April 04, 2006

 What?delicious logo

The "for:" tag enables del.icio.us users to send links to one another.  Subscribing to your "links for you" feed from your del.icio.us account ensures that you automatically see links people send to you this way.

 
When someone sends you a link using the "for:" tag, it shows up on your "links for you" page in your del.icio.us account.  (The page used to be called "for", but was recently changed to more clearly communicate its function.)

delicious links for you

 

Why? 

The "for:" tag is a great way to send links.  If you aren't monitoring your "links for you", you could be missing things people are sending to you.

I don't know how commonly people use the "for:" tag -- and its inherent privacy prevents us from looking at others' accounts to find out -- but I suspect it's underused.  Even if this isn't popular now, it may become reasonable to expect people to check their link inbox nearly as often as their email inbox.  This could evolve into the equivalent of an email inbox.  Note that while "links for you" is effectively an inbox, it's distinct from the del.icio.us concept of the "inbox".

I make this speculation conscious of the fact that this way of sharing is limited to del.icio.us users.  Remember, all Yahoo! users will likely soon be able to use del.icio.us with their Yahoo! account, just like any other Yahoo! service.  That plus the non-Yahoo! del.icio.us userbase is a substantial network for sharing!

People will increasingly recognize these and other benefits of sharing links this way:

  • It's the right system for managing links - Email can be a good way to share links with specific individuals, but if your recipient is a del.icio.us user too, using the "for:" tag gives you both the benefits of the service you're already using; one designed to manage links.
    • You can see what tags the sender associated with the links, so they're in context
    • It's easy to copy them to your own account.
    • It produces a feed, which is arguably a more appropriate and efficient (in most cases) way to share links than email.
  • Targeted sharing reduces information overload - The "for:" tag enables you to create individualized feeds for sending links to specific people.
    • People are likely to pay more attention to links you tag explicitly for them.
    • Subscribing to the feed of just those links might be more appealing than subscribing to your entire shared links feed, since it would likely be lower volume.
  • Adequate privacy - Most everything about the "for:" tag is invisible to anyone but you and the recipient.
    • Others can't see the fact that you tagged something "for:username".  NOTE: Doing this does not make the link private; only the fact that you tagged it "for:" someone is hidden.
    • The feed is "private" but not authenticated.  It's just got a long string attached to it, presumably to make it unique and somewhat obfuscated.
    • I had no problem subscribing to mine with Bloglines.
    • I think the degree of security it provides is totally reasonable, and people should know better than to expect serious privacy in feeds and social bookmarking services at this point anyway.

How? 

It takes very little effort to monitor your "links for you":

  • Copy the feed address into your favorite feed reader, and you're done!

Speaking of "how", it's a good idea to think about how you use the ability to send links to other del.icio.us users; remember, people can choose to be antisocial toward individual users!

March 07, 2006

What? 

del.icio.us allows you to create tag intersections.  A tag intersection is the list of items tagged with both A and B.  You can use tag intersections to see items that share common tags.

Example: http://del.icio.us/jameselee/cool+video displays all the bookmarks I've tagged both "cool" and "video".  Anything tagged "video", but not "cool", won't show up in the intersection.

This is Wikipedia's example diagram of an intersection in this context:

Intersection Venn Diagram 

Tag intersections are a type of what I call a "tagset", just as in mathematics, an intersection is a type of set.

 

Why?

Tag intersections let you filter information to create specific views and see relationships. 

  • Create useful lists -  of "movies+toWatch", "photography+tips", "solutions+didWork", "books+toRead", "places+toVisit", "places+didVisit", "restaurants+toTry", etc.
  • Create topic-specific feeds - People can create and subscribe to specific (RSS) feeds of your tag intersections "movies+didLike", "restaurants+recommendations", "computer+tips", etc.  You can do this with any del.icio.us tags; your own, others', all.  This is a good way to follow what people are bookmarking on specific topics.

You can use tag intersections to filter your own tags:  http://del.icio.us/jameselee/ideas+tagging or all tags in del.icio.us  http://del.icio.us/tag/ideas+tagging.  (Note that some del.icio.us-wide tag intersections, especially for popular tags such as "cool" and "video" may cause del.icio.us to return a blank page, possibly due to the load required to filter on so many results.)

