The Rhetoric of Tagging in Blogs

I’ve spent about an hour this morning editing the tags on my entries, and I’m not nearly finished! I feel a bit foolish because I’ve read many blogs and yet when I started this one I forgot about tagging the entries for about a month, so now I’m slowly going back and adding tags. But in doing that I’ve realized that choosing tags that are really useful actually takes some though, otherwise I end up with a ridiculous number of tags that each have just a couple of entries, which defeats a lot of the purpose.

Of course I could be like Neil Gaiman who has made tagging into another creative practice that serves not so much to organize individual entries into broader categories as to make them even more distinct from each other, but since this is a research blog (mostly) I think I would drive myself crazy, and maybe my readers as well (if there are any!).

But now that I am trying to tag entries when I write them, I realize that sometimes it’s not easy to identify what the most dominant categories will really be, so it may have worked out better that I went a month before starting. Looking back at the summer’s entries, I can actually see the major themes and pick those as tags, which should also make it clearer to passersby what I’m writing about here. And I think this works differently in blogs than at sites like–I’ll write about that kind of tagging later.

This is a really pragmatic approach and it’s in tension with another impulse (of mine, at least) to use tags that will intrigue readers and make me look more interesting. So for example, instead of just tagging posts about particular people as “friends” or “scholars” or something like that, it’s tempting to say “academic rock stars” which is silly, but sounds fun, or “people I wish acknowledged my presence” which makes me sound completely neurotic, but still my be more interesting. Over on the nettime list our discussion of ex/including the personal from/in academic writing has made me think in a more organized way about how much I constantly and keenly feel this tension. It seems at least some others feel it too, but it’s hard to talk about even when we sort of give ourselves permission as we have in this particular thread, because I can’t help but feel that my normal levels of enthusiasm and whimsy, which I usually filter out of my academic work, are going to cost me the respect of serious scholars…now I really sound neurotic!

Anyway, I think that by and large it’s worth the risk. The pleasure of scholarly work is so much greater when combined with friendship, for example and/or ethical conviction is so much greater than simple intellectual interest, that the chance of increasing my chances of having more of it far outweighs any anxiety.

2 thoughts on “The Rhetoric of Tagging in Blogs

  1. Robert Link


    My first thoughts on the tagging phenom are lifted from Cory Doctorow’s must-read item, “Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven straw-men of the meta-utopia.” The piece I think Cory misses is that meta-data is arguably most useful, most valuable, in a right-brain context, which ad hoc and even whimsical tagging (especially tagging combined with tag clouds) seems to provide, whereas his complaints seem to me to exist in an assumed context of largely left-brain types of evaluation.

    My second thought is that personally I went through a tagging phase, then decided they were more trouble than they were worth.

    My third thought is here, where I envision tags as an alternative to topic-themed bulletin boards.


  2. K


    Thanks for commenting!
    I’ve read some things that suggest tagging is really helpful in helping inexperienced users find information and learn how to post…maybe I’d better do another post rather than cramming it all in this comment.

    I may decide are too troublesome, but I can’t tell yet. 🙂

    I think your third thought is on target and I’ve seen that approach taken at numerous websites lately, and of course at .


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