WP Toronto Meetup presentation 2010-12-04

This post is the text of a presentation to the 2010-12-04 session of the WordPress Toronto Meetup group. Note that the local links do not work (yet). I will either fix or remove them by 2010-12-06 (48 hours).

Tags and categories presentation

WordPress Toronto Meetup 2010-12-04

Robin Macrae (robinmacrae@workspacebuilders.com)

Overview and background (A)

Overview (2)

  1. my background and credentials
  2. how I authored this presentation
  3. our focus is on content
  4. how we will run this session

TaC means WordPress tags and categories.

My background (3)

  1. experience vs theory
  2. I started to use my current model in 1998
  3. HTML for word processing, static HTML 4.01 Strict files
  4. one massive integrated personal workspace or site
  5. all inflow, all work produced (clients, email, household, etc.)
  6. client projects: work product: internal, output only, migrated, integral
  7. started RWG in 2008, blog 6 months ago
  8. migrate the 1,015 pages to blog (login)
  9. have built 50 such sites for R&D, clients, associations
  10. learned that metadata is essential to eating own dog food


My work credentials (3a)

  1. my consulting practice
    1. content strategy and development, the CMS pattern
    2. Information architecture — organize and structure information
    3. metadata and taxonomies integral aspect
    4. complex information products and content applications
  2. a key lesson — using a scheme is best way to develop capabilities for others to use
  3. three examples of projects/info products/sites
    1. blog foundation: RWG, Index; TaC (def), People (Log): 750 tags, 30 category groups, 300 sub-categories
    2. client project: SMRBA
    3. work-in-progress: Mac t58

This presentation (4)

  1. authored in HTML of course
  2. HTML Slidy JavaScript powered presentation
  3. URL for text workspacebuilders.com/blogbeta/54
    (WordPress > Tags and Categories > WP Toronto Meetup presentation 2010-12-04)
  4. will post Slidy version
  5. will add TaC thesis (TOC)

Today we focus on content (5)

  1. why use TaC and how to use them effectively
  2. effective use changes as blog grows and evolves
  3. code not addressed except minimally in plugins
  4. dynamic content control excluded
  5. avoid/minimize technical terminology
  6. use examples
  7. make recommendations
  8. we won’t address how to
    1. design and develop a taxonomy
    2. implement a taxonomy

The plan (6)

  1. split session into two with a break
  2. presentation runs 90 minutes
  3. discuss issues and ideas as we go
  4. go where interests lead

My TaC thesis (7)

  1. TaC are important but poorly understood and used — confusion is understandable
  2. TaC essential to effective blogging
    1. for readers
    2. for authors
  3. usage changes as blog grows and evolves
  4. need plugins to add key capabilities
    1. WordPress development strategy
    2. organizing/finding vs controlling content capabilities
  5. classification schemes essential to Semantic Web

A basic orientation to TaC (B)

Overview (8)

  1. what are tags and Categories in WordPress
  2. the case for Categories
  3. categorization is hard wired

A tag, a Category and a taxonomy (9)

  1. WordPress enables and promotes the use of tags and Categories (Add New Post panel)
    1. two of the four steps in authoring a post (the other two are a post’s title and body content)
    2. what’s OOTB: three taxonomies, an API, lots of plugins
  2. In WordPress, we’re surrounded by classification schemes
    1. for example, edit panel’s columns — tracking posts by date, author, revision
    2. but it’s water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink
    3. the primary scheme for posts is Categories and is poorly used as a rule

What is a tag? (10)

  1. Is a tag just a cute name for a keywords index?
  2. fast, easy and cheap way to organize post content
  3. the poor relative of indexing
  4. uncontrolled vocabulary
  5. high risk of proliferation and eventual chaos
  6. progress from trivial and helpful to specialized and invaluable
    1. some use in early blog stage especially given alternatives (date, etc.)
    2. very useful when used for indexing

What is Categories (11)

  1. Categories — the builtin WordPress hierarchical taxonomy for posts
  2. Categories is a taxonomy
    1. a classification mechanism
    2. the basic procedures
    3. the Taxonomy API (no UI, hacks and plugins required)
  3. what is a taxonomy?
    1. a method of organizing by grouping things which share identified characteristcis
    2. can and often is hierarchical
    3. a WordPress blind spot (Codex, etc.)
  4. most common is topical but infinite number of ways to classify
    1. temporal (date, time period, etc.)
    2. author
    3. physical (length, size, scope)
    4. stage or type of work or process
    5. relationships
    6. geographical
    7. etc.
  5. the book pattern
    1. book pattern is helpful in thinking about categories and tags
    2. chapters are categories and indexes, tags
    3. when would I use a book’s table of contents vs the index?
    4. Lorelle credit
  6. exclude use of taxonomies to dynamically control content (content types)