Some guidance on using tags

Use many single-word tags instead of one multi-word tag.  Tag intersections enable you to narrow your focus when you want to, so you can use more general single-word tags (and most likely end up with fewer overall tags).  The value of intersections increases as you use more tags to describe your bookmarks, something del.icio.us makes it really easy to do.

Compare the 2 tags, "softwaretools" and "hardwaretools" vs. the 4 tags, "software tools" and "hardware tools".  The former uses fewer tags, but they are unnecessarily specific.  The latter case uses more tags, but each can apply to a wider variety of bookmarks.  This approach gives you the option of looking at everything tagged "tools", to see hardware and software tools, as well as things you've tagged "gardening tools" and "car tools".


How?

There are three ways to create tag intersections:

  1. Manually type the tags into the address bar of your browser, e.g.  http://del.icio.us/tag/A+B
  2. Manually type A+B into the breadcrumbs shortcuts on any del.icio.us page.
  3. "Build" them in the del.icio.us interface (which is very powerful, and underrated) by adding related tags:
    • Look on the right side of your del.icio.us page, to see a list of your tags, which you can display as a list or a cloud.  (I recommend a cloud if you have a large number of tags, though list view is useful for seeing the number of items associated with each tag, which helps in this case.)
    • Click on the first tag you want to use to build your intersection; in this example, we'll use "learning".  (The order is not important, so "learning+reference" is the same as "reference+learning", but order can help tag intersections make sense to humans.)
    • Look at the list of related tags that appears next to your list and click on the "+" beside the next tag you want to add to the intersection.  (This list appears only if your first tag contains at least one bookmark that has at least one other tag.):
Example: Building tag intersections

    • You can narrow your filter by adding more tags to the intersection, or broaden it by removing tags:
Example: Building tag intersections 02

Tricks

  • If you frequently use a tag intersection, create a saved search - Try entering your intersection, then tagging the del.icio.us page that displays the results of the tag intersection filter.  (Tagging del.icio.us pages is an idea with a lot of potential, about which I plan to write soon.)  See myTagsets for examples.
Note that many of these concepts apply -- perhaps with some variations -- to any service/software that supports tag intersections.  Flickr is one such service, and there seems to be some discussion on the topic in the Flickr forums.

February 02, 2006

Problem

Various tag-enabled services use different delimiters to separate multiple tags (a.k.a. labels, topics, keywords)

Example of tag delimiter problem

This makes switching between the services inconvenient, and decreases usability for the many people who use more than one tag-enabled service.

Solution

Standardize on a single tag delimiter

I'm writing to ask those who provide these services (and software that uses tags) to start the ball rolling toward standardizing on a single tag delimiter. I know this isn't a trivial task, but now -- while tagging is still relatively "young" -- is the time to invest in improving the usability of the services. I'd argue that Yahoo! has good reason to seriously consider initiating this effort, since MyWeb2, flickr, and del.icio.us -- three popular tag-enabled services -- are all Yahoo! services.

Benefits of having a standardized tag delimiter

  • makes switching between tag-enabled services easier
  • helps people who are new using tags feel more comfortable using different tag-enabled services
  • improves developers' ability to write software that works with multiple tag-enabled services

I know there are often good reasons for using different delimiters; for example, Furl permits spaces in a "topic" (tag) name, therefore, the space can't be a delimiter. By contrast, del.icio.us doesn't permit spaces in tag names. Which approach is best is another discussion -- one I hope will be undertaken by the providers of tag-enabled services -- but I'm sure that with a bit of collaboration, there could be agreement on a good, universal standard. I'll save my thoughts on the need for a universal name for tags (let's just call them tags, not labels, or topics, or keywords) for another post...

May 25, 2005

Maybe the better question is, "Should we take a different approach to tagging email vs. other information?" 

I know a lot of people are jumping on the "don't even bother to categorize email" bandwagon lately, and I'm considering what aspects of that approach are applicable to how I operate.  I've dramatically flattened my work email folder structure in the last couple years, and now I put things into much broader categories.  My over-categorization eventually led to excessive effort to find anything, but that was before client search tools & interfaces began to really improve (e.g. Tbird's quick search & saved search folders).

I often see the argument, "But I can always search my mail!", and that's true.  In fact, as the tools are evolving, I'm becoming a huge advocate of using search, but I don't think that precludes manual categorization; I think it's an additional capability.  People seem to be increasingly recognizing the value of tagging information, and Gmail's "labels" are essentially tags, so why exclude email?   

