On Category Theory and Child’s Play: Tag, You’re It

During my years at graduate school, I studied Category Theory for a while. It’s an abstract field of mathematics

As a blogger I have struggled with another kind of Category Theory for the past year. Here are some of the lessons I have learned.

WordPress provides what they call the Dashboard, a control-panel that lets you configure and monitor your blog. Under “Manage” can be found “Categories,” which lets you define categories for your posts so you can then assign each post one or more of these categories, to help users visiting your blog to narrow down to just the posts on a particular topic.

This made sense, so I defined a number of categories and started categorizing my posts. On occasion I would add a new category, or decide I had not made proper use of an existing category, and so would revist my old posts, updating the category list.

I know I was not alone in using categories this way as it is easy to find blogs that have lots of categories. In some cases the number of categories equals, if not exceeds, the number of post in the blog itself.

A few months back I decided to keep it simple and so narrowed down to just two categories: open-source and personal.

I did this also because I had realized, as has the New York Times recently, that folks reach my site mainly by use of search engines and referring links to the blog that can be found on other sites. I also did this because I know that most bloggers, including me, labor in obscurity. Once you accept this, then you realize there is no one out there who cares about your categories, so why bother putting them in?

WordPress Categories do serve a useful purpose in that you can easily find all the recent posts about a particular category. See for example, Recent WordPress posts with tag open-source. (I find it odd that there are so few posts with this category.)

There is also another way of categorizing your posts : tags. See my On child’s play on the Internet: Tag, you’re it! Don’t hide, so others can seek, posted almost a year ago.

A tag is similar to a category, but you can use any phrase you want, and it tagging is best done via del.icio.us.

Del.icio.us is delicious, indeed. Once you get an account, you can download a couple of buttons to your browser. One, marked “tag” can be used whenever you see a blog post or web page that think is worh calling to the attention of others. You just click on “tag” and can then enter a list of tags that describe the post.

Moreover, del.icio.us provides a super-delicious feature. It is but a few minute’s work to set things up so that each day the nice folks at del.icio.us forward to your a blog a post that contains all the posts you have tagged in the previous day. Once you have set it up, the rest is automatic — you just have to do the tagging. This is the origin of the “links-for …” post you will find on this blog almost every day.

Del.icioi.us is really a social network based on tagging. You build a network by building a list of folks whose blogs you like. If you start tagging their posts that you find of interest, you’ll probably find they will then tag some of yours.

This, by the way, is why I use “open-source” instead of “open source” in my writing and tagging. “Open source” is two words, and tags are just one word, though you can hyphens or concatenation to make a tag, as in “open-standards” or “open-source-licensing.” Single words also work better with Google, though it does a good job of understanding that “open-source” and “open source” are related.

It also good practice — especially if you believe as I do that it is important to give credit where credit is due — to make use of the “via:” meta-tag. I first saw this suggested by Michael Cote of Redmonk. For example, if I see a link in his blog that I follow through and then decide it is worth tagging on my own, I include “via:cote” in my list of tags for the post. That way folks will know that Cote first brought the post to my attentions. (I just tried to find the original post in which he made this suggestion, but was unable to do so. I’ll add a link to it if I ever track it down.)

[Updated 09/27. I sent Mike a note and here is his response]:

That via: post is tricky to find…namely cause I think it’s on my
personal blog, drunkandretired.com

Here’s two posts that are related:

* should-via-be-a-tag
* curing-email-overload-one-forbushwald-at-a-time

I’m with you on having fewer categories. On a related note, I use ecto as my desktop blog publisher (if you will) and it auto-generates Technorati tag links for me; you can see them at the bottom of most of my posts. I don’t really know if it’s worth it — I very rarely see referrals from them — but I do like being able to look-up and point to things. I find the categories good for that, e.g., “here’s a URL of all my posts on open source, or development tools, or IT management.”

He also suggested using “for:” tags to draw people’s attention to a link. For example, if I see a post I think Mike might find interesting then I add the tag “for:cote” to it, knowing Mike can then easily find posts recommended by others.

Sometimes I forget to put in a “via:” and this can lead to amusing results. For example, I recently noted that Mike’s colleague Steve O’Grady had tagged an article about one of Gartner’s recent lame announcements about open-source. So I tagged it. I noticed recently that Mike had picked it up (Thank you, sir) and tagged it “via:daveshields” See sogrady’s links for 2007-09-21, my links for 2007-09-21, and Cote’s links for 2007-09-22. (Re Gartner-lameness, see also my links for 2007-09-23.)

The WordPress folks have recently made some changes in the way they handle tags and categories. See Matt Mullenwegg’s Tags! And Categories posted just a few days ago.

However, I recommend you use the smallest number of Categories in your WordPress blog and do all your tagging via del.icio.us.

Please do give del.icio.us a try — tag along with me.

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One Trackback

  1. By People Over Process » links for 2007-09-27 on September 27, 2007 at 02:19

    […] On Category Theory and Child’s Play: Tag, You’re It « The Wayward Word Press (tags: taxonomy via:email wordpress categories blogging tags) […]

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