📑 What Happened to Tagging? by Aaron DavisAaron Davis
Alexander Samuel reflects on tagging and its origins as a backbone to the social web. Along with RSS, tags allowed users to connect and collate content using such tools as feed readers. This all changed with the advent of social media and the algorithmically curated news feed. Samuel wonders if we h...

I remember the rise of tagging “folksonomies” and the rush to add them to blogging software at the time (2005ish, per the original article). Because of how they were implemented there was always a tension between organising content through categories vs tags, which meant some blogs didn’t use them, while others went “all in.”

For myself, I’ve found myself drifting away from using either. I used to categorise posts into a particular theme, and then tag with more fine-grained keywords. Back when your “content” and “niche” “mattered”. Now I almost never bother explicitly setting either; I blog for myself, so I don’t feel I necessarily need to define everything into a taxonomy that helps other people make sense of things. Maybe I should put more effort into this, for the day my memory starts failing me?

I mentioned before the festive break that I was thinking about open-sourcing “K”, the custom theme I’ve been developing for this site. Since then, I’ve decided I’m going to do it, but I’m going to work to tidy things up beforehand. Some of this has already happened, some of it is yet to be done. For a bit of fun, I’m going to [try to] blog about it whenever I make some progress ?. All-in-all, I’ve identified three main themes I want to focus on before the intial public commits.

My first job is to make the theme more “generic.” As I mentioned, the theme has been very much a hacking together of what I’ve needed, as I’ve needed it. This means a lot of it isn’t as customisable as people expect a modern WordPress theme to be. For example:

  • The site logo is an embeded SVG, rather than an image that can be swapped out in the WordPress Customiser.
  • The sidebar was, until recently, entirely hardcoded HTML.

I’ve made some progress here – there’s now a “widget area” in the sidebar – but my custom author h-card is still mostly manual (although it does use a WordPress menu for the social profile links). I think I’m going to recreate this as a bundled widget. I could try using the IndieWeb h-card widget, but I liked having the flexibility of my manually crafted card, and the IndieWeb version doesn’t support multiple profiles at the same service.

The second main focus is going to be standards support. I want the markup to be as fully compatible with MF2 and structured data as possible. I’ve spent hours debugging this so far, and I think I have it mostly sorted. IndieWebify.me picks up everything I expect it to, and every parser/validator I’ve thrown at the different pages and types of content have come back correct to my eye. For some reason, IndieNews hasn’t liked any of my submitted posts, but that’s lower priority for now. I haven’t done much with marking up elements like comments, but the main page/blog post/author details seem to be correct.

Finally, the third focus is on the code quality and maintenance. This loops back to the customisability/flexibility theme as well. By its cobbled-together nature, “K” has been a bit… loose in the quality of the PHP code, and the frontend files were/are a nightmare to maintain. Up to now I’ve used a hacked to pieces copy of Bootstrap with a bunch of customisations on top to provide the layout framework (literally just the rules I needed, obtained through UnCSS), and a similarly cutdown set of FontAwesome icons. That’s fine for my use case – even if it has been a faff to add to the site – but it won’t work for other people.

I’ve started adding a build system for these frontend files, but it does mean I’m probably going to have to include the entirety of the minimised version of Bootstrap, and the full FontAwesome SVG sprites. Unless someone has a good suggestion? Unstyle has a CLI tool, but integrating that is probably a step beyind what’s needed for the moment. I haven’t added FontAwesome to the live site yet, but this page should be using the new style.css that’s been compiled from SCSS.

On the PHP side I’ve started making sure it conforms to at least the WordPress Coding Standards. There’s still a few files to update, but functions.php and most of the template files are done. After that I want to make sure everything is as modular as possible. I’ll need to add files to handle the various post-types, error pages, and other screens a more rounded theme would handle. I’ll also be bundling a selection of Post-Kinds templates, once I figure out how I want to display them on this site.

There are other things that will need done no doubt, but these are where I want to focus my efforts for now.

Not all of them need to be fully completed before “K” gets open-sourced, but I would feel a lot more comfortable if at least the first steps were taken along these paths. It is a little dependent on having enough free-time, but I’ve set a goal of uploading to GitHub by the end of the month.