As good as search tools are becoming, there is still value in doing some "pre-processing" (specifically, I mean categorizing it, using whatever means available, tags, folders, etc.) of email.  As I've noted before, adding tags enriches information and improves search results, among other benefits.

 

A hybrid approach?  Email is different than other information we manage 

I've often prided myself on how quickly I can find any email message, but in fact, I don't refer to my saved personal mail as often as I used to think I would.  I do actually refer to my saved work mail a lot, and  that's largely due to the nature of my job & culture of my team.  By contrast, I tend to refer to my non-email files (e.g. documents, spreadsheets, notes, photos,etc.) quite often.  (Interesting!  I do this much more with my personal files than work files; probably because most of my work stuff is email-based.)  Given that, maybe it's not important that email be as "enriched" as other information.   Of course, this depends on how and for what purposes people use  email.  Perhaps we should use a hybrid approach, relying a bit more on search and expending less effort on pre-processing, since many of us probably:

  • have a more rapid influx of email relative to other information we accumulate
  • have many more email messages than non-email files
  • don't refer to saved email as much as other saved information
These two "balance questions" come to mind:
  • value gained by enriching information (by tagging/categorizing it) vs. time & effort spent time doing so
  • effectiveness of pre-processing vs. searching
Clearly, the frequency of receiving and referring to the information are two of the factors that must be considered.  I think this balance is shifting as search tools improve, but there will always be value in some pre-processing.

I'm curious to know if other people are thinking about this question in the context of email vs. non-email information.  Email definitely has different characteristics than other information, and I think it is important to distinguish the two.  For example, we typically use different tools to manage each -- email client vs. file system browser/command line -- and historically, there have been good reasons for this.  How do you manage & process email vs. other information, and why?

 

Comments

Migrated from my former blog

 

By Taylor - Wed 25 May 2005 08:00 PM PDT

I can always search email....and typically I find that email only has "time" relevance, i.e. you rarely go find that email from a year ago! Therefore I think it is a complete waste of time (and have said this for years) to perform any kind of categorization, tagging or other such "pre-search" work.

That said, there are times when it makes sense to categorize, or otherwise distinguish certain types of email (there are always exceptions to the rule, right?). In the past I have found these to be certain kinds of feeds, e.g. housing/rental listings - which would now be sent to bloglines anyway, or highly relevant threads/conversations, maybe a re-fi or something else high priority.

For everything else, a thread typically is no longer than 4 messages (at the most!) and can be found easily by scanning back (manually, if I used Google maybe I wouldn't, but Yahoo!'s search is somewhat poor) a few days worth, or performing a hard search.

A final reason why I think it's a waste of time to pre-search email - it's a high-volume, medium response type of information, which is why it's relevancy drops off quickly with time. I *already* spend too much time on email, I think it's not worthwhile to spend more (and most of my time spent is not searching).

 

By James E. Lee - Wed 25 May 2005 09:06 PM PDT

Clearly we agree on some general points, but we take our (age-old) arguments/approaches to different extents.

Part of that may be due to the fact that my work is extremely email-centric. I should have made it clear that I rarely refer to my personal mail; in thinking further about it, I actually do so fairly often with my work mail, since email such a part of my job and my team's culture. I'm going to go edit the article to include that point.

For me, such a heavy emphasis on time relevance doesn't work; I am terrible at remembering when a given subject was current, and I prefer to leave that to a computer to tell me. That's part of why I like some pre-processing. I think we'll always be at different places along this particular spectrum, but it's good to keep the discussion going!

May 06, 2005

Adding STATUS tags to your notes allows you to search for everything that matches a given status. 

I keep notes on almost every task/project/etc. that I'm managing, whether it's changing my mobile phone plan, figuring out what we're doing for Mother's Day, or refinancing our mortgage.

I currently use "OPEN", "HOLD", "TODO", and "CLOSED", but the great thing about tags is they aren't static; you can use whatever tags make sense and are useful to you, and change them as you see fit.

Use multiple status tags - (Added: 2005.05.09) Note that you can use  more than one status tag, for example, not all "OPEN" issues are necessarily "TODOs", but some are.  In those cases, just add "STATUS: OPEN, TODO", and your search tool should find the notes whether your search for "STATUS: OPEN" or "STATUS: TODO".
 
