There are two models of tags in use on the web: tags-as-folders, and tags-as-meta-info. Gmail uses the first form, allowing you to store messages in more than one folder at a time. This is a step beyond the one-to-one filing systems of traditional e-mail programs. But its utility stops there. Such a system forces you to economize the number of tags you use. If you keep creating new tags for new projects you will find yourself with an excess of pseudo-folders.
The tags-as-meta-info model adopted by Flickr and del.icio.us is quite different. It encourages you to use as many tags as you like, understanding that tags aren’t just glorified folders, but add information to your data. For instance, clicking on one tag shows you related tags that might be relevant to your search. You can also discover related information from other users with similar tags.
I signed on to be an alpha tester of Feedlounge because I thought its implementation of tagging would allow me to get a grip on the overwhelming number of feeds I’ve accumulated. It hasn’t. I’ve been hesitant to complain about this too loudly because I think Feedlounge is a great product and they’ve had to deal with a lot of backend issues before they go to beta in January. However, I feel its tagging system needs to be more like del.icio.us or Flickr, and I have so far done a poor job of explaining what this means.
The problem with the current implementation of Feedlounge is that it uses the Gmail model of tags, which means that you actually double the number of feeds in your list of feeds if you assign two tags to the same item. So listing BBC under both “news” and “world” gives you:
Multiply that by 400 and you can see the problem!
If it were like del.icio.us or Flickr it could be something along the lines of:
— News, World, Favorites, Daily, Whatever other tags I like, etc.
Then there could be a box where I could filter all the feeds I subscribe to by tag. So if I typed “favorites” or clicked that tag in my tag cloud, I would only see those feeds that I wish to look at every day. As Feedlounge is currently implemented I can have a “favorites” tag, but it is buried amongst all the other pseudo folders I have, and the whole system discourages me from adding any more tags.
What’s worse, the tags aren’t useful for anything other than filing. I can’t, for instance, discover additional blogs that other users have listed under the same tag. Nor can I see overlapping related tags from my own tag cloud.
Feedlounge has actually implemented tagging right for individual items from your feeds. The problem lies entirely with how they’ve implemented the tagging of the feeds themselves. Even the interface for tagging individual items is easier to access and use than the one for the feeds themselves.
I really like Feedlounge, and I am a big fan of developer Alex King, whose Tasks keeps me organized. But I really hope that they change the way they’ve implemented tagging before they go live with their beta in January.
UPDATE: I just wanted to add that del.icio.us offers a nice compromise between tags and folders by offering “tag bundles”, which are groups of related tags. I personally think there are many ways in which structured and unstructured data could possibly co-exist, and that the possibilities have yet to be fully explored.