What’s in a tag?

When I first started this blog in late ’06, I didn’t even know about the concept of adding tags to posts. Did blogs even have that feature then? – perhaps they did, but I didn’t think it was important. I don’t recall seeing many tags on blogs back then (at least, not as much as now) so I figured organizing posts into dates and categories was enough. But only within the past couple of years, I’ve noticed an abundance of tags on nearly every post of every blog…

I don’t remember exactly when I started noticing how commonplace tags became on blogs. Maybe they’ve always been commonplace and I just didn’t notice because I didn’t visit as many blogs back then as I do nowadays. But whatever the reason, even when I started taking note of tags, and noticing that I did have the option to add them on my blog too, I chose not to use them. I wasn’t about to go back to the nearly 300 posts I had written and add appropriate tags to all of them. I also never found tags on other blogs useful to me – if the blog categories were too broad, the search bar would be my first tool to look for specific content.

But finally, sometime last year, I succumbed. I just couldn’t ignore the “Post Tags” option whenever I wrote a new post any longer, so I decided to add a few tags to a newly written post. And since then, I’ve been adding tags to all the new posts I’ve written and, when I have the time, I’ve been slowly going back to old posts and adding tags to them as well.

Out of the 384 posts I’ve written so far, I still have 100 some left to add tags to. I’m not in any hurry, since I still don’t find tags that useful even though I’ve started using them myself. Their main function, at least for me and I’m not sure if it’s different for everyone, is to organize posts into smaller sub-categories that wouldn’t be big enough to be categories of their own. For example, whenever I write about a specific anime series, I’ll make a tag for it. Major ongoing favorites of mine that I write frequently about, like Haruhi and Pokemon, are large enough to warrant their own categories, while a lesser favorite like Bleach or a shorter seasonal series that I’ll only write a few posts about and probably never write about again, like Nyan Koi!, will have tags only. As you can see on the “Tag Cloud” on the sidebar, I mostly use tags for specific anime titles, yearly series, and anything else I don’t feel is big enough to have its own category.

And that leads to one of a few issues I have with tags. How do you know when a tag you use becomes big enough to have its own category? Should you give a tag the same name as a category? Another thing is that, while I try to keep the number of tags per post relatively small, I’ve seen other blogs with nearly a paragraph’s length of tags on any one post, often with tags so specific (and probably about something they’ll never write about again), I can’t imagine that tag being any more useful then using the search tool. Sometime they’ll give a post a tag when it actually has no content for that topic. For example, I mentioned Nyan Koi! in the paragraph above, but I’m not going to include a tag for it in this post because there’s nothing about it here other than a quick mention as an example. Does having so many specific tags make your blog more organized? Do visitors really want to look through so many tags rather than use the search tool? I’m totally not trying to deride any blog that uses a lot of tags – I’m asking these questions because I don’t understand tags very well and I want to understand.

Another potential problem with having a lot of tags is that you have to remember which ones you’ve used before and not be redundant. For example, let’s say I wrote a post about K-ON! and gave it a tag “K-ON!.” Then, later on I wrote another post about K-ON!, but unwittingly gave it a tag “K-ON” (without the exclamation mark). Your blog would think these are two different tags (mine does at least), thus ruining your intent of organizing these posts into one related tag. Similarity, let’s say years ago I wrote a post about some anime stuff I bought and gave it a tag “anime merchandise,” or “stuff I bought” for more casual writers. Then, years later, I wrote another post about anime stuff I bought, but not remembering I had made a tag for that a long time ago, I create the new tag “anime products” or “stuff I purchased.” The potential redundancy of having too many tags to keep track of can’t really help your blog’s organization.

For my fellow bloggers or blog visitors out there, what’s your take on tags? Have they always been around since the dawn of blogs, or is it only recently that they’ve started to become so common? Do you feel tags are useful and I’m just not understanding their usefulness, or are they just another pointless means of making us feel like we’re giving ourselves more organization when in reality we’re just making things more complicated?

And wow, I can’t believe I just wrote over 900 words about something as trifling as tags in blog posts.

26 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Scamp says:

    I don’t see the point of tags as search options either. Categories are for that. The only reason you might use them is for names (such as anime titles or, as meta blogs do, bloggers names) but I have a drop down menu for anime titles so I don’t need that either.

    I do use tags though, but I use them in an ironic way to add comedy. Hmmm, I think only self-whoring will properly explain. http://thecartdriver.com/tags/

  2. Yumeka says:

    @ Scamp

    Heh, those are funny tags XD I agree that making something unique out of them is better than using them purely for searching a blog. But do you find it difficult to remember them all and accidentally make multiple tags for roughly the same thing? If not, then it seems like doing what you’re doing with tags is perfect for your blog =D

  3. Salinea says:

    I love tags! <333 When I find a new blog/journal that seems interesting, I find them absolutely indispensable for me to browse various entries of potential interest to decide whether adding it to my reading list – lack of tag greatly decrease the chance of me adding that blog; and if they are especially well organised as well as with a quantity of interesting material, there's a great chance I'll come back regularly to see the blog's take on a series/book/work right after I watched it myself.

