Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tagging: How to do it and knowing when not to do it

One of the best innovations in social media is also one of its most pernicious traps: tag creep. Do you have too many tags? Redundant tags? Tags that are similar? Tags that break your own rules for tagging stuff? I know it’s happened to me, in both my blogs and my Delicious collection. But Steve Rubel points me to some great advice from Jason Falls on how to ensure your tags are useful and organized so that YOU can FIND STUFF (that is why you do this, right?).

One of the best tips is also a bit counter-intuitive: don’t bookmark everything.

This one is a hard one for some to grasp, but bear with me. I bookmark fewer and fewer items these days for one simple reason: I subscribe to just about everything I find interesting online via RSS. If I want to find an article I read on Mark Dykeman’s blog a year ago, I can search my RSS feeds and find it. It’s not much more time consuming or difficult than bookmarking it, so I don’t need bookmarking as much anymore. However, there are purposes and reasons for aggregating everything I find on certain subjects, so bookmarking hasn’t lost its relevance. But I only bookmark what I’m going to later need when writing an article on the subject or preparing presentation for clients, etc.

This is the one bit of advice I’ve already been following myself. I use Google Reader as my primary news source, and if I want to go back to an article I’ve read there I simply search my feeds for it (I also use tags within Google Reader, but I use them very sparingly).

But what if there’s something I want to read later? Call me crazy, but I use Read it Later.

So what do I use Delicious for, if not for organizing items I’ve read or saving items for later reading? I use Delicious for reference. Reference doesn’t mean, “I might need this later.” Reference is stronger than that:

  • I will use this later. More than once.
  • I will recommend this to friends now. I will want to recommend it to them later as well.
  • This matches a collection of other items for which I already use a common tag.

The last bullet is related to an idea I would have added to Jason’s outstanding post. Don’t tag everything. Tag an item only when you know how to tag it. Don’t tag it just because you’re saving it.  Tags are for items that are thematically or topically related to something else you’ve already saved. Adding a tag means, “I’ve got more than one of these.” If you aren’t sure how to tag something, but you think it needs to be saved, write a good description of the item. A later search of your bookmarks will find it. If you never use that item again, that’s okay. You’ve avoided cluttering your system with a tag that makes you scratch your head.

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