If you have any suggestions, or other feedback, please do let me know — either as a comment below, or on your own site.

I’m trying to wrap my head around the #indieweb approach, and thinking about how it could be applied to my site, and more importantly, I’m trying to figure out how I would want it to work for me:

  • If I post a short post type (<280 chars), it automatically gets syndicated fully to Twitter, including any attached media. Micro.blog would also be good.

  • Any interactions with that Tweet are reflected on the original post.

  • “Pure” indieweb philosphy would have me reply to any/all tweets from my site, but I’m not sure I want to go there.

  • Other social media “silos” should similarly interact with the site in a push or pull manner as appropriate – e.g. if I post to Instagram, the photo should be converted into a new post on my site, with the file rehosted.

  • The site should essentially be the “hub” for everything I post online, including a “profile” of sorts.

  • Microformats and POSH should be a given.

  • Longer posts should still be first-class citizens.

  • Post titles are completely optional and the tools involved should handle this gracefully.

  • Different post types should have distinct/appropriate visual styling.

Oh, and all of this should work as easily and seamlessly as possible on iOS (my primary platform)

Right now, I’m trying to get this setup using WordPress with several of the recommended IndieWeb plugins and recommendations, but so far I’m struggling to get things “just so.” The site definitely feels very rough around the edges. I’m not tied to this current approach though. Ideally I’d like to stick with tools/languages I know, and not need to spend weeks configuring things.

In an ideal world, I could have integrated the IndieWeb tooling/approach into my existing blog, which is powered by Jekyll – but this currently fails my “easy to do on iOS” test, which is the main reason I’ve not blogged there in around six months.

I’ve not written much here since the start of the year. I’d started off with such good intentions. This isn’t one of those “sorry I haven’t been posting” blog posts, so don’t worry. I don’t apologise for it… it is what it is.

What’s happened is my brain has been mainly filled with three things the last few months: work, politics, and hobby. I don’t want to write about politics, not really, though it’s definitely something I could provide a running commentary on (this might please my Twitter followers most, if I were move politics to here). Work… well it’s work – I’ve been doing my best to keep it at the office, as it’s been very intense of late. There’s been a few very interesting technical challenges I could write about, but I can’t go into some of the specifics necessary, due to the nature of what I do. Plus, normally by the time I get home I don’t want to sit in front of a computer again. So that’s left hobby, and I havehad a whole other blog for that… although I’ve been concentrating on the practical side of the hobby for once, so haven’t been writing much there either.

So in short, we’re in one of my regular “blogging takes a backseat” phases. You should be used to them by now! I do still feel “the pull” to write, and regularly feel like I should be writing here more (as opposed to venting on Twitter), it’s just not happening for a variety of reasons.

C’est la vie.

To paraphrase Good Ol’ JR: “business will eventually pick up.”

I’ve spent some time this weekend making doing some much-needed housekeeping here, in order to keep it tidy and in a healthy state.

I’ve always found good blogging is more than just adding post after post. It takes a bit of effort behind the scenes; tending to the older content, keeping the “static” pages fresh, and removing any crud that’s accumulated in the sidebars. Keep these things in order, while feeding in good content, and your blog will grow. At least, that’s my theory. Things are slightly different on this particular blog, because it’s a personal blog, not a topic blog – so growth isn’t a primary concern. Hence the title: it can grow and be healthy, but I don’t expect it to be big.

With all that said, what have I been up to?

Site Theme

I decided the new(ish) Twenty Thirteen WordPress theme just didn’t work for me or how I see this site. It was nice and colourful, and good to have as a change, but it wasn’t really “me.” Instead, I’ve switched back to the “Standard” theme (which has been “retired” it seems), with a few tweaks. It’s more structured, and described as a “meticulously designed, hand-crafted theme.” I like things to have a bit of craftsmanship to them, and within that show an element of “control”; Twenty Thirteen felt just a little too chaotic for my tastes. I may still adjust some small parts, but mostly I’m happy with things now.

