How should you tag posts? October 3, 2016 9:13 PM   Subscribe

I’ve made many posts, and given them lots of tags. Often, I’ve often gotten very specific with them - adding all of the names of the authors of news articles, etc. Lately, as I’ve tried to search for buried threads, I’ve become uncertain that getting so specific has been particularly useful. (Someone looking for a post isn’t likely to remember that it contained a particular news article written by person X as opposed to the article’s topic.) What are your best practices for tagging posts, and your best practices for searching for tagged posts?
posted by Going To Maine to MetaFilter-Related at 9:13 PM (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I tend to think about:
a) what are the top keywords someone would look for if they half-remember this post and want to find it again?

b) ditto, for a person checking for recent postings of this link?

c) any other specific identifiable things, especially ones that are maybe not mentioned in the post text? Things like: proper names of featured people, places, etc; name of author; publication; series; etc. This can be helpful if, for example, an author or place etc becomes newsworthy in the future and people go back looking for their name. This kind of search I imagine being performed by someone who doesn't know your post exists, they're just looking for all the posts on this one person or place etc.

d) what general topics should this come up under if someone is browsing for serendipity? For example, I'll often add the tag "music" or "history" if there's a post on those, and I sometimes will look at general-area tags like that to see what I might have missed lately.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:34 PM on October 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I try to make sure I've added all the obviously useful tags, then I go for being completist, then I may add a couple of funny-given-the-post ones.

Having too many tags doesn't seem like a problem to me, even if nobody ever winds up searching for some of them. Better that than not adding a tag somebody might think of.
posted by Lexica at 9:45 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another general tagging point:

For phrases, I usually will add them both as a single conjoined term and as two separate words, like so:

When you're searching, you can connect terms with "+" to get only posts that are tagged with both
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:20 PM on October 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is that really necessary, though? I've noticed that substrings are found, so a tag search for "using" will return this post with its "usingmetafilter" tag.

The plus sign is a good tip, thanks.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:40 PM on October 3, 2016

Not necessary, no. I guess I tend to search by directly typing in tag URLs more than the average person.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:44 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Now, see... THAT as a search method is something I had honestly never thought of.

When I tag, I generally try to hit the highlights of what seems important to me about the post. Sometimes this is very obvious, other times it isn't so I try to tag it with a few maybe memorable terms or phrases from the article. If it's about people, I usually include their name, but I have never included an author mention unless it's a pretty well-known author like Updike etc.

I guess I find the searchbar search results to be useful because of how they're divided up into categories and how there's a list of tags and related tags that I can click through on and I find that helpful when I'm narrowing down or digging deeper or whatever I'm using that search for.

To be honest, I don't really search by tag, per se, very often. I'm more of a search engine sort of a person so for most things I use a site-specific Google search. I guess I use tags more for interconnectedness or broadening scope or even attitude-evolution-across-time sorts of things, not to find a specific thing that I'm looking for. So, given the specific example of including the author's name in tags would mean if I liked what someone had written, I could easily look to find other mentions of them on MF to read.
posted by hippybear at 12:17 AM on October 4, 2016

Yeah, I use the tag url search method too. Both when making posts and also when I'm interested in what MetaFilter has had to say on a given topic. One useful tip. When tagging people, tag them both by last name, and first name and last name. For example, a post about Angela Merkel would be tagged Merkel and AngelaMerkel (note: capital letters are treated the same as lower-case letters, I just capitalize for clarity). However, if people are well known enough by their first name only, I add that as a tag too. For example I would tag a post about Hillary Clinton thusly: HillaryClinton Clinton Hillary
posted by Kattullus at 1:11 AM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use that sort of specific tag to give the authors of stories I link to credit, if only for when they egosurf.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:01 AM on October 4, 2016

I also try to put a joke or two in my tags. Tags are free, why not, right?
posted by phunniemee at 4:27 AM on October 4, 2016

For phrases, I usually will add them both as a single conjoined term and as two separate words, like so:

Yes I do this too! I also try to make sure I have all the appropriate plurals so it's like:


which is probably unnecessary but it's how I live my life. I also post very seldom so it's less onerous.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:29 AM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Same as Mrs. Pterodactyl.
posted by Fizz at 6:12 AM on October 4, 2016

I spent a bunch of years as a professional cataloger, assigning subject headings and other access points to library catalog records. Here are my thoughts about tag assignment.

In standard cataloging practice, there's a 20% threshold for assigning subject headings -- for instance, you wouldn't assign the SH frogs if frogs are only briefly mentioned in the item you're cataloging, you would only assign it if, say, there were 5 chapters in the book and at least 1 of them was about frogs. That practice comes from the days when we had catalog cards with a limited amount of space on them, and each subject heading assigned got its own card and the more headings an entry had, the more filing the librarian had to do. It was practical to only have one or two headings. It's still accepted practice though, because your signal to noise ratio would be pretty high if every item that mentioned cars got the SH cars.

In an electronic environment, there are no practical reasons to limit tags/subject headings, so you could put as many access points as you can to get in the one that someone might conceivably search on. People search in different ways and English contains a lot of synonyms. Just because an access point is not helpful for you doesn't mean it's not helpful for someone else. That said, keep in mind how unique your tags are and therefore how useful they'll be when people search.

I also tend to do the thing with putting phrase words in both separately and combined, because the instructions say to combine and people who know that that's a thing here would search that way, but people in general just tend to search by keyword so having them separate is also useful.

TL;DR, the more tags you assign, the higher the likelihood that someone might find it BUT if your tags are too common/generic they won't be that useful.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:22 AM on October 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am not understanding why too many tags might be considered a problem. Its not as if the internet is running out of space. As long as they are relevant it is fine. If only one person finds what they are searching for via one of your tags then you are doing a stirlng job.
posted by adamvasco at 7:12 AM on October 4, 2016

I guess I tend to search by directly typing in tag URLs more than the average person.

