Using Tags – pointless

Yup – all these tags that seem to be decorating blog post after blog post are useless. In fact, they are worse than useless, they are a pollutant.

In a closed environment such as the WordPress forums, tags are a helpful element but only to a point. The subject matter is fairly narrow (relatively speaking) but even so the current list of the popular tags has ambiguities. Take for instance the tag “edit” – edit what ? A comment ? a post ? a plugin ? core code ? a forum post ? the ‘edit this’ link ? All that can fit under that tag as a minimum and this is WP specific. Now look at these: Theme, themes, design, template, templates, kubrick, layout. All of those will be roughly in the same area of problems but that is 7 tags to investigate if people are looking to try and help themselves on a Theme issue . And this is in an environment where we try to keep tags in line, try and get some consistency, try and promote them as a way to find help, provide help. And of course the assumption there is that all posts are actually tagged. That could be part of the problem – the introduction of tags into an established system where much information will languish in the untagged hinterland. Now I’m not knocking their use in those forums (I like them and use them daily to focus where I can assist. If you have not used them, make that effort to try them – they do work), but I’m trying to illustrate that in a closed system that has a narrow focus the use of tags has problems.

Compare that though to another closed environment – del.icio.us. Primarily tag driven (was it the original source ?) but the audience while wide has certainly been percieved as being of the more geeky persuasion. I forget where I read that, but I remember it because there was a comment on the article bemoaning that fact that as more people used del.icio.us it became harder to use as focus was lost. So a system that was quite tight and self-regulating starts to fray. Tagging there has it’s problems too.

Taken to the web, tags just make things worse. A whole lot worse. Apparently, Technorati will read the categories of this post (currently WordPress and WWW) and use those as the tags to add to this post. It wants to use those tags to help you search. It also seems to count the tags and use them as some sort of “here is what the bloggers are blogging” type measure. Now I am using categories for me. It means I have a better clue where to find something, or in the case of a couple of aggregators that take the WordPress feed they only see what they want to. And categories are self-limiting – I’m not going to create a category just about rabies if I mention it in a post. But tags ?
What are tags for ? In real life they provide very specific information. They are a source. We search them out – we seek the information on them such as price, weight, name, washing temperature. They serve a purpose. And on a blog they do what ? Aren’t they so subjective as to be pointless ? Looking at Technorati just now, it says “Currently tracking 2 million tags” (they show 250 which is 0.0125%). IceRocket is showing a list and a prominent tag is “Default” (what ???).

The blogging cognoscenti would no doubt try to convince us that all these tags are a wonderful way of classifying things, finding common trends, using tags to search and find. I’d say that what they are actually doing is just creating even more noise on the net which makes finding useful and pertinent information even harder. The cognoscenti response would be that others are doing it wrong, doing it too much, not doing it enough. I’m sure the spammers have already hooked into this which makes the game both harder and more pointless. But then.. then we’ll have the ‘tags reinvented’….
This looks like I’m picking on Technorati and I’m not …. from their site:

People can categorize their posts, photos, and links with any tag that makes sense.

I would amend that to this:

People can categorize their posts, photos, and links with any tag that makes sense to them at the time they posted.

It’s perfectly possible that someone could write a blog post while they were drunk, and use ‘drunk’ as a tag for themselves yet that tag finds it’s way through all these bloggregators like IceRocket, PubSub, Feedster, Technorati and what does that tag do ? In the context of it’s creation, nothing at all. So from being some sort of classification it simply becomes a noise, an irrelevance, clutter. And clutter is good so long as we call it just that and don’t pretend it’s some grand plan that will see all the blogging information appropriately labelled and stashed away neatly for archiving. And even if it were that plan, someone would come along and ruin it all by suggesting that what we should really do is stop tagging and instead use categories properly. Have you in just a day not looked at a tag on someone’s post and thought “that is not one I would use”. If you haven’t then you really are one of the elite and you should go hit some generic blogging sites, and if you have then you are seeing the way that information which we want to be more searchable is being polluted by all this unnecessary chaff.

It’s as if the Dewey Decimal Classification System were suddenly applied to everything we wrote anywhere. Compared to what of value can be extracted as a result of this tagging behaviour, the result is a negative. In theory it’s a fine idea, in practice it just does not work.

Tagging on blogs ? Of no practical use.

12 thoughts on “Using Tags – pointless

  1. Angsuman – I noticed the URL that you registered with in your comment. I checked out the link though seeing the word in the URL and knowing advice you have given in the past, I wasn’t surprised when I saw what I did. While you are indeed free to use any information when commenting, I am free to edit that – something which I am usually reluctant to do.
    However, while your comment may well be legitimate I cannot help but think that the link you supplied could have been more important to you than the particpation in any conversation.

