An emergent method for coming up with folder names, hierarchies, and tags

by phil on Saturday Jan 17, 2009 7:39 PM
blogging, my little productivity hacks

How do you come up with folder or tag names? How do you do it without giving yourself a micro-headache whenever you save a new bookmark or post?

It seems like a shared experience among developer--bloggers, to go into tagging-mania mode, thinking "at last, I'm going to organize everything on my site!" I remember I went on a crazy tagging run a couple years ago, only to realize that the categories I came up with weren't really useful. This reminds me of how when people buy label-making machines, they go on a frenzy, labelling everything in their house.

Often times, I find, that it's too much of a hassle to predict, in the moment, exactly how you'll want the category to be used. If, for example, the first post on your blog is a picture of your cat, photoshopped with funny text, and a link to lolcats, do you label it as "cats," "personal photo," "lolcats," "funny link," "photoshop," "humor." You don't know what to do because you don't know whether by post 500 if any of those categories will be relevant.

I thought of one method recently, and it's the same method I use when I file my papers now. I try to put them into a folder, based on whatever comes to mind. I just spit it out. I don't think twice about whether the category will have longevity or not, I just label it. For example, I have a piece of paper with a receipt for my car inspection sitting on my desk. It lingers there because I don't know which folder to put it into. And so I just put it into a folder titled with the first thing that comes to mind, "car inspection receipt." This then leaves the process of coming up with relevant categories as an emergent task. Eventually maybe this folder will merge with "receipts" or just merge with "car stuff."

I wonder if people in clerical positions have a natural talent for coming up with proper folder names, and can anticipate ahead of time the "right" name for things. I'm a little envious of these people. I imagine that the ability to name things appropriately, has other life benefits. i.e. "She's too wild for me." "He's too square." etc. Effectively sorting through your experiences, I believe, is crucial to learning.

For example, this post is categorized, spontaneously as "my little productivity hacks."

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