Yes, this is another “why tags/categories aren’t as useful as they seem” post. I get on this topic a lot, because they are so virtuous within the context of a single blog that it’s sometimes hard to see why they fail so much as a way to discover possibly related blogs or posts.
Here’s an example that I can across today. I was browsing through the list of hapax tagomena in UMWBlogs (post about them here). I happened to come across these three tags that appear exactly once in UMWBlogs:
Seems like three great posts to get together. But, here’s the fail. Remember, these are one-offs. Each of these tags (and since the RSS feed doesn’t distinguish tag vs. category, I’ll not make the distinction either) exists exactly once in UMWBlogs, making it really unlikely to discover any of them by looking at the tag or category feed. Especially for the first one, which really interestingly combines what seems like two distinct tags into one.
(Hugs and kisses to anyone who spots the bonus fail. (Hint: I copy-and-pasted the list of tags from the post itself) )
The second links to a post from Zach Whalen’s course on forms of narrative. At first glance, it might seem like it’s such a different class (English vs. Historical Preservation) that they wouldn’t be relevant to each other. But..umm…maybe this misses some rich interdisciplinary interaction? Maybe, just maybe, those interviews for historical preservation are themselves narratives, and some neat cross-perspectives could pop out? If only they could find each other! Other tags on the second post are “Fiction” and “truth” (I won’t make too much of “Fiction” being upper-case, and “truth” being lower-case, except to notice that that makes them different from “fiction” and “Truth”).
Last one goes to a post for Sue Fernsebner’s “Toys as History” class. It’s a list of possible interview questions. From the post, I see that it is in the category “Uncategorized” (which is an astoundingly useful default category). I hunted around on the page a bit, and couldn’t find a list of tags. The post is from early in the spring 2009 semester. The historical preservation post is from late in the semester. So, two courses, in very different disciplines, doing very similar learning activities, and a third course that could offer some neat perspective, maybe even theory, on those activities.
And, from what I can tell, tags/categories completely failing as a mechanism for them to discover each other. Huge, HUGE missed opportunities!
So what could help here? I’m working on a mechanism for faculty or students to create a profile for their course and add some more regular metadata for it. That regular metadata would come in the form not of a tag or category for the course, but in the form of a named link to a common reference point. But how do you find a common reference point — on the web so it can be linked to — when the breadth of terms and ideas it would have to make available is so huge. Expansive. Encyclopedic, even.
Wa-a-it just one gosh dern minnit! An encyclopedia? On the web? That could provide entries that serve as a common reference point for concepts and practices?
So. Two named links: “studies topic” and “studies with practice” to point to topics studied in the courses and activities/practices used in the course.
Forms of Narrative studies topic Oral Tradition .
Toys as History studies with practice Oral History .
And we’re getting close to having a way to help these groups find each other. Granted, there are still brittle points in this, too (why Oral Tradition instead of Folklore, for example). But with some of the high level metadata about a course, we’re at least making progress. And hopefully, they can also discover things like the books read in the class, other topics or practices they use, where they are blogging, etc.
Update: And here.