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WordPress Tags and Categories

Contra is moving to its own domain January 1, and will become a WordPress install as of that date. (Posts there now are all test posts and will be deleted before it goes live.) I’ve been studying WordPress and configuring the install to do what I need it to do, and although it’s taken some time and some fooling-with, long-term it will save me a huge amount of effort, compared to the hand-editing I have done now for over ten years.

One of the interesting features of WordPress is that it supports both tags and categories. A lot of people scratch their heads over that, but when I saw it I understood it immediately. Tags and categories both apply a text string to a post. The differences from a content management perspective are minor: Categories are predefined and applied via a drop-down list, but you create tags “on the fly” at post-time. You can use tags and categories interchangeably if you want, but using them together allows an interesting sort of two-axis classification of posts. One axis (best handled by tags) describes what a post is about: politics, religion, publishing, Linux, Wi-Fi, and so on. The other axis (best handled by categories) describes the shape of a post, in the sense of a literary form: idea pieces, reviews, rants, travelogs, memoir, and so on. The increase in precision is delicious: Not all posts about wine are reviews—I’ve done at least one wine rant and will probably do more, and wine travelogs are possible—but if you’re more interested in reviews than in rants, selecting the “reviews” category and looking for the “wine” tag will get you exactly what you want.

Both categories and tags work best when used sparingly. Five hundred tags each used once or twice are not only not as useful as keyword search (which is available in WordPress) but less useful, because after awhile we forget what tags we’ve created and create new tags that are so similar as existing tags as to spawn serious search entropy. (I had this problem on LiveJournal more than once.)

Categories in particular should be few and distinct. I brainstormed with myself a few days ago, jotted down as many category identifiers as occurred to me, and then ruthlessly winnowed the list down to a predetermined limit of ten or fewer. The eight categories I settled on are these:

Daybook: Everyday activities; “Dear Diary:”
Ideas & Analysis: Commentary on news plus ideas and speculation
Memoir: My personal history
Odd Lots: Short items presented without much discussion
Rants: Complaints and other over-the-top material
Reviews: Evaluations of products or services
Travelogs: Where I went and what I saw/suffered/learned in going
Tutorials: How things work and how to do them

I also have a tags list that runs to a little over fifty right now, and includes all the expected keywords describing my many interests, like religion, publishing, ebooks, dogs, hardware, ham radio, psychology, and so on. I spent a sobering half an hour meditating on my accumulated tags list in LiveJournal and threw most of them out. I’m going to try to keep myself to fifty tags or fewer and don’t expect a great deal of difficulty creating the list. (I’ll post it once I consider it reliable.) This sort of thing is called a “controlled vocabulary” in information science circles, and the trick, of course, is to keep it controlled.

LiveJournal will continue to be a mirror. One unanswered question is whether I will attempt to import LiveJournal posts to WordPress. This apparently can be done, though I haven’t tried it and understand that it could seriously mess up my newfound tag discipline—and require me to categorize several hundred posts. I may import but only selectively. Research continues.

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