[development] Renaming "taxonomy" terminology? (was Re: Early Drupal 6, review from Chris Messina)

Hans Salvisberg drupal at salvisberg.com
Wed Nov 21 00:33:34 UTC 2007

Chris Johnson wrote:
> On Nov 14, 2007 7:05 PM, Hans Salvisberg wrote
>> The problem is that everyone intuitively knows what a category is.
>> If you have a term "dog" and you tag a post with "dog", then that post goes
>> into the category "dog". That's the common sense non-technical meaning of
>> "category". You can even stretch that to include terms like "Gamer's Forum"
>> -- a post in the Gamer's Forum goes into the category "Gamer's Forum".
>> That's what classification is all about, putting things into categories.
>> Using "category" for anything else but for terms will just not work for
>> normal people without re-educating them about what that common word means.
>> IOW, it will not work.
>> Now, what's that thing in between -- the "animals" and the "forums" -- in
>> plain English? Go ask the man in the street:
>> If you have categories like "dog", "bird", and "elephant", then what would
>> you call that /group of categories/? Answer: "animals"
> They may know it intuitively, but at just what level does it apply?
> Why would "dog" be the category?  To me, the category (the container)
> is "animals" -- and "dog" and "bird" are things, or instances of
> things which go into the category "animals".
> English is flexible that way -- we are actually both right.  And thus,
> we don't know what any particular user is going to think when they see
> the word "categories".  Are they going to think animals, plants and
> minerals?  Or dogs, birds and elephants?

I didn't plan to prolong this discussion, but since you addressed me 
directly, I'll take one last shot. The answer to why "dog" is the 
category (IMHO) is in line 2 of the text you quoted.

In your reasoning "dog" and "bird" are the leaves of the tree. That's 
the point of view of the person who manages the taxonomy.

However, IMO, the webmaster (and consequently we, too) should take the 
point of view of the site *user*. For the user, the leaves are the 
posts, and posts can go into or be found in the /category/ "dog", or 
"bird", or maybe they don't fit into any of the "animals" /group of 

Actually, I sympathize with your point of view, and I agree that it's a 
noble cause to educate the webmasters about taxonomy. BUT many would 
rather just set up their website, and they certainly don't want to be 
put in a position where they need to explain geeky terminology to their 
-1 to reverting /Categories/ back to /Taxonomy/!

I take a special interest in the Subscriptions module, and this may 
illuminate the scene a bit: Subscriptions offers various ways to request 
notifications about new content:
-- replies and comments to a single node (threads)
-- content types
-- categories
-- etc.

The subscriptions page has one subpage (tab) for each of these. Let's 
look at the "categories" (subscriptions/taxa) subpage: in Subscriptions 
1.x it's just a list of all terms; I don't remember whether they're 
ordered by vocabulary or not. So, it may look like this (with checkboxes 
to subscribe):

[ ]  Dog Lovers
[ ]  Other Lovers
[ ]  Tree Lovers
[ ]  bird
[ ]  dog
[ ]  elephant
[ ]  Paris
[ ]  Rome
[ ]  New York

I had a hard time explaining to my users how this list came to be and 
why it was called "categories," and most of them didn't try hard enough 
to understand... That was an understatement -- I can't remember a single 
one who tried hard enough...

Karoly redesigned this subpage for the upcoming Subscriptions 2.0 and 
it's now a list of fieldsets, one for each vocabulary, containing the 
terms in that vocabulary. So, it might now look like this:

 +--- Forums ----
 |   [ ]  Dog Lovers
 |   [ ]  Tree Lovers
 |   [ ]  Other Lovers

 +--- Animals ----
 |   [ ]  bird
 |   [ ]  dog
 |   [ ]  elephant

 +--- Image Galleries ---
 |   [ ]  Paris
 |   [ ]  Rome
 |   [ ]  New York

Now it all falls into place! We (as site users) see categories that 
contain posts, and there are different groups of categories serving 
different categorization schemes. So now, under the heading 
"categories," we subscribe to /categories/ of posts. That's pretty 

For the terminology, when I look at this, I can't help coming back to

term -> category
vocabulary -> category group
taxonomy -> categories (nice fit; maybe somewhat ambiguous, but only 
until the dust settles) or classification

And no, I don't think we need to rename function names and paths. 
Educating everyone (who wants to know) about taxonomy is still a worthy 
goal, just don't force it upon the users and the newbie webmasters. -- 
The "node" is a well-kept secret, we could do the same for taxonomy.

I certainly don't mean to say that Drupal terminology should be adjusted 
just to fit one contrib module, but this is where I'm coming from. Feel 
free to bring your own use case and let's try to look at concrete usage 
rather than theoretical preferences.

P.S. Don't try Subscriptions 5.x-2.x-dev just yet -- it's still under 

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