Tidying tags (and cars?)

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When a story titled Confession: I’m a car slob popped up in the RSS feed I use to track who’s linking to me, I figured that some recent passenger had decided to out me to the world. Turns out that Beth Kanter has identified the correlation between untidy cars and untidy tags: like me, she struggles with both.

As it happens, I recently undertook a reasonably successful tag clean-up after spending two years staring at a collection of seriously messed-up del.icio.us tags. I made the colossal mistake of comma-separating my tags when I first imported into del.icio.us, and ever since my tag cloud has included dozens of tags like “e-democracy,” alongside the correct “e-democracy”. I concluded that using the built-in del.icio.us tool for re-tagging was simply too painful, since it required me to go through each tag one at at time, refreshing the tag edit interface each time.

After looking around for options I finally hit upon cocoalicious, a del.icio.us client for the Mac. I’ve never really gotten into using it as a daily bookmarking tool because I prefer to interact with del.icio.us from within my browser (Firefox). But cocoalicious turns out to be a phenomenal solution for tidying up tags, once you have it set up to sync with your del.icio.us account (easy to do: just enter your del.icio.us account info). Once cocoalicious has downloaded your bookmarks from del.icio.us, a list of all your tags appear in the left-hand pane of its main window. Double-click on a tag to edit it, just the way you would edit a file name on your Mac’s desktop. If your new-and-improved tag happens to be the same as an existing tag, cocoalicious converges them. It took me all of half an hour to fix my disastrous tag collection once I hit upon this methodology.

Another tool that helped me with tag clean-up is del.icio.us’ own tool for bundling related tags. You can access this on del.icio.us under settings — experimental — tag bundles (or by going to the URL del.icio.us/settings/yourusername/bundle
The tag bundling interface is very easy and quick to use and makes it much easier to see how your tag cloud adds up. My one complaint is that del.icio.us doesn’t actually let you access the bookmarks collected in any one bundle: to see any of the bookmarks inside my “e-democracy” bundle I still have to click on one of the individual tags it contains (like e-politics or e-research).

Beth also recommends radically pruning one’s Bloglines subscriptions as another solution to tag clutter. My own approach (which feels like a cheat) was to set up a personalized Google homepage with a much much much smaller collection of RSS subscriptions. My Google homepage contains the essential feeds that I want to keep on top of throughout the day:

  • top news from BC, Canada and the world, from several sources
  • the del.icio.us “popular” tag (a nice window on what’s hot online)
  • the del.icio.us tag “for:awsamuel” so I can find out what other people want me to see (see #11 in this blog post for an explanation of the “for:” tag)
  • Technorati’s feed for the nptech (nonprofit technology) tag
  • del.icio.us’ feed for the nptech (nonprofit technology) tag
  • the NetSquared blog feed
  • a “ego feed” via PubSub that sends me any blog post or article that includes my name or the term “Social Signal”

Before I set up my personalized Google homepage I was so overwhelmed by the mess of unread feeds on Bloglines that I began to dread visiting. Now I’m able to keep on top of the online news and items I really need to see — since my personalized Google homepage is my browser’s default page, it loads many times a day — and still use Bloglines when I want to find something to blog about, or have some time to catch up on a wider range of online stories.

As for tidying the car….well, unless Google radically expands its mandate, we’ll have to work harder at sticking to our “clean it out during every fill-up” resolution. But at the rate Google is expanding its empire, I’d put more hope in a Google solution than in us doing a monthly clean-out.

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