Joho the BlogAre tags over-rated? - Joho the Blog

Are tags over-rated?

Jeff Atwood [twitter:codinghorror] , a founder of Stackoverflow and — two of my favorite sites — is on a tear about tags. Here are his two tweets that started the discussion:

I am deeply ambivalent about tags as a panacea based on my experience with them at Stack Overflow/Exchange. Example:

Here’s a detweetified version of the four-part tweet I posted in reply:

Jeff’s right that tags are not a panacea, but who said they were? They’re a tool (frequently most useful when combined with an old-fashioned taxonomy), and if a tool’s not doing the job, then drop it. Or, better, fix it. Because tags are an abstract idea that exists only in particular implementations.

After all, one could with some plausibility claim that online discussions are the most overrated concept in the social media world. But still they have value. That indicates an opportunity to build a better discussion service. … which is exactly what Jeff did by building

Finally, I do think it’s important — even while trying to put tags into a less over-heated perspective [do perspectives overheat??] — to remember that when first introduced in the early 2000s, tags represented an important break with an old and long tradition that used the authority to classify as a form of power. Even if tagging isn’t always useful and isn’t as widely applicable as some of us thought it would be, tagging has done the important work of telling us that we as individuals and as a loose collective now have a share of that power in our hands. That’s no small thing.

2 Responses to “Are tags over-rated?”

  1. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about using them as a blog commenting system?

  2. I run a couple of group blogs that have, in WordPress lingo, dozens of “categories” and thousands of “tags.”

    My organization is to have each post be in 1 Category and as many Tags as the author likes. This concept is more or less impossible to convey to authors. Because, on the WordPress backend, Tags are an empty box to type in, and Categories are a list of terms to click off, some authors type tags and some don’t, but most like to click off lots of categories.

    And it’s true, clicking off a list is a lot less brain strain than having to think up what the relevant tags should be. Still, I do believe that tightly curated “Categories” (taxonomy) give you a series of idea based portals that can be powerful and useful.

    On a site like Tumblr where search has been infamously borked for ages and somehow only seems to get worse, search just isn’t an option. But tags do work great on Tumblr.

    Still, the argument that not many people come to my or anyone else’s site just to peruse and explore for hours, and than when you want something you use search, well, that is pretty hard to argue with.

    Is a blog a “publication” or a “personal journal”? Do I use taxonomy to make access easier for the world not beating a path to the site? Or do I use taxonomy to understand who I am and what this site is, or could be, or wants to be, about?

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