January 7, 2007
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Why Blog Categories Don't (Generally) Work

Blog categories fall apart because they’re incidental. A post doesn’t exist in order to be categorized.

In the heat of the moment, we forget to put some posts in the right category. We forget to put some posts in any category at all. We can't decide which categories to choose — and so everything ends up turning miscellaneous.

Or, we say, "I'll sort these out later.” We all know how that turns out!

The answer, I think, is simple:

Scott Johnson is doing something similar for photography at Ookles. Nobody is as thorough about labeling and tagging their snapshots as they ought to be. But Ookles can deploy some good state-of-the-art face recognition: it can tell that this is a picture of Suzy and that's a picture of Terrence. So, it goes ahead and tags things for you. (And, I'm sure, there will be some handy way to tell it that, 'No, that's not Suzy, it's her long lost twin sister Suw! Who knew?!')

Tinderbox 3.6 introduces sets, which make it really easy to let agents assign things to categories for you. Agents search for notes that meet some criteria, such as "notes that are inside my archives, published in the last three years, and that mention Roger Ebert, David Mamet, or Louis Menand". Now, we can let agents automatically add and remove tags:

Topic=$Topic+"Critics"+"Literature"-"Dull"

Adornments and containers can add and remove tags, too. Put something there, and it automatically gets metadata. Your pile of finished tasks can automatically add Complete and remove ToDo from the note's tags.

All this extends Tinderbox's role as a spreadsheet of ideas, and makes it much easier to keep categories alive and reasonable consistent. There will always be edge cases: this post mentions Mamet but it's not really about the theater, just as Suw isn’t really Suzy but merely looks like her. But getting things roughly right is much better than giving up.

I expect this is especially important for high-volume pro bloggers. Good, focussed categories are good ad targets, so they should be good revenue enhancers. But you don't have a stable of tame indexers categorizing every bit of gossip of about The Valley or the next Apple gizmo! If an occasional post is indexed somewhat fancifully, the readers and advertisers will soon forgive you. But everyone has archives, and we all should use our archives to greater effect.