    I have therefore changed the url you supplied, and pointed it back to your own blog.

  2. Actually not. Both are my blogs. I personally write in both. I am extremely interested in stem cells with a very personal motive – seeing my closest family members cured of diseases which can only be cured with it like diabetes etc. It was also the reason I joined the field of bioinformatics, a big career change for someone from pure engineering field. Each of my blogs are a result of my strong personal interest in the field. Nowadays I do provide my stem cell blogs url as my url because of my intention to promote stem cell awareness, plain and simple. There is too muych FUD going around about this. You can read few of my articles to see my point.

    It is your blog, you are free to edit or remove the link. However do not re-point it to a non-existent url as you have done above. Feel free to do it with my other comments too on your blog (including this one) as that is your prerogative. Feel free to delete them too. I am really surprised and hurt that you questioned my intention that’s all. I would in future refrain myself from further commenting in your blog.

  3. > if that site did not have ads, I would not have changed it.
    Simple Thoughts Blog (which you linked to) also have ads, actually more! Then you are better off removing the links if having ads is unacceptable to you as a criteria for providing URI.
    I will very well keep my blogs as I please, thank you very much.

  4. I will be more explicit.

    Many many blogs have ads. I do not have a problem with ads.
    The site you linked to carries no ads when viewed normally, however on a single post view I see 3 Adsense blocks. Given there are none on the main view, I find that odd, but then you are ensuring context for your ads (not that there is anything wrong in that on it’s own).
    But, and I recognise that you have your interest in stem cell (and do not think you have the sole claim on genetic disorders) that blog seems to simply aggregate news stories. It does not appear to have much personal content, and seems to be targeting not only the area of interest but possibly also high PPC ads. Again, nothing wrong in that on it’s own. But when I add all this up, it comes to a figure which I am not happy to link to.
    No ads on main view.
    Maximum ads blocks on single view.
    Little personal content.
    Much use of excerpt so as to have many topics on display.
    It’s a call others may not make, and your motives may well be completely innocent – but given your understanding of SEO then if I did the same and started a blog about lung diseases would you too not be suspicious ?

  5. > however on a single post view I see 3 Adsense blocks. Given there are none on the main view, I find that odd, but then you are ensuring context for your ads (not that there is anything wrong in that on it’s own).

    The site does carry ad when viewed in multiple-mode (like home page or category page). That you have seen no ad simply means there wasn’t any relevant ads. In that case the space for ads is simply reused. Yes, you can do that with adsense.

    > blog seems to simply aggregate news stories
    You haven’t searched enough. There are several original content.

    None of the article are “aggregated”. When I do present news I present it in easy to understand format for everyone and with my strong support towards progress of this research and utter disdain for any opponents, moral police or otherwise. However with logic.

    > and do not think you have the sole claim on genetic disorders

    Far from it. I think many people have an interest. Look at the responses on the article stem cell therapy in AIIMS (not hyperlinked intentionally): stemcell.taragana.net/archive/aiims-pioneers-stem-cell-injection-for-reviving-heart-muscles/
    I am still answering questions from it.

    > It does not appear to have much personal content

    Not all blogs are about what I did today and when I brushed my teeth. In fact I keep my main blog (“simple thoughts” which you merrily link to) free from personal life as far as I can. I am not comfortable sharing my life over the internet. And I plan to soon open another blog which chronicles my varied personal interests (not life) and move them away from simple thoughts blog, which will focus on java and web technologies only.

    > your motives may well be completely innocent –
    You better believe it.

    > but given your understanding of SEO

    I wish I could enjoy that complement. But I am a novice in this field as was also noted by a SEO expert in WP support group recently :(

    > if I did the same and started a blog about lung diseases would you too not be suspicious

    If you are truly interested about lung diseases or at the least if you write anything of true value to lung disease sufferrers, I wouldn’t least mind linking you or anyone else for that matter. But that me. And you don’t have to follow my lead.
    Writing about lung diseases doesn’t automatically make that effort suspicious.

    I would not continue further on this thread as I think it hijacks from your article. Personal email is always fine.

    And frankly I am tired of this. This blog was created because my stem cell category in simple thoughts blog was becoming too crowded and it demanded a separate blog in its own right. Take a look at simple thoughts blog and you will realize that it still has the category and several articles in it.

    Gandhi once said – The world is like a mirror. We see our reflections in others. I hope that is not the case here.

    In any case adieu.

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