Position on wordpress categories, tags and “Pages”

I’ve recently been trying to determine how best to use wordpress.com’s tags and categories.  My conclusion is that as currently implemented they are fatally flawed, obliging users to either put up with very unsatisfactory behavior, or use categories or tags in an unnecessarily distorted way to get sensible outcomes.  I look at remediations.

Overview

Tags and categories are a means for providing a clue about the topics that a blog article pertains to, which can be used by simple automated features to guide users to content that might interest them.  Indeed, the value of tags or categories is primarily obtained via the mechanisms that wordpress (or other search mechanisms) provides for navigating to content based on those tags or categories.

These mechanisms are:

  • Post meta-information, which appears usually below (sometimes above) a post, saying things to the effect “Posted in cat1, cat2, Tagged  tag1, tag2”, where these categories or tags are hyperlinks to a listing of posts that are similarly tagged or categorized.
  • A widget that lists categories (with hyperlinks)
  • A widget that shows a “tag cloud”

The below-post tag and category links are the most alluring, because these promise to take the reader to other articles related to the one currently in view. This is especially salient in with content that progresses through time as in a blog, where there may well be previous or subsequent articles in which to follow the progression of the author’s thoughts (and comments thereon).

The fatal flaw

In wordpress.com’s current implementation of the under-post tags/categories links, they actually do not link to a list of the author’s similar-tagged posts, but rather to a list of similar-tagged posts from all wordpress.com’s blogs!  Needless to say, this is generally useless — what I tag as “me” or “windows” or “tips”  or “connections” will bring up a result listing that’s virtually guaranteed to not list any other pages I have written with those tags, and probably not even related.

In short, when I tag something, there’s an implicit “AND” with “my site” in my tag that wordpress’s search ignores.  Tag and category names are chosen to be usefully distinctive within the context of one’s own site, and surely can’t be expected to be workable within the world at large, which is what wordpress’s under-post links assume.

Remediation

Reported

I have posted this issue here:

http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/better-tagcategory-links-behavior

… and as noted in that post have also reported it to wordpress.com support.  Meanwhile, what can be done?

Widgets?

First, the Category and Tag Cloud widgets do limit their results to the current site, but are not adequate alternatives. As usual, tag clouds are more gimmick than useful, especially with a lot of tags.  Why force users to hunt through the tag cloud to find the tags that are showing under the current post?   The Category widget is more functional (and is possibly capable of hierarchy — haven’t tried that yet). However neither gets around the problem that the most conspicuous feature that the user sees for navigating to similar content is the under-post links, and they take the user away from the expected posts by the same author.  (It’s possible to obliterate those links by CSS, but it leaves a mess).

Workaround

First off, based on categories having a more usable widget than tags, and otherwise overlapping in functionality, I’ve concluded that there’s little point to having both, and might as well stick to categories.

Next, the idea that I’ve arrived at to defeat the under-post links problem is to explicitly add a site-specific identifier to every category. So, “tips” will become “tips [gwideman]”.  Ridiculously cumbersome though this is, at least wordpress’s results for those links will find my own content.  But as ridiculously, it wastes any ability for more sophisticated searches to use these categories more intelligently.

Position on Pages

For some reason, the Pages wordpress content type can’t be accorded tags or categories.  This means that navigation to a page has to be either through the Pages widget, or explicit links (or google).  Pertinent Pages will not appear in a category listing, and of course notably won’t be found via under-post links (and Pages don’t show under-post links either.)

This makes no sense to me, and greatly reduces the value of the Pages feature.

For that reason, even for content that will be refined iteratively, or that may be part of a collection of related articles, it’ll be necessary to post them all as blog postings, with possibly a master blog post providing a Table of Contents for the constituent articles.  Static Page(s) might have a role providing a “master-master” list of those post-sets… accessed via the Pages widget perhaps.

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