The Major Flaws with Tagging and How They Can Be Fixed

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Trying out Snarfer

I disabled the ‘categorisation’ feature in WordPress when I upgraded to 1.5 several months ago and started tagging. Tagging has worked out fairly well since then, but, being a regular tagger, I’ve found that there are quite a few flaws with it. Most of these aren’t technical, but flaws which can be fixed if someone steps forward and attempts to do so.

Tagging, is the concept of connecting people who are writing about the same topic. But, the lack of rules in this and the fact that there’s no centralised ‘directory’ of tagging makes it much harder. Let me explain. Say I’m writing a post about Weblogs Inc. I want to connect myself to the people who’ve also written about this, but at the same time I want to make sure anyone who’s looking for stuff tagged on Weblogs Inc finds my article.

  • As a tagger, which tag am I supposed to tag it with?

    weblogsinc? win? weblogs_inc? weblogs? inc?Ok, so let’s back off a few seconds. I want people to know that I’ve written about Weblogs, Inc. Just for the sake of this, I need to tag a post six different tags with naming the same thing? Certainly, if there were rules for this, and those rules were followed, it would help.

  • As a spectator, or a tag-subscriber, things get really worse. Say I want to subscribe to all of the stuff tagged on Weblogs, Inc. All of it. I don’t want to miss a single one. So, you’re telling me, I’ll have to subscribe to five different feeds? (leave the inc out). Now that would be a pain. Of course, I could just subscribe to the search feed for Weblogs, Inc. but that wouldn’t be any fun as there’s far too much spam that comes in search feeds and I want to find posts which are specifically on Weblogs, Inc. and haven’t just mentioned it once somewhere in the middle.

As the evidence clearly shows, tagging looks great in theory but when put to the test, there are some problems which really annoy the average tagger or tag-subscriber. Of course, I used Weblogs, Inc. as it was the first thing that popped into my head for some reason. This example will work on anything that has two words (examples: Google Images, Yahoo! Mail, Windows Media Player, Department of Justice [DOJ?], Google Video Store, etc) which really takes the tagging out of tagging.

Such things can be fixed though. Let’s look at the problems that causes all of this.

[1] When one needs to tag something with a space, what’s he to do?

  • Put an _ (department_of_justice)
  • Put a . (department.of.justice)
  • Join the words (departmentofjustice)
  • Separate the words (department, of, justice)

Anything with a space, due to this, is divided into four categories.

[2] When one has a two or three or even worded name, which has a short-form, what’s he to do?

  • Use the full version (which raises the problem mentioned above. What about the spaces?)
  • Use the short-form (which also raises the problem, as a short-form can be a word used for different things in everyday life)

If someone can come out with a rule for this (all tagging companies combined would be just great), and market that rule so every tagger in the world, well close to it, knows about it, that would just fix everything. Example rules:

  • Use an _ for any tag with a space.
  • Use the full word, and not the short-form.

Believe it or not, the above rules followed correctly is all it would take to fix this. Obviously, there will be couple or few who will ruin it for everyone, either unaware of this rule or not following it for any reason, but getting the majority to follow it would be the key.

An alternative solution, however, would be if the most popular tag engines (Technorati, TagCentral, IceRocket) all combine these tags into one. So, if I’m Technorati, I’d find anything which has an _ or a . and combine them with the same words without them (e.g. joint). The end result would be the tag with spaces (Department of Justice), basically, a combination. With such a thing put into place, it would fix quite a few problems:

  • The tagger will be able to tag his post as he prefers it. No rules, nothing. A ., _ or all in the same word, won’t make a difference.
  • The tag-subscriber will only need to subscribe one feed, which is, the combination. This will essentially act as an aspirin to the headache required to watch a tag.

Of course the problem of short-form vs. whole would still be needed to fix, but this 50% of the problem fixed right here. If the world was smarter, I’d suggest the tag engines to find the tag of a word and its short, use its AI to filter out all the shorts which aren’t talking about the whole word, and combine. But, it isn’t, and I’m afraid this is problem we’ll have to live with.

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