Which is more user friendly for the "mass population" on the internet? Is it better to present the traditional "category" pattern when having them post something on your site, or is the "tagging" pattern considered user friendly enough to rely on?

  • I don't see how they are different in how you are using them here. You are just providing the users with a limited set of tags in what you define as the "category pattern". Lots of sites do that, including SE (until you get to a certain rep level). Commented May 11, 2011 at 13:27
  • Related: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/33311/…
    – Jeremy T
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 21:12

4 Answers 4


Well, they should be for different uses:

  • Tagging is for adding some meta data to an object. To describe it.
  • Categories are more organizational and a way of grouping all content into few groups.

Here is a good article from J.D. Meier's Blog explaining the difference:

It depends on the use-case

So it's the age old answer that "it depends" on the use.

If you want the users to just add more description and meaning to images, posts, and other objects, then go with tagging.

If you want them putting those into few buckets that summarize all the content into topics, than categories.

  • Well put. We are a version of a classifieds, so categories is the traditional method. However, user testing has proven that users often can't decide which category to put it in, because there might be several categories that it could fit in. I'll check out that article, thanks! Commented May 10, 2011 at 19:50
  • Ah I see. In that case you could help guide them by suggesting categories based on what the entered in and/or you could have them take a "20 questions" style route and helpe them define the category. So like "Are you selling something?", "Is it a service?" "Is it a home appliance?" but that could be represented in dropdowns, lists, etc
    – jonshariat
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 19:55
  • @Johnnietheblack - Good point about users not being able to decide a single category. Tagging seems more geared (especially on sites like this one) to multiple tags that can span across several subjects and help to attract more people. Commented May 11, 2011 at 11:20

As a UX professional, I'm not convinced there really is a difference.

The article jonshariat links to makes a case for categories being mutually exclusive. If universally true, then that's perhaps the one difference, but given that many sites use tags as a form of category browser, I don't think that holds true either.

But let's assume it does. From an end-user navigation POV, the difference is then whether or not your 'buckets' are meant to be mutually exclusive of not. So, perhaps that's the question you need to ask...for the particular needs of your users of your site, should the data be put into mutually exclusive buckets, shared across buckets, or both?

As for 'understanding' that, well, that's up to how you design the UI to navigate the structure.


Tagging seems to be a huge trend on many sites, especially with the use of the word tag on Twitter, etc. Most sites like this are using the tag terminology.

  • My thoughts exactly. Tagging and Catagorising has been around for quite a while but users needed to have it explained. Then Twitter came along with the #HashTag and that's been taken up virtually straight away.
    – JonW
    Commented May 11, 2011 at 7:40

Categories evolved into tagging when they started appearing a little superfluous for light classification schemes. Tag(as called) play a significant role when target information is either too much or too heterogeneous to enforce a comfortable classification. It's a great way to improve findability without getting too much in the way a user experiences a system or consumes an information..if designed conventionally! :)

UX majorly and mostly dictated this distinction from its very inception.

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