The beauty of tags…

So far I’m loving wordpress and my move from Windows Live Spaces has been a great choice.  WordPress has done a phenomenable job in creating an extensible platform; the sheer amount of plugins, widgets, themes and advice on the web is utterly amazing.

WordPress makes it very simple to get a blog up and running with features like themes, categories, easy “page” creation and even queueing up posts for automatic posting in the future.

Since migrating all my blog content over, I started to indicate which “categories” each post belonged to.  It didn’t take long for me to notice that the way I was using the wordpress categories wasn’t how it was originally intended to be used.  I was instead using them as tags, which normally don’t have an implied hierarchy, unlike the hierarchical category system that WordPress offers.

The beauty of tags is that the origanization system is super flexible and allows you to link together content that is hard to do with other methods.  Another reason I love tags is duality it provides for content creators.  On one hand, the meaning of tags can be similar across sites, which allows your users to find simliar content despite the flexible nature of the tags.  On the other hand, since the meaning of tags can differ per application, it gives the content creator flexibility to create new meanings within their own scope.  This duality may be percieved as a drawback, but I personally see this as a powerful, and flexible framework for blogging and to allow users to explore content more powerfully than just following it chronologically.

However, this isn’t to say that categories are now defunct in favor of tags; categories can be more useful in some cases, or even be a secondary source of meta-data that helps in your content organization.  As a content creator, you have to choose carefully which you use, whether it be one or the other, or both. 

For my blog, I see tagging as the only content meta-data I’ll need and categories only hindering the evolution of my blog since I don’t need the structured hierarchical meta-data it provides.

I immediately went searching for a tagging plugin, and found options including the popular Ultimate Tag Warrior (UTW)  and Jerome’s Keywords.  The problem I saw with all the tagging plugins I’ve found is that it supplements WordPress to add on tags, and didn’t replace categories or leverage them in any way.  WordPress already integrates categories very deeply, as do nearly every theme that exists, so it’s a waste not to try to leverage that infracture.

I then stumbled upon the Category Tagging plugin which seemed to do exactly what I wanted. It leverages the built-in category system for tags, and enables you to create tag clouds and even show related posts based on tags.

The installation was very easy (as with every other WordPress plugin) but implementing it wasn’t the most straightforward. This can definitely be chalked up to my lack of experience with WordPress and themes.   It was a total pain to edit the theme I’m using, but I finally managed to get the ‘related posts’ feature working in the footer of each post.  I haven’t figured out exactly how to turn off the date stamp or tweak the formatting yet, but as it stands, it’s not too bad.

 I’d love to get a tag cloud implemented for the side bar to show the top 25 tags, as well as having a dedicated Tag cloud page.  The documentation indicates that the Tag Cloud creation is straight-forward with the following PHP code:

if (function_exists (‘cattag_tagcloud’) ) {
echo ‘<ul class=”tagcloud”>’ . cattag_tagcloud() . ‘</ul>’;

However, I can’t figure out how to put PHP code into a WordPress “page” yet.   WHen I create a wordpress page, and paste in any code as the content, it gets rendered as is and the PHP isn’t invoked. I must have to create the page, then find the page in wp-content folder on my site and edit it manually, but truthfully, I haven’t spent much time looking into it.  If you want to tell me how to do this and save me time, just leave me a comment 🙂

My blog is coming along nicely so far, and I have the remaining tasks:

  1. Change the banner picture (I already looked into this but can’t figure out for the life of me where the code is in the theme)
  2. Integrate Google Adsense (my application was denied for some reason… wonder if they smelt Microsoft on me?)
  3. Add a “Top Posts” widget in the side bar