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Distinction between Categories and Tags

06-24-2022 11:13 AM
Occasional Contributor III

Lot of Venn Diagram examples in the land of ESRI.  Like what is the difference between Living Atlas and Portal.  And what do I use for a "Label" and "Post Tags" for this post?  Those are rhetorical questions.  Unlike the burning philosophical question I pose here:  When do I use Tags vs. Categories and what is the difference between them?  It seems that Tags are concise and searchable.  Categories are an abstraction that can encompass multiple tags.  Also tags can fall under multiple Categories.  And yet I'm confused why use Categories when we can simply categorize one item with multiple tags.

I would GREATLY appreciate examples and use cases from ArcGIS Online content organization.  How do you use tags and/or categories?    When do they overlap.  And your opinions.

In my case, I am organizing Group content: shapefiles, feature layers, webmaps, apps, etc.  

Oh - and I asked this already: Tags or Categories

thanks @RobertBorchert 


5 Replies
MVP Esteemed Contributor

Living Atlas = Esri-curated public layers that are useful, authoritative, etc

Portal = basically a self-hosted version of ArcGIS Online.

Community labels are defined by the admin/moderator of each section of the Community, and are helpful to get your post seen by the right Esri people. At least, that's my understanding. Post tags, though, are more democratic, in that any user can add tags they feel are relevant, regardless of what space the post is in. It's mostly for personal reference and searching, but they're less important.

As far as your content goes:

Categories can be useful if you happen to use, say, Hub or Sites, as you can have a page of content pull from a specific category. Categories are defined by the organization and are a bit more "firm" because of that. THey can be seen as more "official", I suppose. Tags are more free-form, with each content owner being able to add any tags they like.

Personally, I find tags more useful, but I do use categories for my org's Open Data site, because I want very clear markers of what things are. If I do a search for "forest", I may get items tagged as "forest" or "forest preserve", etc, which is good. But if I have a page of content pulling from a tag, then "forest" will be separate from "forest preserve".

- Josh Carlson
Kendall County GIS
Tags (1)
Occasional Contributor III

Hi again Josh.  That last paragraph seems exactly what I was after.  Unfortunately my frame of reference is incomplete - I can't recall an instance where I "have a page of content pulling from a tag...".  Not that sophisticated.  My experience involves more static online data sharing, with additional Webmaps for Collector or presentations and reference.  So do you mean tags are more precise?  It seems they have more utility for searching and queries online.  They almost seem more permanent, whereas categories can be used to filter or group for projects and Groups.  Is that accurate to some degree?  It would just be nice to stick with either tags OR categories as the organizational category used to organize my data in my offline geodatabase and inventory spreadsheets.  Then define categories as necessary for AGOL purposes.  Does that make sense?  Thanks - Zach 

Esri Frequent Contributor

Hi Zach,

My opinion here only... I'm a big fan of categories, and like them better than tags. Why? Categories are more structured - you control the categories, Esri doesn't add any (like tags that are added when you do analysis, etc.), and you have very good editing tools to edit/manage/create them. Plus, you can have both organization categories or group-based categories. Here's a recently updated blog on group-based categories:

That said, tags are very useful as well, however there are no built-in tools to manage or edit them, though there are some third-party tools that do that. Tags also play a role in elevating items in search.

My suggestion is to leverage both. I especially like categories when used within groups. Here's some more information on Category Gallery for group-based categories, including apps.


Occasional Contributor III

Bern - great information!  I actually did read your category gallery article this morning (published yesterday right?)  I created one using Instant Apps (obviously) and it's really nice.  Upon further review, it almost like a sidebar filter gallery app right?  I don't necessarily have to configure filtering options to Category, I can do Tags, Type, etc. 

I haven't explored the organization vs group-based categories yet, but seems pretty self-explanatory and useful.  Just out of curiosity (for @jcarlson too) in general items end up with more tags than categories?  I would assume that's the case.  

I'll read that Covid gallery you linked.  FYI, I did find a great example from Oregon Metro ( OR Metro Category Gallery ) linked in the main esriuk Configurable Apps docs ( ).  Then I found your article.

MVP Esteemed Contributor

The way we use categories, any piece of content has usually one, maybe two. But most things have a handful of tags.

Oh, there's another thing I should have mentioned. Categories can be structured with three different levels, which is also really nice.

  1. Natural features
    1. hydrology
    2. land cover
    3. geology
      1. soil
      2. bedrock
  2. Man made
    1. roads
    2. buildings
- Josh Carlson
Kendall County GIS