Old Thought — Thought 💭 2008.04.19 2023.01.01

The past, present and future of tags

An old thought from an old blog; on organizing, tags, categories and stuff

This is an old post. I got some replies, telling me to look into Topic Maps — but in the end I am to lazy for that. For now. For my own use.

The old post with comments is still available at it’s old place: Thoughts and Responses: The past, present and future of tags

For now I will end up tweaking categories and tags, and hope it works out well in the end.


In some ways I am mildly obsessive-compulsive about organizing stuff. Which means that I’ve sorted things in boxes, categories, hierarchies, systems. It always breaks.

I buy paperback books because then I know they all fit in the same shelves (maybe also because they are cheaper), and I try to get all books in a series from the same printing (or at least the same publisher) so the cover art/bookends fit nicely. I can sort and pack stuff effectively – until I end up with all the small, irregular stuff that can’t be stacked, doesn’t have enough similar items to be packed together.

When moving I spend 90% of the time on the last 10% of stuff. Excluding cleaning… that too takes 90% of the time… procrastinating away from. Perhaps I spend so much time sorting and packing the last 10% of stuff so I can avoid the cleaning for a bit more?

Back to digital sorting and stacking.

I’ve tried partitioning hard disks, building hierarchies of folders, naming systems on documents, lists and whatnot. For blogs I’ve tried hierarchical categorizing (until multiple root folders contains like named leaves), no categorizing (teh horror) and lots of categories (tags without the actual usability).

Anyway, with the advancement of tags I feel I am getting closer to something usable. Broad categories where each item is part of one, and lots of tags attached to each item. Only three problems remain.

  1. The categories are always wrong
  2. There are always tags missing on the items
  3. Tags ends up nearly duplicated, so that they doesn’t tie together like items

Now, the last gripe might be fixed by regularly maintaining the tags, and having a system for defining synonyms. (a bit of work, easier with the right “tool”).

Missing tags are fixed by regularly maintaining tags and items, and can easily evolve into a monster. It can be handled if older items grow towards a suitable set of tags over (a not too long) time. One action that have started to be included in solutions for the Internet, is the ability for the community to help you tag your items. This lets items (images, blog entries, links) mature in their descriptions faster if your community is involved. If you let them. I.e. Google lets you play a game and help them tag images.

The first problem listed above is fixed by the impossibly hard problem: Few and general (broad) categories. Yes, that easy – and still hard to do.

I really want to look into Topic Maps. But that seems like too much work to maintain. Although the possibilities are alluring.