Rachel Lovinger (@rlovinger) just published a great piece on categorizing, called “Splitting Tigers, Lumping Rabbits,” on Scatter/Gather. I love her simple, elegant advice: “You just need to find the right balance between lumping and splitting.”
Since I read it, I’ve been wondering: How do you find that balance? Is it just some feeling that comes upon you when you have all the pieces in the proper order? Is it like sorting male and female chicks?—something that is learned unconsciously through experience? Is there some way to work it out systematically?
I believe that finding the balance lies in discovering which distinctions make the most difference for the users of your content. If you can articulate what makes this thing different from that one, and why that difference matters to your users, then you will have identified the dimensions of difference. You will also have created a test for your categories, your labels, your navigation, and perhaps even the whole content strategy for your website.