    Chris Pearson in What Every Blogger Needs to Know About Categories (2008) (paraphrased):

    from a purely user-centric point of view, we think of them as navigational tools and guides for users

    but categories are a powerful tool that bloggers can use to exercise precise control over content in a dynamic environment

The case for Categories (12)

  1. information architecture (IA):
    1. organization and structure
    2. findability
    3. navigability
    4. reuse
    5. hypertext quality
  2. this is metadata — that’s the key
  3. Categories are the key to creating an information space
  4. use it in order for it to be useful
    1. invest in and commit to using it yourself
    2. find it useful yourself before readers will find it useful
  5. depth deepens context and improves usefulness

Categorization is hard wired (13)

  1. to categorize is an innate human characteristic and capability
  2. tagging is not a natural ability
  3. classification schemes
    1. the builtin ones in WordPress
    2. recipes (meals, ingredients, season, cuisine: Epicurious: Thai; browse)
    3. library catalog vs coffee’s 800 facets/attributes
    4. etc.
  4. paradigm shift from physical to faceted classification (Wikipedia)
  5. Everything is Miscellaneous book by David Weinberger

In traditional library classification schemas, each document has a unique assignment in a single, hierarchically organized classification system. A facet comprises “clearly defined, mutually exclusive, and collectively exhaustive aspects, properties or characteristics of a class or specific subject”.

How to Make a Faceted Classification and Put It On the Web (2008).

Coffee has over 800 flavour characters (more than twice as many as wine). In other words, there are over 800 ways to classify coffee.

The state of the art: how bloggers use TaC (C)

Overview (14)

  1. blogs use tags and Categories ineffectively
  2. examples of good and bad tag and categories schemes — the good, the bad and the ugly

95% of blogs use tags and Categories ineffectively (15)

  1. using Categories as if they were tags with multiple selections
  2. too many tier 1 Categories (analysis paralysis) and no tier 2, etc.
  3. single taxonomy view
  4. performance issue using Categories as canonical URLs (Category in Permalinks Considered Harmful, Otto on WordPress)
  5. don’t refactor so Categories don’t evolve from rudimentary initially used
  6. don’t use them themselves and think that they’re just for readers

Examples of good and bad tag and categories schemes (16)

  1. the good, the bad and the ugly classification scheme
  2. examples make issues more tangible but noteworthy caveats
  3. risks of trashing someone’s pride and joy

The good (17)

  1. A List Apart
    1. a topic scheme for categories
    2. excellent way of handling what are referred to as topics
    3. only six categories at the top: for example, User Science > Information Architecture
    4. each category is annotated with a useful description
    5. top level ones display their sub-categories name and link, descriptions and article count but not posts themselves
    6. articles are often in more than one category but few are in more than three
    7. there are no tags
  2. Epicurious: Thai; browse
  3. Victor Lombardi‘s Noise Between Stations a moderately complex three tier categories scheme by an IAMatt Mullenweg in Victor Lombardi (2004):

    Look at how the information architects go crazy with sub-categories. I love it!

  4. Toronto Public Library‘s Site Map, a classification scheme — categories — albeit by the way things are organized as opposed to topically — now 404

    See 742 results for site map search query report — Type, Language, Age Level, Library Branch, etc. — but no page with all categories

  5. RWG, Index; TaC (def), People (Log)

The bad (18)

  1. Scottish Terrier and Dog News
    1. ~1,800 posts 95% of which are buried
    2. migrated from Blogger which didn’t have categories capability
    3. tags expanded when Blogger search broken
    4. topic scheme hard to scan and browse with no overall logic apparent
    5. surplusage: Scottie and Scottish Terrier
    6. tag scheme incomprehensible
  2. Codex
    1. overall, a difficult site to navigate even for experienced users
    2. tags virtually useless and to be avoided
    3. several classification schemes but no overall logic
    4. consistent with way TaC are presented

The ugly (19)

  1. two examples are web Gods — Bray for XML, Raskin, design — safe targets
  2. Tim Bray‘s personal blog, ongoing (tbray.org):
    1. categories used as if tags
    2. What topic scheme (no hierarchy, etc.)
  3. Aza Raskin‘s Aza on Design WordPress blog
    1. unusual in being both undated and providing no navigation at all
    2. no tags or categories — not even an archive page link

The Information Architecture case (D)

Overview (20)

