Why Types

Did you mean the book or the movie? You can’t always tell from just a title, so you need some type classifications. But taxonomies make things tedious and harder to use. How can you disambiguate without falling into the taxonomy trap? Can type classification be transformed from a chore to an advantage?

The right number

You don’t have to memorize every type to choose one, but you do have to load them all into your brain at once. Humans can usually handle two or three clumps of three or four items. The more you push it, the more people’s brain capacity you’ve exceeded. Traditionally, seven has been a good working maximum. Less is better, but if you are striving for coverage breadth you’ll probably hit the max. Don’t exceed it.

Nothing is going to work all the time for all things, so there will always be the “other” type. The goal isn’t to eliminate this catchall, but to minimize how often it gets used. If “other” gets a lot of use, then you might need to refactor your chosen types. Great type classifications may seem obvious in retrospect but they are refined over time.

Search advantages

Types may be necessary for disambiguation, but they also help with search. While it’s unusual to search by type, each type provides a context for secondary descriptive information that makes retrieval easy. Things like a physical address, or how creatives are associated with a work vary depending on the type. Useful associated keywords vary even more. The depth of information associated with each contextual type is what makes retrieval work well.

If a link dies or content is removed, descriptive information can help you reconstruct a reference through search. It can also help you decide if that’s worth the effort to do.

Good associations of descriptive fields and keywords make a richer and accessible search space. Types can also provide helpful filtering when there are a lot of search results.


It might seem minor, but it can be annoying to check out something new on a friend’s recommendation only to find you’ve checked it out before. At the other end of the spectrum it can be fun to discover you and a friend have something in common you both really liked. Duplicate avoidance and commonality discovery both hinge on understanding if two things are the same.

It would be great if things had unique names or links, but they don’t. A video can be embedded. An article might be published in more than one place. Names vary. As humans we rely on secondary descriptive information to figure out if things are effectively the same. When making a purchase, specifics matter a lot. In a social situation where people are seeking common experiences, the simplest possible match is usually enough.

Minimal descriptive fields and simple matching keeps details unobtrusive and helpful. If a normally non-essential detail becomes important for a specific case, it can be mentioned in the title.

Occasionally two things turn out to be the same even when all the descriptive information is different. When that happens it’s good to give people a way to note that so they don’t bump into it again.


Done well, types are far from a necessary evil and can be distinct advantage in a variety of situations. For any situation dealing with a variety of different things, handling types well is a key design aspect.

Why Types

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