By Dennis D. McDonald
What's a Doodad?
Readers of ALL KIND FOOD will notice that its pages are not encrusted with badges, content clouds, tag clouds, blog rolls, linkbacks, permalinks, scrolling comments, advertising, Amazon links, dancing babies, and other detritus and ephemera -- what I call "blog page doodads."
I don't do doodads. That’s by design.
When Jeremiah Owyang recently announced to members of The Podcast Roundtable that he had added a cloud of tags supplied by ZoomClouds to his blog, I did wonder if I should add something like this to my own.
I've decided not to, at least for the time being. Here is
Back when the Earth was still cooling I published occasional movie reviews using static web pages and frames managed through Frontpage and a simple FTP transfer agent. When lightning struck and I decided to branch out from movie reviews to include information related to “managing and living with technology,” I made a strategic decision that ALL KIND FOOD was not going to be a revenue generator.
I decided my primary goal was to extend my resume into areas that interested me both personally and professionally. Accepting advertising was not something I wanted to do having had some bad experiences with unacceptable Google ads. I simply felt that the more I focused on content and the less on manipulating how that content was indexed and retrieved I would accomplish a couple of things.
- I felt that the less time and energy I devoted to blogging-specific technology would be time better spent on other pursuits, such as making new friends, creating content (I like to write), and promoting my consulting and employment interests. Happening upon SquareSpace as my publishing tool was a fortunate coincidence since it provided a very powerful toolset and freed me to concern myself about the things that mattered more to me. Keeping up with tagging, trackbacks, badges, and other emerging tools was not something I wanted to get too heavily involved in, especially if it meant that I would be adding another feature to my web pages that would have to be managed, updated, and modified. I didn't want to have to check my "doodads" every day to make sure they all worked.
- I doubted there was money to be made with my content given what I felt was a rather eclectic set of personal interests. My goal instead was to use the blog as a way to help open doors and to make others aware of my interests and capabilities. Right now, for example, I’m working on two proposals that relate directly to information management topics I’ve been blogging about. That part is working. I also use my blog as a way to provide content to the members of my extended professional network whom I try to contact by email at least once a month. My usual approach is, "Hi, here's something I wrote about recently that I thought might interest you." Then I provide the link. Viewed that way, spending more time on writing stuff that might interest my current and potential professional network (and me) seemed a more valuable use of my time than researching and monitoring all the new tools coming available for managing and tracking different social networking related phenomena in the blogosphere.
- I wanted to present a view of me, my work, and my interests that is well organized, uncluttered, and hopefully, simple and straightforward. I wanted to make a good impression given how quickly people come and go -- and I do know how quickly people come and go given my access to Google Analytics data for ALL KIND FOOD. Giving people a bewildering variety of clickable objects that take them away from my blog wasn't what I wanted to do. If they came in to a specific link on my site, I wanted them to explore other pages. If they came in through the front door, I wanted them to peek inside. Asking them to jump away via a link to another site -- even if it was to manage information presented from my own -- was another layer that didn't interest me.
That third point -- keeping things visually simple -- has been a real challenge. While the functional and appearance templates provided by SquareSpace have been very powerful and robust, I have spent much time worrying over organizational, indexing and display options. It's a challenge presenting a coherent and consistent view given that I write about such a diversity of topics. What you see now on my front page is the result of many hours of tweaking, some of it based on my review of the navigational records provided by Google Analytics.
This brings me back to "content clouds" and Jeremiah's experiment with ZoomClouds. I like it. The advantage of ZoomClouds is that it generates the cloud automatically.
I am somewhat concerned that when you click on a tag in Jeremiah's cloud you are taken away from Jeremiah's blog to a page on ZoomCloud's web site. Granted, it's very easy to come right back to Jeremiah's page, but out of the 15 links located on the ZoomClouds link page for one of the tags I clicked, only one of the 15 returns you to Jeremiah's page. That's 14 click opportunities for the casual visitor to go somewhere else than back to the originating page.
In some cases this type of navigational opportunity might be viewed as positive. After all, when you click a tag in the cloud you view the linked blog post title as well as an extract of the initial text. That's a nice feature.
But I am concerned with the ease with which one can leave the tag cloud's source, and this is one reason why I don't think I'll be adding ZoomClouds to my own pages.
My Approach to Indexing
I already have a "master index" that I display on all my pages. It's built manually from index terms that I add at the time an article is posted but is automatically updated whenever an article is added to my own blog. For example, when I created this article I added the terms Doodads, Tag Clouds, and ZoomClouds to the Managing Technology index. When I next update my master index template, I'll decide if I want to add one (or all) of these terms. (They are already available as part of the Managing Technology index, which is automatically updated upon posting and located here. For an example of what is displayed when you click on one of my blog's index terms, e.g., "social networking," go here.)
I am the first to admit that this approach to indexing is not the same as a tag cloud that is automatically generated based on rules that can be intelligently updated to extract and position terms to reflect important concepts and language usages. Nor does it offer the social networking opportunities or benefits of web based tag management provided by services such del.icio.us; I'm just adding my own categories manually.
But my master index does offer a mechanism that supports, for me, within-blog navigation. Clicking on one of my "master index" terms does present a list of related articles AND it keeps the visitor's eyes on my pages, not someone else's blog. And that relates back to my personal strategy for this blog.
I'm very interested in hearing your opinion about this topic. Please leave a comment below!
In a very thoughtful post Luis Suarez of IBM discusses tagging and folksonomies. (He mentions me, too! Thanks, Luis!)
I liked his following comment which summarizes quite a bit into one brief statement:
...tagging is all about the end-users, the knowledge workers, taking control of how the content will be stored and searched for at a later time using meaningful keywords that they could relate to as opposed to have to go through the ordeal of a fixed taxonomy that wasn’t rather created for them nor would it represent their needs.
I can't argue with the value of user assigned index terms as long as mechanisms -- automated or manual -- exist to accommodate shifting language patterns and interfacing with formal or "official" controlled vocabularies. Both approaches have value. The nice thing about today's software is that there are ways to accommodate translation between formal taxonomies and more organic approaches to tagging content and other intellectual or physical features of the objects being indexed.
Systems shoud be able to accommodate multiple ways to search for information. Sometimes a controlled vocabulary based on a formal offical taxonomy makes sense. At other times a looser content based approach such as user assigned tagging makes sense.
For as many people I've talked to who like Google Mail's approach to search based retrieval, I've talked with just as many who say, "I wish I could also use folders!"