EXAMPLE 01


SUBJECT: Refinance 2005
   TAGS: home, house, mortgage, refinance, money, credit
 STATUS: OPEN
CONTACT: Joe @ Mortgage Broker Co. 800-555-1212
   DATE: 09:00 2005.04.01




When I search for "STATUS: OPEN", I get a list of all my notes on unresolved tasks and projects, which is another approach to the idea of having a task list.  This way, I can easily review & prioritize what I want to work on next, with all the related notes right at hand, a click away. 

April 01, 2005

What

Several web services (Gmail, Flickr, del.icio.us, etc.) demonstrate the value of using tags to categorize information. You can tag files on your computer and get many of the same benefits.

"Manually" tagging your own information is easy to do and can be worth the minor extra effort. This discussion will focus on adding tags to the "documents" (text, word processing, spreadsheets, diagrams, etc.) on your computer, but the concept applies just as well to other information like email (Gmail supports tags, but calls them "labels"), pictures, video clips, etc.

Why?

Tags help you find information faster with improved search results and "indirect" searching.

  • Adding tags to a file lets you associate it with terms that come to mind when you think of it. Sometimes we create content related to a topic without directly mentioning the topic within the content. For example, if you're keeping a file of notes about refinancing your mortgage, you may never write the words "mortgage", "loan" or "home" in your notes — perhaps you always write "refi" — but you do want to find the file when you search using any of those terms.
  • "Indirect" searching lets you use the power of that association. The tags you add to your files enable your desktop search tool to create a more meaningful index of the words, and improves the chance of finding what you're looking for, even if you search using a word that's not actually in the document. For lack of a better term, I'll refer to this as "indirect" searching.

(If you're not using a desktop search tool, you should try one; Copernic, Google, and Yahoo are all free.)

Tags allow you to discover, create, and use relationships in your information.

(I added this section on 2005.05.07, after writing it in my article about taking notes.)

Seeing and understanding the relationships among your information allows you to make better use of it. Look at the example of tags below in "Example 1". Since I tagged it with several keywords, I don't have to remember where I filed my notes on the refinance -- I can search for it using various words I'd expect to be related to what I'm looking for, and several of the words I think of will lead me to the notes file, as well as all the other files that have the tags. You can experiment with using multiple tags to develop different levels of tag intersections.

There are many ways to get value from using tags. For example, if you add a "STATUS" tag to your notes, you can search by status. When I search for "STATUS: OPEN", I get a list of all my notes on unresolved tasks and projects, which is another approach to the idea of having a task list. This way, I can easily review & prioritize what I want to work on next, with all the related notes right at hand, a click away.

How

Edit file properties or add to the body

In Windows, (you can do something similar on other platforms) you can add keywords to most (all?) files in just a few steps, by editing the file's properties:

SCREENSHOT: Adding tags to a document
  1. Open the folder that contains the file
  2. Select the file (click once on it)
  3. Open the File menu, (or just right-click)
  4. Select Properties -> Summary
  5. Enter your tags in the Keywords section

For many applications, you can do same thing when you have the file open.

 

Text files: You can do the same for plain text files. I add my tags directly to the body of mine, since my template for taking notes has a "header" section, and it's easy to just include tags along with the subject, contact, and date I already add to each document.

Example 1

SUBJECT: Refinance 2005
   TAGS: home, house, mortgage, refinance, money
CONTACT: Joe @ Mortgage Broker Co. 800-555-1212
   DATE: 09:00 2005.04.01

When

Adding even one tag when you first save the file adds value

Get into the habit of adding at least one tag as soon as you first save your file (which should ideally be soon after you create it). That way, even if you don't add more as you progress, you can benefit from having done it. Some programs let you set an option to be prompted to add summary information when you save your work (you'll only be prompted once, as long as you click "OK" the first time, even if you don't add anything).

You don't have to add tags to all files for this to be useful, but the more you do it, the more useful it will be for you. I don't think I'll go back and do this for all my existing files, but I'm definitely going to do it moving forward. The value of tagging will become increasingly apparent as we begin taking more advantage of the great search tools that are available now and being integrated into future applications and operating systems.

Update: 2005.04.13

This doesn't appear to work with .avi and .wmv files, but does with .mpg and .mov files.