When you only have one of something, you should be able to find it.
Note that I said ‘should.’
This is, of course, not entirely true. I only have one pair of glasses, for example (which is also not entirely true) and being of a certain age I frequently have to take them off in order to see; if I put them down and then have one of my (all too frequent) episodes of AAADD I typically can’t find them again. Hilarity ensues. (Are idiot strings in my future? The evidence suggests they probably should be.) What is true is that when I find them I know I’ve found the right ones: if I had pairs of glasses, I’d inevitably find the wrong ones first.
Another example. In ‘About Me‘ I make reference to a paper that I photocopied back in 1984. I mentioned that I don’t know where it (the copy, although I found the paper on ‘da weeb’ (number 7) by using the wrong keywords) is — that’s also not entirely true: I’m moderately sure that it’s somewhere in a six foot tall stack of filing boxes in the basement. (That’s a big stack — clearly I made copies of a lot of papers in that era. Of course, most of them are either about nothing (post 84) or about hideously complicated coordinate systems (pre 84).) Finding a paper would be easy. Finding the right paper, well, that’s another thing entirely.
I used this example so I could mention a dead Indian physicist in passing (Dead. Passing. Heh.) (Too soon?) and so I could make a clumsy (Clumsy is, after all, practically my middle name. Ask anyone.) segue:
Blog posts are a little like the boxes of papers in my basement — and not just because they’re blurry copies of someone else’s work that moulder, alone and unloved, in a dark corner. No, blog posts are like boxes of papers because there are a lot of them (one blog hosting/software company whose name I won’t mention because of the unfortunate placement of a capital letter had forty million posts last month alone), because they vary wildly in content and because your chance of finding the ‘right’ one is exceedingly small.
But, unlike finding one specific paper (or my glasses) there is a way to find that perfect blog post.
All it requires is an author who thinks the same way you do. Not much to ask, really. (For you, maybe. For me, not so much.)
Tagging your posts helps people to find them in the Reader, increasing the chance that a new visitor stops by to check out your blog.
She’s talking about tags. She’s entirely correct, of course — she’s a clever lady — but there can be… obstacles. The most obvious obstacle is that tags are highly personal and people can be somewhat… idiosyncratic. For example, I’ve made fairly heavy use of the tag ‘IT‘ but most of the posts aren’t really about Information Technology in any way. Mostly they’re about the absurdities that I’ve encountered when using computers and how those absurdities have contributed to my burgeoning tally of neuroses. (Got it. Need it. Want it.) I rather suspect that most people, if searching for something about IT, are looking for something else. (See below.) (Aside: ‘IT’ is also a dreadful tag because it’s, well, the same as a word that’s probably in all but two of those forty million posts. As keywords go, it’s a pretty useless one.)
In addition, there’s the question of what to do if your post isn’t about anything. If I was to write about my favorite cheesecake recipe that would be something, but a lot of what I ‘publish’ is positively Seinfeldian in its not-really-about-anything-ness. The most ‘popular‘ thing I’ve ever written has no tags whatsoever: It takes place in a hospital but it’s not about hospitals or doctors or healthcare in general. A couple of computers are mentioned but it’s not about IT (even by my relaxed standards). It talks about footwear, queueing and a couple of TV shows from Long Ago — but it isn’t about any of those things. It’s almost a conversation with myself, but even the tag ‘narcissism’ doesn’t seem right somehow. It’s not long enough for the ‘this is long‘ tag. It’s not…
Whatever. Its tagless state seems entirely appropriate to me. Which means that it’s invisible. Sort of. God knows how Ben found it.
And, of course, the same tag can mean different things — sometimes radically different things — to different people. I mentioned what I use the ‘IT’ tag for but the meaning of this is far from universal: I know what I think it means. To at least one person it means large corporations reinventing themselves. To another, it’s all about what she takes with her on a train.
Another tag I use a lot is ‘curling.’ Lots of people use that tag. I use it to refer to the somewhat obscure (in some places) game played on ice with large chunks of stone and things that aren’t actually brooms that are called brooms. (They’re pretty easy to throw, though.) I looked at recent posts using this tag just the other day: a young lady talked about learning the game in Virginia. A young gentleman wrote a poem about a cat that curls. (He probably wasn’t thinking of this. I hope.) And the tag also led me to a post entitled “Put down that mediocre hairspray.” I can’t be sure (I’ve been wrong before — rather a lot, actually) but I think she’s trying to tell me that the right hairspray can help my curling. (Which is a good thing to know — I thought the only performance-enhancing substances in curling were beer (which I don’t like) and, rarely, cocaine (which I’m unwilling to try).)
But hairspray? I may have to try it. (But not IT. Anyone can see that would never work.)