    I've copied my own tagging system at my journal on those I was finding the most well organised and I have a lot of fun doing so. Must tag everything *_* Well I guess it's a bit like the way at tv tropes wiki my favourite activity was creating indexes.

    I don't really run into the category problem because the journal I have doesn't have that feature, so it's all tag, heh. But I can see how they're somewhat redundant. Though categories are by nature just broader.

    For the problem of remembering exactly what you use for tag for a concept, I find as long as you're organised enough in your taxonomy and remember to check the tag list for spelling when there's a doubt, I rarely run into that problem.

  4. Yumeka says:

    @ Salinea

    Thanks for the input. I guess if you have only tags without categories, it’s less redundant and readers have an easier time if they only have one to focus on. But I imagine that too many tags can still be overwhelming to look through. I suppose one needs to find the right balance of having enough tags so that they’re not too broad, but not too specific that they disorient readers.

    I try to keep the number of tags I make limited so I won’t accidentally make multiple ones. I only have about 150 some tags for almost 400 posts, most of which are just titles of anime.

  5. Mushyrulez says:

    Eh, I’m a fairly new blogger so when I saw tags I thought “Oooh, another feature, this has to be somewhat useful”

    …except it really isn’t. Tags don’t really do anything except when for you look at the tag cloud to see what this guy blogs about. The thing about tags is, if it gets too big (you have too few tags), then it’s basically a category. If it gets too small (you have too many tags), then you can’t possibly browse through every tag to look at the ones you want.

    Maybe tags are like a “related article” sorta thing – you go to the post, you find that it’s tagged “this is a post”, and you click on that tag to see related stuff.

    As for categories, I only ever have a certain amount that encompasses everything – I probably won’t ever edit my categories anymore because anything in the world can fit into one of them.

    tl;dr – tags are completely useless

  6. Yumeka says:

    @ Musheyrulez

    Good points. Actually, out of all the many blog posts I’ve look at, I’ve only clicked on a tag a few times. I’m just more inclined to use the search tool or click on a category when I want to browse through a blog. But yes, a quick glance at a blog’s tag cloud will give you a good idea as to what they write about.

    You’re right that if a tag gets too big it should be a category, and if it’s too small there’s probably only one or two posts about that topic or it’s not very significant. Then a balanced writer would have a lot of medium sized tags? -_^

  7. chikorita157 says:

    Personally, I use mostly categories to organize my blog posts. The Anime Titles are organized according to viewing status (e.g.: Complete, Watching, Planned, Dropped, etc). Editorial posts have its own category. Tagging a post by Anime Titles is a bit messy compared to categories, which you can use a dropdown menu for.

    I mainly use tags to describe what is in the post. This can include the genre of the show, studio or creator or random stuff. If you are interested, you can see how I used tags by looking at the tag cloud on the main page of my blog.

  8. Yumeka says:

    @ Chikorita157

    Your way of using tags looks pretty balanced – not too many that it’s overwhelming but not too few that it’s too broad. Actually, you’ve given me the realization that tags are probably more useful for an episodic blog rather than a blog like mine where my writing is kinda all over the place and I don’t usually post about the same thing multiple times. Thus my tags tend to be fewer and broader than others.

  9. f0calizer says:

    As a recent reader of anime blogs, I’ve found tags most useful when I want to quickly look through a list of posts regarding a particular series or character, especially if that blogger does lengthy reviews of each episode of a series and I’d like to read them all at one go. I’ve also found tags useful for navigation on blogs with multiple authors/contributors, as they might mention or cross-reference a series or character in slightly different contexts.

  10. Yumeka says:

    @ f0calizer

    Heh, you’ve further reinforced what I mentioned in the comment above – that tags are more useful for episodic blogs, and also blogs with multiple authors I suppose. For my blog, a tag for things other than the title of the anime, like specific characters, seiyuus, etc, wouldn’t be useful because I rarely write about a character or seiyuu in particular – usually it’s part of a general post about the series itself, or anime in general.

  11. Mystlord says:

    I never use tags. I never really got the point of why they exist, mostly because a lot of what I write neatly fits into a single category. Tagging also seems extremely clunky and messy in my opinion. I do use them in my G-mail/G-Reader, but their usefulness on blogs escapes me.

  12. Yumeka says:

    @ Mystlord

    I get what you mean – when what you write perfectly fits into categories, tags don’t really serve a purpose other than breaking down those posts even further into smaller categories. But when do you know when to stop? For someone like me who tends to write posts of a general, holistic nature on a variety or anime-related topics, it’s a bit tricky not making mycategories too broad and my tags too specific.

  13. RP says:

    I almost always end up duplicating tags and categories. I’ve never found a good way to use tags. Categories cover 90% of what they do, and search functions seem to cover the other 10%.

