Of Taxonomies and Crumbtrails

By Deane Barker • Posted on August 15, 2004

I’ve had an eternal struggle with taxonomies and crumbtrails and I’ll share it with you now in the hopes of finding some resolution that will let me sleep. (Okay, it’s not THAT bad, but I have been tossing this around for days now with no solution.)

A taxonomy is a parent-child classification system. Most every site has one whether it was planned or not. I work for a commercial real estate firm, and we have a simple taxonomy, some of which looks like this:

Home
Property
Office
Industrial
Land
Retail
Investment

For the most part, this works fine. It’s simple, and it makes sense.

Taxonomies also lend themselves nicely to crumbtrail navigation. If I’m looking at a property in the Office category, I can get a crumbtrail like this:

Home > Property > Office

However, there are situations that require a piece of property to fit into more than one category. For instance, there are many buildings that can legitimately be used for both office and retail. Therefore, the property needs to appear under both categories because people browsing either would be interested in it. This is no problem, as taxonomies are supposed to be able to handle this.

But what about the crumbtrail? If I’m looking at a property that appears in both Office and Retail, which crumbtrail do I get:

Home > Property > Office

Home > Property > Retail

I can think of two things:

Primary and Secondary Classification

Pick one “true” classification for the property. Just make an arbitrary decision if its Office and Retail and classify it as such. Let it appear in the other category as well, but the crumbtrail should reflect its “true” classification.

A couple problems here:

  1. Maybe something legitimately fits equally in two places. Say one side of taxonomy classifies by property type (Office, Retail, etc.) and another by size (less than 5,000 sq. ft.; 5,000 – 20,000 sq. ft., more than 20,000 sq. ft.). No matter how hard to you try, any property is going to fit in more than one category.

  2. If someone browses to a category from a “secondary” trail, they’re going to be confused because the crumbtrail doesn’t reflect where they came from. Say I give a building a classification of Office but also let it appear as Retail. If someone browses to the property through the Retail trail, then tries to walk back up the trail, they’re going to be sent back to Office, instead of Retail where they came from.

Dynamic Crumbtrails

You can always create the crumbtrail based on the trail the user actually came from. So if a user browses to our property through the Retail trail, display a trail based on that. If they came from Office, display that crumbtrail.

This seems good, but what if the user didn’t browse and was linked directly? Then what do you use?

So, there you have my quandary. If anyone has a resolution or a thought, let’s hear it.

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