Whether it’s bookmarks on del.icio.us, music on last.fm, email on Gmail, photos on flickr, or blog posts right here on WordPress, tagging has become an everyday part of life for the Web 2.0 generation. We do it because it’s fun and addictive, but above all, it’s useful. Tagging enables you and others to find and organise posts, bookmarks and any other content more quickly and easily than a simple search.
Part of the reason why tags are so widely used is because they’re simple to understand: a tag is just a keyword (or short phrase) associated with a piece of information. For bloggers in particular tags help readers to find posts on their site, and also drive traffic to the blog.
Everybody knows there’s no right or wrong way to tag, but the following tips might be useful for those new to tagging. They’ve certainly helped me organise my content both here and on del.icio.us. Feel free to leave some tips of your own in the comments section.
1. Don’t leave it blank! It’s an obvious one, but I often see del.icio.us bookmarks listed as unfiled or uncategorized. There aren’t many items that are truly unclassifiable. Why not mark something as to-tag or similar and then return to it later?
2. Develop a system This is a good tip if you often struggle to find items in your bookmarks. By “system” I don’t mean somthing rigid, but it might be a good idea to reserve one or two words or phrases for certain kinds of content. One example would be tagging time-sensitive items with timed or deadline. I do this at work with del.icio.us, so that I can occasionally prune funding opportunities which are out of date.
3. Spend some time pruning your tags occasionally This is a well-known and oft-repeated tagging tip. Don’t be put off by thinking that it will be time-consuming: it needn’t be, if you keep on top of your tags regularly. Most tag-based websites (e.g. del.icio.us) allow you to view and edit your tagging master list.
4. Get rid of plural (or singular) tags This is a more specific instance of number 2, really. In some ways, it’s a personal preference thing, but usually there’s no point in having both, e.g., blog and blogs. Decide which you’re going to keep and ditch the other. Over time, more plurals and other forms of duplication will creep in, but as long as you carry out regular pruning, it shouldn’t be an issue.
5. Categories are not tags But not necessarily vice versa! Check out this excellent article on the difference between the two. Lorelle makes the point that tags are often less formally structured than categories, but can be used to flag up fine-grained “micro-distinctions” between topics. This can allow readers of a blog to find posts quicker. Aaron Brazell at Problogger agrees, and outlines a few strategies for using tags on your blog.
6. Check which tags others use Use this with caution! Del.icio.us, for example, provides a list of other user’s tags when you submit a new item. Other people’s tags may provide inspiration, but at the end of the day tags are an inherently personal thing. If your brain works differently, don’t use the same tags as everyone else! Of course, this depends on what you’re using tags for (see number 9 below).
7. Keep it simple This applies to most things in life, but it’s especially important with tagging. Most tag-enabled websites these days (with the notable exception of del.icio.us) allow spaces in tags, but this shouldn’t be taken as liscense to have long phrases as tags. In some cases that might be appropriate, but often one or two words does the trick.
8. Try not to have lots more tags than pieces of information Sometimes this may not be possible, and it’s certainly not a hard and fast rule, but in general, if you have 100 bookmarks and 250 tags, you might need to rethink your system a little. My own wordpress blog right here is a counterexample to this, of course, but that’s more of a problem with the way wordpress manages tags – you can view and edit your categories but you can’t, currently at least, see a master list of all your tags.
9. Think about others as well as yourself Here’s another general life principle which can be applied to tagging. In many places (a notable exception would be your Gmail account), tags are a fundamentally social way of labelling information. As well as thinking of keywords which you would associate with a particular item, think about what might help others to find it. This can only be good for everyone in the long run: other people can find useful information, great photos, or bookmarks, and you’ll be raising your profile and developing online social networks. For example, I tag items with research at work. Now, virtually everything I bookmark at work is research-related, but if I don’t tag with that basic keyword, others might not find the information.
10. Use tags to make a note to yourself For example, tag an item toread and then you can see at a glance any news stories, etc., that you have yet to read. You could also use the tag classic or similar for extra-special links. Wantz.it uses a similar idea to create a personalised wishlist: Simply sign up, tag any item on del.icio.us with dowant and it’ll automatically be added to your Wantz.it wishlist.
Okay, I’m out! If you have any suggestions about using tags or tagging, or if you just think I’m plain wrong, why not leave a comment.