• Reading time: 5 min
  • Published 7 years ago

A long time ago, I wrote that tags are obsolete (translated version) because search engines are better than ever at figuring our content out. And I am still convinced of that. This is one of the reasons why this website does not even have the functionality for tagging things. I did not need it, thus I did not code it. Apart from this mere technical aspect, there's also the human factor of tags being another layer of complexity. In redesigning this website - and still constantly thinking about improvements - I made an effort not to add features I don't want. I deliberately chose to leave Wordpress behind once and for all for the single purpose of having complete control over what this website does when and why. Admittedly, there are still a lot of things that could be done differently and better but to that end I am currently waiting on the release of Laravel 5 in order to save myself some work of the "doing things twice" nature.

But - and this is a big one - in the meantime I realized that there are indeed applications where the presence and use of tags can be beneficial. For me, this insight came with my rediscovery of Evernote. For the uninitiated, Evernote is a multi-purpose note-taking tool of general awesomeness, but to go into more detail on that would probably be worth a separate article. I do read a lot of things on the internet. My basic workflow for that is somewhat inspired by this wonderful article about learning workflows: Finding things, saving them in Pocket and – if the content seems worth keeping around – moving it over to Evernote. When I started that, I did not ever do anything more than push the „Share to Evernote“ button. The first major change occured when I created a special notebook for all the things I share via Pocket (or clip directly from a website). This simplified things in the Evernote UI quite a bit since all the articles were no longer mingled up between my personal notes and blog post drafts and all that stuff. Later, at first just as a little experiment for myself I took to applying tags on the things I share to Evernote. The idea was to summarize what I just read in three to five keywords and use these as tags.

This is where something unexpected happened. After applying this technique for a few weeks now and increasingly finding myself looking at the Tags section of the interface instead of just bluntly searching. Oftentimes, when I’m working on some programming problem or in a discussion in some project, my subconscious tells me that I read something about that topic that could be of value. Before, I had to force myself to exactly remember what I read in order to find it. Now, I am able to just take a quick glance and find the keywords that correspond to the situation. Additionally, this sometimes leads to making new connections between things because it’s easier to connect words than whole articles.

I am thus taking my previous harsh statement back. Keywords/Tags are not completely obsolete. I still believe that they are mostly useless for things like search engine optimization or rather any machine-processed content. They can though play an important role in reclaiming an overview or diving deeper into collections for humans. I currently add 10-20 web shares to Evernote per month. This may not sound very much, but do this over a few months or years and the amount of things to remember that they exist quickly exceeds the amount of things we are able to have present because of all the other stuff life requires us to know on a day-to-day basis. Ever since I first read about the pensieve in the Harry Potter novels, I wanted to have one. I wanted to store the information and thoughts I did not need „right now“ somewhere where I could easily find them when I needed them. However, back in late 2009, when I first used Evernote (or at least that’s what my oldest notes are dated at), I did not see it’s power to be just that – my pensieve. Back then though, access to the internet was not as ubiquitous as it is nowadays. Therefore and because the kind of devices we used to carry around just wasn’t powerful enough yet, it simple wasn’t possible to carry around this kind of brain extension.

Evernote has already become part of my pensieve in the cloud and yet still I wonder what features I have not yet discovered, what haven’t I yet thought about maybe using in a different way. We live in a world where having a good storage system is more important then ever and yet I too often find myself struggling to retrieve the right piece of content in the right situation with as little effort as possible. But tagging things seems to help.