I have always wished that tag search were more prominent on this site. mathowie sort of gave up on tags and we never built out any super useful tools with them.

I am not understanding why too many tags might be considered a problem.

It's a recall versus relevance thing. So some people want to find ALL the stuff on a given topic and so more tags would be useful. Most people (I'd guess) want to find more specific narrowband stuff, fewer results but more on target. So if I tag all of my stuff about Vermont with "vermont, us, VT, UnitedStates, Montpelier, greenmountainstate" etc, that US tag may be less useful because the post is about the US in that Vermont is in the US but otherwise the post is not about the US. And MeFi doesn't (to the best of my knowledge) do much if any tag weighting when they do search stuff, so a post with just "US" and "politics" as tags wouldn't show up higher than a post with 30 tags only two of which were "US" and "politics" Not saying they should, just explaining that there are more parts to it than just MOAR TAGS. And you can't combine more than two tags, so that's useful intel also.

So thinking about what people might be searching for, and what you're trying to achieve with your tagging. I always try to include author (first name and firstlast), subject-type keywords (postoffice, trapeze, hokyepokey) media (so like newyorker or NYTimes) and a few broader top level tags (art, music). Also geographical or cultural signifiers if they're useful. And maybe a jokey tag or two if I'm feeling like a scamp.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:16 AM on October 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

I wish more people would tag their cyberpunkesque posts with "cyberpunk" so I can put on some over-prescription-glasses mirrored shades, turn off the lights, turn on the blue el wire, pull out my laptop and be all cyberpunk with my cyber-tea-coffee combo.
posted by I-baLL at 9:19 AM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

This sort of thing is exactly why I have never really warmed up to tags as a way of cataloging Stuff on the Internet. It's not standardized! There are no rules! Total anarchy! AHHHHH!

I get that in practice they are often the easiest way to get a good-enough catalog of something and that they have notable advantges over using fixed categories or something like that, but there's something about the whole idea that just gives me the jeebies something fierce.

In practice, my own solution when tagging is to just not think about it that hard and assume that I'm likely to miss some stuff because any other path would lead me straight to insanity.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:36 AM on October 4, 2016

posted by sexyrobot at 9:51 AM on October 4, 2016

Umm, hello? Why don't we just tag every post with the single letters A, B, C, D, E and so on and on all the way to Z. Then if you want to find a post on, say, Parks, you can just search "P+A+R+K+S" - and you'll get EVERY post on Parks! It's a genius system that I like to call "quidnunc sorting". WOW - do they give a Nobel prize for awesome? Because I gotta move some bongs off my mantlepiece to make space, right? It's like, man - I blew my OWN mind. With the power of my own MIND!!! GOD I am wasted right now OK guys I really got the munchies I'll see you later ok thanks
posted by the quidnunc kid at 10:08 AM on October 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

You forgot the tag:
posted by Kabanos at 10:55 AM on October 4, 2016

I tend to use the hippybear technique for searching MeFi as well as everything else (the hippybear technique is going right into my lexicon, by the way, 'cause it sounds cool as hell) - tags are only as good as the tagger (not that anyone here's especially bad at it, but I know I'm lazy as hell with it), and there's a voodoo to the Google search algorithm that makes me think the developers' souls are owned by someone besides themselves.
posted by Mooski at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2016

PSA that people can add tags to posts by people they are co-contacts with.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:31 AM on October 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

PSA that people can add tags to posts by people they are co-contacts with.

These seems kind of odd given the casual nature of connections. It seems like events such as the great enspousening would blow up the list of people who can tag things.

Not that I'm opposed, exactly. Just - why make it be mutual contacts? Why not just let everybody tag posts with anything?
posted by Going To Maine at 11:37 AM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Backtagging was totally useful and those tags continue to be useful to this day. I think jessamyn just means he didn't take tags farther or do more with them -- that the state they're in today (in terms of what you can use them for on the site etc) is about what they were like years ago.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:43 AM on October 4, 2016

The best list of tags follows all the good advice above but also include great wry. sarcastic, snarky and occasionally very very funny commentary.
posted by sammyo at 11:44 AM on October 4, 2016

grrrrrr I spent a decent amount of time back-tagging.

And it's appreciated! But we could have built more cool tools on top of those tags, added more search/findability stuff, and generally raised the profile of tags on the site which would have allowed people to do even more with them. It's pretty low on the list in terms of regrets for me, but I've always wanted MeFi to have a killer faceted search and a cool tag-based taxonomy could have been part of that.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:33 PM on October 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

As an observation, I block a lot of scripts (esp. Google) which means that the MeFi search box is useless to me. On the other hand being able to simply type (or potentially have a userscript/extension search for) is a godsend. Diligent taggers are appreciated!
posted by comealongpole at 4:02 PM on October 4, 2016

The only real way I ever interact with tags is via MyMeFi, so I'm in favour of very broad subject-matter tagging.
posted by Dysk at 11:58 PM on October 4, 2016

There is one tiny argument against excessively broad tagging: tags seem to be used to generate the "related" lists here. The more your tag minor aspects of a post, the more your post will displace genuinely relevant related info. I suspect specificity is why some "related" rabbit holes are fantastic, and others become unrelated very quickly. To be fair, this is probably a lot less compelling than the argument for tagging things with wild abandon to benefit searches.

Now if we can just agree once and for all on a tag for the "what is this object and what is it used for" askmefi category, tagging will be at least 100 times as useful. (No? *sigh*)
posted by eotvos at 1:28 PM on October 6, 2016

Now if we can just agree once and for all on a tag for the "what is this object and what is it used for" askmefi category

I propose mysteryobject.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:56 PM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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