“Elsewhere” Links

For a while now I’ve maintained a sidebar list of other places you can find me: social media, profiles on various sites, etc. I’ve tidied this up to remove services I no longer use, or don’t use frequently enough for you to bother with. The  four sites in the sidebar now represent the other places you can find me, that I care about. Apart from Google+… not many people really care about that one, and I’m no different (maybe one day). Google+ is there to maintain my authorship information in Google.

Pruning Dead Content

Last year I would cross-post a lot of my Instagram shots over here. Then I deleted my Instagram account, and all those photo posts started showing as broken images. I’ve finally got round to clearing them out. I may have missed one or two, so if you spot one, please let me know!

Consolidation

Over the last couple of years I got it into my head that my blog had to present a “professional” image. An employer (or potential employer) might read it and decide not to hire me based on something I posted. As a result I fragmented my personality across the web, using a different site or service to post content in tailor-made silos. This site was just for technical posts which would show my expertise and how “professional” I am.

It was a stupid idea. It was stressful to maintain, and not as enjoyable. As a result, each site would languish for months without any update, and anything I did post was as much out of guilt as anything. I’ve given up trying to manage these sites, or “reboot” them. From now, this site represents the one “true” me. If an employer isn’t going to hire me over, say, one of the hobbies I’ve written about on my blog, then chances are they’re not somewhere I’d be happy to work at.

I will still use some services for specific needs: Twitter for things too short to fit here, and quick conversations; Facebook or Flickr for sharing photos of the kids with family or close friends, etc. Anything else should end up here. I’ve already imported the content of some other blogs into the archives, and I’m picking through an export of my old Tumblr, to see if there’s anything there worth adding (not likely!).

Re-Injecting the Personal and the Personality

Directly related to what I’ve written above, it struck me when I was reading through the old posts I recovered from previous incarnations of this blog, was how personal I used to get on here. That has been missing for a few years now, and as a result, a lot of the personality and “voice” has gone. Somewhere along the line I became overly private and cautious about what I was posting, and I honestly don’t know or understand why any more. It can’t just have been the employer reason mentioned above. Did I think I would be seen as some sort of narcissist? This is something I will try to address going forward. I’m also thinking about addressing it going back too. There are large gaps in this blogs chronology which could easily be filled with retrospective and back-dated entries about what was going on at the time. Some of it could even be quite useful for myself, as a way to reflect.

I’m not 100% certain though. While it could end up OK, I don’t want to post something inaccurate because my memories of the events have been tinged or faded by time. Especially where there’s other people involved. It’s OK to make a mistake about something just about me, but it’s not OK when it could impact or upset someone else.

I have made a baby-step of a start though. I have added some photo galleries to the site. Most were taken in the last year, but I’ll be going back and picking out other suitable subjects/events to post up. Galleries are backdated to the event/date they were taken, to distinguish “old” ones from any I post in the future. There will be a mix of subjects, from holidays, random photo-shoots, modelling projects… whatever really!

What Next?

Going through this exercise ties-in to some thoughts I’ve been having recently about my “digital identity,” who controls it, and what it means. These thoughts inn turn, have spun out of me stepping away from Facebook for a while. I’m trying to shape these thoughts into something fully-formed so I can share them on here.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

I remember when WordPress first appeared. I’d deployed the b2 blogging engine a couple of times before, and anything which made b2 easier to install/use/adapt was welcome. Amongst the (many) blog systems I’d tried up to then, b2 had the lowest technical barriers but was still an exercise in frustration to get installed and configured. In those early days of blog systems each product had its own quirks, and their own belief about what a blog was and how it should work. WordPress always tried to come across as “the Writer’s” blogging system; once you had it setup to your preferences, it would stay out of the way. For the most part, anyway.

WordPress was never perfect, and it’s still far from it, but you have to admire any system (particularly on the web) which is still going strong after 10 years, while remaining fairly close to it’s original vision and principles. It made writing on the web more accessible to a generation of users, and for all its faults that should be celebrated.

[I originally posted this as a comment on Hacker News]

Over the weekend I started a fun little project. I’m tracking down and integrating as much of my old blog content as I can, across all of the sites I’ve written over the years.

