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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Wednesday, July 28th, 2004

Lumpers and Splitters

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

When Carl Linnaeus started classifying plants and animals in his taxonomic Systema Naturae, he inadvertently gave birth to two new groups of people: Lumpers and Splitters. Lumpers are the sorts of people who look for similarities between things and group them according to what features they have in common. Splitters look for differences and create new classifications for things that don’t seem to fit in an existing pigeonhole.

The trouble with the classification of things is that we learn from a young age that things are what they are, without ever really considering why they are what they are.

Let’s take the example of a mammal with four legs, fur and a tail which goes ‘miaow’. Let’s call it a cat. Were a Lumper who knew about cats to see for the first time a mammal with three legs, fur and no tail which goes ‘miaow’ they will say ‘cat!’, but a Splitter would say ‘not cat!’. We, of course, instinctively know when a cat is a cat, without ever having to count legs or check for fur.

Of course, methodologies for classification of the natural world have developed significantly since 1735, but we’re now faced with similar issues of taxonomy and nomenclature in the blog world. Is a LiveJournal a blog? Must a blog have comments and trackbacks? Is a fictional blog still a blog? Must a cat have a tail?

These, though, aren’t the questions I’m going to tangle with right now. Instead, I’m going to posit the existence of five overarching types of business blog before I start considering them in more depth in future posts:

1. Marketing blogs - external, B2C blog, used to promote either the company or a product/service.

2. External blogs - used to communicate with the public, but not for sales purposes, for instance, in a consultation process.

3. Insider blogs - employee blogs, sanctioned but not controlled by the company they work for. (Sometimes disclaimed by the company they work for.)

4. Internal blogs - blogs used within a company to share knowledge, build communities, disseminate news.

5. Content blogs - public-facing blogs reliant on content to bring in either subscription or, more likely, advertising revenue.

Lumpers would probably look at the above list and label them all ‘enterprise blogs’ or somesuch. Splitters will say ‘Yes, but that doesn’t cover everything - what about…?’, or will argue that some blog types listed aren’t business blogs at all, but personal blogs.

There are benefits and problems to both the Lumping and the Splitting points of view. Lumpers have a tendency to miss the fine detail, which can lead to the erroneous assumption that all blogs are like their blogs, but they are good at looking at the wider implications of blogging. Splitters tend to get too caught up in the details of how and why blogs are different, so they miss out on the bigger picture.

But of course, categorising blogs is not always helpful: it detracts from the most important part of blogging - the people. The risk is that instead of understanding the people who write and read blogs, how they use blogs and what they gain from the experience, we will end up talking about semantics and software instead (cf. the LiveJournal vs., well, every other blogging tool debate).

This is what happened to Knowledge Management - it stopped being about the people and the knowledge and became a big discussion about software and IT.

On the other hand, classification is important for the efficient discussion and study of blogs. If I say ‘Marketing Blog’, I need to know that you understand what I mean, without having to pause and explain it every time. A common vocabulary is essential to meaningful conversation.

I don’t expect to have nailed in one shot the different sorts of business blog, but the comments are open. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Fredrik over at CorporateBlogging suggests that ‘internal blogs’ is a better phrase to use for No. 4, and I agree. Don’t know why I didn’t call it that in the first place.

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2 Responses to “Lumpers and Splitters”

  1. beat waydown Says:

    I’m not a lumper, but I surely ain’t no splitter. I’d say I’m a sort of non-archist.

  2. Julian Says:

    In NLP preferred patterns of thought such as “lumping” and “splitting” are called “meta-programs” - these two are also called “sort for similarity” and “sort for difference” - they are perceptual filters that affect the way we see things. In your description there also seems to be an element of “big chunking” and “small chunking” (i.e. preference for overview or detail)

    As you say, it’s useful to be able to do both. And “lumpers” and “splitters” is a much handier way of describing them!

    bst rgds