  14. Yumeka says:

    @ RP

    I hear ya – I’ve been trying to be careful about duplicating tags. I make sure I have one way of writing an anime title (so I don’t have an “Evangelion” tag and a “Neon Genesis Evangelion” tag, or something similar) and one way of writing other things. A good way is to keep your tags short and basic like “anime products” instead of “anime swag I bought” – the shorter they are, the less to remember. Of course, if you have a talent like Scamp’s for coming up with funny tags, then that’s a different story =P

  15. kluxorious says:

    tags were around back in ’06. I used them back then as I still do nowadays. But I’m not crazy about them. I know what you mean with people putting on tags just because they named them as an example. I don’t do that but I can understand why people did that. It was all for the sake of search hit.

    I give tags whenever I think it is easy for me to do a search post since tag will categorized shit for you.

  16. Yumeka says:

    @ kluxorious

    Tags can help increase search hits? I didn’t know that – but I would rather have a few less hits than give out misleading tags for my posts.

  17. Caddy C says:

    I’m constantly trying to figure out how I want to use tags. I still haven’t figured it out – not very helpful, I know!

    I use categories to organize my posts, but use tags to be super-specific. It is really hard sometimes to remember what tags I’ve used before, and that’s super annoying.

  18. Yumeka says:

    @ Caddy C

    I too am still trying to figure out how to use tags and have trouble remembering which ones I’ve used before. However, my goal isn’t to be super-specific – just a little more specific than the categories I have. The more specific the tags are, the harder it is to remember them.

  19. Mikoto says:

    Well, I don’t find them super useful, but it’s helpful to get an idea on what a person blogs the most (depending on the size of a certain tag). I personally tag my posts with certain mangaka or animation studios I like without giving them all a category (which would be too clutter-some, if that’s even a word :P Basically, tags are things I use to dump subjects that I otherwise wouldn’t put as a category). If I see a big “CLAMP” in the tag cloud, I’d think, “oh, this guy is a big fan of CLAMP manga”, and so on. If I see “Fangirling”, I’d think “Oh, we got a passionate person on our hands”. It’s not all that useful for the blogger, but that’s my mindset on tags whenever I read blogs. Don’t really need to have them, but they’re fun to look at whenever I read a new blog.

    For me, I put tags on my sidebar instead of my categories (which I leave on a separate page), because my categories takes up too much space and makes it look pretty nasty, seeing as I have sub categories for sub categories. :s And if I leave it as a dropdown menu, it’s too wide for the sidebar. ^^;;

    …It’s a fun way to be disorganized for me, basically. lol I hated going through all my old posts just to tag them appropriately after I started using them, though. >.<

  20. Yumeka says:

    @ Mikoto

    You have a valid point that a tag cloud can give you a good idea of what a blogger writes about. With a tag cloud, I don’t even think it’s necessary to have all the tags listed on every single post, especially when there’s a lot of them and it clutters up the post.

  21. Yi says:

    I think I overuse tags. I type in whatever comes to my mind when I write a post. There’s no organization or system to which tags I use. It’s pretty bad. :(

  22. Yumeka says:

    @ Yi

    Wow…so that must mean you have a lot of tags 0_O (how many?) I see that most of your posts have quite a few tags. I imagine if you were to add a tag cloud, it would be humongous =P

  23. Scamp says:

    @Yumeka

    The way I know I’m not re-using similar tags is because if I type part of what I think the tag was called into the tag section on wordpress, it gives you a selection of tags already in existence. For example, I know I have a Kannagi tag but I can’t quite remember what it’s called. I type it ‘kannagi’ into the tag place and up comes ‘kannagi is far better than its plot description would have you think’. Now what does happen is I forget certain tags exist, or think of tags for different posts that would have been relevant for earlier posts, but my tagging system is mainly for lulz anyway so it doesn’t matter that much if I miss out a few

  24. Glo says:

    I sometimes use tags. But considering that I don’t have a tag cloud, they really don’t do anything.

  25. You see, I don’t have to deal with this “categories” problem since Blogger doesn’t give me the luxury of using them at all! That said, I *love* tags, even if my readers don’t use them a lot. From an editorial standpoint, they make it incredibly easy to lump posts together based on the type or topic of the post.

    I mainly tag based on a few concrete rules: I tag the topic (anime/manga/game/etc.) that’s primarily being discussed, the type of post (news/review/column), the primary creators or studios/developers in the case of reviews, and a few other miscellaneous things such as publisher for anime/manga and console for video games. These can occasionally be useful if someone wants to see everything we’ve written about Ghost in the Shell, but they’re especially great for hitting the “anime” tag to look at ONLY our anime coverage, or hitting the “E3 2010″ tag to view all of our E3 coverage.

    The final (and perhaps most important) rule is that, because of the number of contributors who help out on Ani-Gamers, I — as editor — am the only one who tags posts. Combining this with Blogger’s helpful mechanism to remind you of what tags you’ve already used means that we generally keep our tags quite consistent.

  26. Mikoto says:

    @Evan (Vampt Vo)

    My blog first started on Blogger and if I remember correctly, weren’t “labels” the equivalent of “Categories”? Granted, you had to organize them manually…

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