When You Were Young cover artI’m not going to integrate every last bit of content I find, just the “highlights” (some things are best left forgotten…). Linkblog entries, and projects with no relevance will be left behind. So far I’ve added around about 26 entries covering from 2003-2009. No doubt I’ll go back over these years and add more, as the content resurfaces. Where possible I am preserving the original formatting and links, though in some cases I will have to link to an Internet Archive page.

The impetus for this little personal project came from realising I had neglected and discarded a lot of my history. As I’ve moved from site to site, platform to platform, I’ve usually wanted to “start fresh”, to see if it gives me that impetus I need to keep the blogging habit going. So far that approach has rarely worked, so why allow the old content to disappear? It’s a shame I thought of this so late. There’s large holes in 10 years of content charting my growth as a person lost to the void.

In the content I have found I have noted a marked difference to how I am now. I used to be quite open, generally had a more upbeat, less formal tone, and was more inclined to create something for the sake of releasing it to the world. Entries were generally short, and more frequent, but punctuated occasionally by something more in-depth. It’s interesting, and definitely something I’m going to reflect on.

As a side-note, with the content moving over, I’ve redirected traffic visiting the old domains to a landing page on this site. Although most of the sites had been inactive for a while, or the content otherwise not available, it would be wrong to just leave them to expire without giving someone the chance to find what they were looking for. Besides, Fickle Me might decide to reuse the domain in the future!

Of course, if you want to check out the “historical” content, head on over to the Archive page.

With all this iPhone hoo-ha happening of late, I’ve finally started thinking about this “mobile web” thing. It’s been hard not to, with all the noise about iPhone SDKs – or lack thereof. Personally, I’m all for the whole web app thing when it comes to phones. Maybe it’s just me, but it makes sense. Obviously there’s the local data storage issue, but I’m sure some bright spark will figure out a solution some day.

Anyway, where was I going with this? I forgot. Oh yes… Blogging from a phone. We have WordPressMovableTypeSimpleLogTextpattern, and so on, but they’re all desktop web browser dependent. Most are graphic – and JavaScript – heavy. Most which I have tried out reward larger screen estate. These are all major limitations of the mobile web as it stands.

This week I will be getting my hands on my new phone. It’s not an iPhone, but an HTC P43501. We’ve been using them at work for a while now, and they rock pretty hard. Yes, yes, I know I’m a Mac user, and it’s a Windows Mobile device… big whoop. Anyway, I’d love it if there we a nice blogging tool like the afore-mentioned WordPress, etc, which featured a nice, mobile optimised writing interface in addition to the fully-featured desktop version. Something which fits a 240×3202 screen nicely.

I have a feeling though that if I want something like this, I’ll have to make it myself. Which is a shame, because it means it’ll probably never get done…

  1. Catchy, huh? Maybe they should have stuck with the “Herald” code-name instead. 
  2. Well, 320×240 once oriented for use with the keyboard. 

Hello again, you crusty inhabitants of the Interwebs. It’s been too long – far too long. But, like The Good Ship Galactica, I’m back.

I could bore you all with an in depth look at why I’ve not been blogging, but it doesn’t really matter. Suffice to say it’s been down to a combination of things: the stroke I had last summer; being a ‘family man’; that perennial favourite – work, and a general lack of enthusiasm about the whole blogging thing in general. I’d like to say this time around it will be different, but I just don’t know, so I’m making no promises.

So enjoy it while it lasts (i.e. as long as I do). Much like Stargate1 really.

1 SciFi, how could you?.

Side-stepping the other del.icio.us items you will see today…

I was browsing through Darren’s ProBlogger site (despite railing against much of the “pro-blogger” hype a few days ago, I still find it all fascinating) when I came across a post entitled“Social Bookmarking – Getting your Blog Noticed”. Much of it makes sense – get your site listed on a “social” site like Digg, Slashdot or del.icio.us and you’ll get a boost in site traffic. It makes sense, but it also raises a question in my mind – does submitting your own site/entries to these sites go against the spirit and ethos of the sites in question? Or is it just harmless self promotion?

Lets come back to del.icio.us for my example. It’s a sort of social-network, global bookmarks folder… and how often do you bookmark your own entries in your browser favorites? You could counter-argue you’re just highlighting something others may find interesting, but where do you draw the line? When does it become spamming?