information architecture · on blogging

blog gardening (categories)


So, I finally took some time to go back an review the state of the categories on my blog this weekend. All in all, it took me about 2 hours to get things to a state that I’m now reasonably happy with. No wonder I was putting it off… it wasn’t fun. Quite an exercise in acquiring RSI thanks to the category management interface that WordPress currently offers. But that aside…

In retrospect, I think it’s interesting that I didn’t approach this as I would a standard information architecture project. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been intimately involved with developing the content and gradually evolving the categories. For this reason, I think, it actually didn’t occur to me to approach this project methodically… which is strange. Perhaps the outcome would have been better if I had! Nonetheless, I did manage to cut the number of categories down from 29 to 19 (still too many, is my gut reaction), and that includes adding two new ones! There were a few name changes as well… some of which I’m happy with and some I think are still not quite right.

There were two types of categories that were retired. The first were categories that were just far too general, for example, I’ve had since almost the beginning a category called ‘Considering’. God knows what possessed me to create this category in the first place since everything on this blog is more or less considered. Interestingly, it’s a category that I’ve used consistently over the past 10 months of blogging… but it’s completely meaningless, so it had to go. There were others similar to this that were just too vague, so posts in this category have now been more specifically categorised and I think that most of my categories are reasonably specific now.

The other type that was retired were quite specific categories on topics that I thought I might blog more about, but that I actually didn’t. For example, I had a category specifically for typography… but that’s not turned out to be something that I write about much, so it’s gone. Similarly, right at the beginning of blogging, I’d post little reviews of books that I’d been reading on my commute to and from work. It turns out that my blog is quite focused now, and that stuff like that doesn’t really fit in… so those have moved into a ‘random’ category (I still need some freedom to blog about whatever I like!), and my ‘Bus Reading’ category is now retired.

It was an interesting exercise and I think that my categories now much better reflect what my blog is about, which for me, was a big reason for doing this (also that it was embarrassing that they were such a mess before!). But at the same time, I don’t get the feeling that people have ever really used the category navigation very much… and if they did, it was for some of the more obscure and colourfully named categories… for example, another recently retired category – ‘lusting’ (it wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as the name might suggest!)

So, although it’s been an interesting exercise to potter around my blog and put things into some kind of order…. I wonder at the end of the day if it actually makes a difference to anyone other than me!

I know, for me, that the only time I usually see a blog is the first time I visit it, or when I stop in to leave a comment. Other than that, I usually read what you’ve written in RSS format. So the only time I’d be likely to use your categories is when I first ‘meet’ your blog and am orienting myself with who you are and what you write about. From there I either subscribe or not.

Does this sound like your experience? When do you use categories on other people’s blogs? Do we actually need them? Or are they more for the benefit of the blogger than the bloggee?

Image Credit: PartsNPieces @ Flickr 

13 thoughts on “blog gardening (categories)

  1. There has only been one blog I’ve clicked on categories recently. I only did that because it didn’t provide an archive or link to view older entries. No search either!

    I’ve given up on managing categories. It’s a pain in the… and deciding what goes in what existing category is often too much of a challenge for me when I just want to hit post! I try to be disciplined though.

    These days I find myself just tagging things that don’t already have a keyword in the content that I’m likely to remember. That way I’m more likely to find them with search later. I also tag socially.

    Ideally I’d like a mashup of thingwork
    and existing search for my blogs category list. One that initially only listed my top tags below the search box where upon mouse/click focus displayed the lot. Those top tags dynamically changing over time based upon recency/volume. Basically an algorithm to give weight to terms that have my attention but also with the option to sticky tags. Extending the thingamy searchbox with keyword search would be a must along with other improvements I jotted down in my todo project pile. :)

  2. heh. I had a suspicion it may have been two hours not so wisely spent!

    Never mind… I feel a lot better with all my posts neatly categorised! And I did have a suspicion that the only person who would notice is me.. that’s ok.

    I have been thinking a bit about problems with blog navigation… how can we better expose older but relevant and (hopefully!) interesting posts that readers would otherwise overlook.

    And what about people who read RSS.

    Or am I just talking about ‘related links’. I guess I could just do this manually in blog posts where it’s relevant…

    I was playing with a time-line navigation plugin yesterday, but it only showed one category at a time and didn’t click through to the post… so a bit unsatisfying.

    Then I was looking at Shaun Inman’s latest blog redesign ( which uses the idea of ‘decay’ over time. An interesting idea… none of this is quite working for me just now.

    Having said all this – I have tended to abandon tags lately… I wasn’t getting much back from them when I was using them, but they’re not really used in my navigation at all.

    And I’ve not really looked into Thingamy much… I don’t really get it… (but I haven’t given it a lot of attention)

    Hrm. Lots of thoughts. Lots more thinking to be done.

    But for now, the end of a long rambly comment!

  3. I was thinking this morning that I needed to rework my categories. I think they have some usefulness, both for the blogger and for the occasional reader, less so for subscribers of course. I tagged my posts for a little while, but stopped doing that on switching to wordpress. A blog needs something, tags or categories, for people who browse over occasionally. It’s awful to come upon a blog you’re interested in and have to go through time-based archives to read past stuff.

  4. thanks for the post. it’s not often that i stumble onto another IA’s take on curating their blog.

    categories are probably the least navigated links on my blog as well, but i don’t use them for that explicit purpose. at a glance (or squint) they represent my editorial position, so i don’t have to write a lengthy “what this blog is about” section. they also pick up “the internets” travellers from google, like a fishing net, so they — as well as tag index pages — are worth it in the end.

    i’m currently in the midst of turning two of my categories into tags (activism and music) because they’re not broad enough. i was getting tired of raking through my old posts, but you’ve given me a bit of motivation, now. ;) thanks.

  5. hey Sean,
    I just went to check out your blog and I’m liking that ‘Discover’ page you have with the tag cloud. Nice one.

    I think that’s starting to do what I was thinking about earlier – giving more exposure to posts that would otherwise be buried in time (assuming that people don’t use categories, which they don’t seem to).
    Maybe I need a tag cloud (on a separate page, like yours. I’m not a fan of the ‘tag cloud in a column’ approach).

  6. i hear you about tags in the column, but there’s actually one column-tag layout that i’ve come across that i think works very well. take a look at the TED blog.

    most people don’t navigate my tag cloud, as much as check it out to get a feel for what i write about (at least that’s what my mint stats show). but i’ve been thinking about following the TED layout, as it removes the distinction between categories and tags, yet exposes enough meta-data to both pique curiosity and present an editorial position.

    IA relics like us probably hold onto categories from the days of crafting CV’s (what’s the parent/child relationship?), but tag co-occurance — relational/associative relationships — is a much stronger way to present information.

    well, at least today it is ;)

  7. Give it another ten months and you will probably want to re-think your categories again. Change is natural. We gardeners, above all people know that.

    I am a gardener not a blogger. At least I don’t write them, I read them. Reading, writing and gardening all at the same time? Too much for one old man.

  8. Thanks for your helpful post. In reecnt times, I have come to be able to understand that the particular symptoms of mesothelioma are caused by a build up associated fluid regarding the lining of the lung and the upper body cavity. The condition may start within the chest place and pass on to other body parts. Other symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include weight loss, severe breathing in trouble, temperature, difficulty ingesting, and infection of the face and neck areas. It should be noted that some people living with the disease tend not to experience every serious signs or symptoms at all.

Comments are closed.