Categories are a crucial; tags not so much: the IA case

  1. recommendations
  2. eat your own dog food
  3. custom taxonomies diagram
  4. suppressing individual tags and Categories
  5. the tag proliferation risk

Recommendations (not yet best practices) (21)

  1. Categories are first and the most important of the two and classification generally
  2. use caution assigning posts to multiple categories
  3. don’t use Categories as the Permalink structure in the initial stage of a blog because they will change as the blog evolves (see blog stages, below)
  4. understand and address the tag proliferation risk
  5. in general, date is a poor navigation scheme and way of classifying content — who cares about your process?
  6. categories are the key to creating an information space
  7. develop your scheme to reflect the stages of development (50, 250 and 1,000+)
  8. use it in order for it to be useful
  9. depth deepens context and improves usefulness

Eat your own dog food (22)

  1. use it in order for it to be useful — invest, develop, commit
  2. use them yourself routinely in authoring
    1. if you don’t use yours, then it’s unlikely that anyone else will
    2. just as important to you as to readers
    3. an important part of making smaller hypertext units which work better
  3. use descriptions for both TaC (yeah, I know, too much trouble) (e.g., WordPress Custom Tag Templates, Platinum SEO plugin)

What are custom taxonomies diagram (23)

This diagram is from What are “custom taxonomies”? (Joost de Valk), the developer of the Simple Taxonomies plugin.

Illustration image of how various taxonomies might work in WordPress.

Suppressing individual tags and Categories (24)

It’s a good idea to suppress certain tags and Categories

  1. do your readers a favor — suppress empty ones
  2. privacy or confidentiality

The tag proliferation risk (25)

  1. tagging as a topical classification scheme is dumb
  2. small variations arise and proliferate
  3. too many tags for the same post
  4. controlled vocabulary is a pain but the only way to make tags work

On tag proliferation, see

  1. Managing WordPress Tags (Justin Tadlock) has a got take and cites Lorelle)
  2. Wikipedia Controlled vocabulary
  3. Codex and Plugin Directory examples;

Blog stages of growth (E)

Overview (26)

  1. the evolving role of TaC
  2. the issues
  3. a blog’s evolution
  4. the long term benefit

The issues (27)

  1. a blog evolves and there are stages so a strategy/plan is a good idea
  2. with plugins, hacks, APIs, Categories specific templates, etc., customization is rampant in tags and Categories but not necessarily to good effect
  3. tag proliferation risk
  4. custom taxonomies: are they an alternative when hierarchies aren’t supported in custom taxonomies?
  5. The search argument

A blog’s evolution (28)

  1. a blog evolves and the stages are 50, 250 and 1,000+ posts and illustrate why a plan is important
  2. in the early stage, Categories change and tags of little use given the number of posts
  3. crucial role of refactoring
  4. this is information architecture: navigation, findability, reuse, hypertext quality all of which show the importance of metadata

For both tags and Categories, these core capabilities will only become more important and easier to use and manage as WordPress develops. More, better and easier. So a strategy is a good idea.

The long term benefit (29)

Ultimately, your use of categories will determine the long term value and viability (survival) of your blog. What is the impact of an effective categories strategy? The reasons include:

  1. the evolution of your blog’s content theme(s)
  2. the quality of your hypertext
  3. your personal productivity

(Deleted) (30)

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Using TaC effectively with plugins (F)

Overview (32)

  1. much condensed material follows
  2. the first level of categories customization
  3. management and processing plugins
  4. better packaging of capabilities

Categories plugins (33)

  1. the Taxonomy API (no UI, hacks and plugins required)
  2. manage hierarchy;
  3. list selectively (metadata filtering: Category Tagging)
  4. display in widgets
  5. display inline
  6. display in a Categories cloud (Category Tagging)
  7. provide authoring assistance (WP-Cats)

Other categories capabilities (34)

There are quite a number of hacks and plugins because customization of the categories mechanism is rampant.

  1. Categories may be used for various purposes
  2. Category specific templates
  3. populate navbar in themes (e.g., Tarski)
  4. create and use a content type (Asides)
  5. control a private set of posts (Category doesn’t display if all posts are private)
  6. add images (Category Image(s))
  7. suppress certain categories

Management and processing (35)

  1. the Category conversion feature in an import;
  2. merge tags (Merge Tags) or Categories;

Better packaging of capabilities (36)

At a second level, there is a need for a more comprehensive and packaged approach to managing categories

  1. sort order
  2. suppression of categories for privacy, etc.
  3. controlling the display of empty categories
  4. ways of navigating a hierarchy (layout, styles)
  5. RSS for categories

Go forth and categorize! (37)