On creating taxonomies and categorizations

Posted: January 29, 2011 in Food for thought, Useful advice for students

One of the blog challenges for TECH 621 students was to create a taxonomy of social media sites. I saw very many interesting ways of categorizing social media in their posts. In fact, I encourage students to share the link to their categorization posts in the comments below, to make it easier for people to take a look at several ones.

One thing that I felt like bringing up after I read your posts is a bit of theory about how we create categories. Part of my job is to teach you how to think like an academic, so here we go.

As you will work on research, you will often be in the position to categorize things, or create classifications. We do this all the time (with our socks, for example), but I’m not sure we think about the process enough.

Here is how categorization should work:

First, you pick one criterion (dimension/variable). Variations on that criterion will form different categories. Let’s work with the socks example.

We could create different taxonomies for socks, according to various dimensions we pick: Color, Fabric, Length.

So, according to color, my categories would be: black, white, red, etc.

If I categorize by Fabric, my categories would be: cotton, nylon, wool, etc.

You see, if I ask you to categorize socks, it would be funny if you come up with the following: My socks fall into the following categories: red, wool, and short. This doesn’t make sense, because the categories are created on different dimensions, and therefore, they cannot be mutually exclusive. You could have one pair of socks fall in all 3 categories!

Similarly, when you categorize social media sites, you can’t mix up your classifying criteria. If, for example, you categorize them by purpose of interaction, then you have to stick to that. If you categorize them according to the available communication channels, then you have to stick to that. So, categories are the possible variations of the dimension/variable that you picked as your criterion for classification.

I hope this post helps you understand a tiny bit about how to think like a graduate student. I recommend you take a look at a couple of other posts that I wrote on my other blog, that are related:

  1. To categorize mine, I decided to ask the question “What does a user go to the site to do?”
    You can read my post here http://bit.ly/h6ifae