2001

At 11:07 PM 12/15/01 -0500, rudy937 wrote:
> > I see no reason to not have any sub-cats we're envisioning
> > as top level cats. Definitely easier to handle from the code standpoint
> > and fewer clicks for the user.
>The better question here though is what purpose do categories serve? How do
>people use them? It's easy to get caught up in technical fetishism and
>categorize things because you can. I think most people use them as a basic
>search facility where the search terms are hard coded. So maybe abolishing
>categories and making a better free-format search tool is the way to go? At
>the very least, the categories should be based on like the top five searches
>people have made on your site, rather than arbitrary categories you assigned
>when you made the entry. Although, what if the author is writing a number of
>entries that are part of a serial or something? Then hard-coding the
>category is important. At any rate, I think if I get a better handle on how
>people use categories the design challenges might solve themselves.
>     -- http://www.gnumatt.org/archives/2001_12_01_index.xml#7902309

An alternate viewpoint in the comments for that blog entry:

People like those hard-coded searches. If you present surfers with a blank 
box but they have no idea how to fill it, they won't fill it. They'll leave 
or look for a link elsewhere on the page. Really, you need to gently steer 
readers but provide an easy escape route for those that know where they 
want to go. Categorizing along side a search tool does just that.

If you are facing a situation where you must design a way to easily put 
something in one or more of 30 categories, then really you need to redesign 
your categories. 30 categories are useless to your users. They can handle 
maybe 10 at the absolute outside. Really, though, you want to give them up 
to five and then branch down into subcategories. As long as each branch is 
intuitive, they'll be able to wander easily.

My position on sub-categories is now completely unsure. :) I have the 
O'Reilly IA book - I'll see what it says about this type of issue and see 
if I can reach a conclusion with further IA research. The former scientist 
in me was always a "splitter" instead of a "lumper" when it came to 


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