Tagging best practices

Consistency: succinct, lowercase, singularIn all honesty, best practices for tagging vary greatly depending on the type of tagging system and tag browser you are using. Additionally, because tags are so flexible, how you use them also relies a lot on what makes sense to you. There are still some things you should think about when you tag, though, and I think they’re important enough that I’m posting them now before I dive more in-depth into tags.

First off is tagging’s golden rule: be consistent. You can disregard every other piece of advice I give you, but consistency is the single thing you must strive for when tagging. Everything else is window dressing. That said, here are three things that I think almost every tag should be, regardless of what program or system you’re using: succinct, lowercase, and singular.

Succinct

Of the three, this is the one that is absolutely necessary. Tags must be short, simple, and memorable. Always pick a single word over a phrase. Pick a word that is the most descriptive you can think of, but is also one you will remember later. Never use a complicated word when a simple one will work.

A succinct tag is easier to remember when you are tagging later items or searching, quicker to comprehend when you’re scanning through tags, and improves your sex appeal.

Alright, so good tagging and sex appeal aren’t actually related; you get the point. Be succinct.

Lowercase

Keeping all of your tags lowercase is a really, really good idea, but you won’t be struck by lightning or anything if you capitalize them. The main reason to stick with lowercase is consistency. Not only are tags generally lowercase by convention (which means some programs may have difficulties with upper case letters in tags), but lowercase is a better default.

For one thing, if you keep all your tags lowercase, then it is impossible to have problems with a program mistakenly matching the case of a tag. For another, it is easier to maintain consistency if you always use lowercase letters. Capitalizing only proper nouns may work, but down the road you may change which words you capitalize or use capitalization inconsistently with some words. And hey, lowercase letters are just quicker to type.

You don’t have to keep everything lowercase, but I strongly recommend it (grammar-Nazi that I am, when I first started using tags I capitalized proper nouns; then I sat down and thought about it and realized I was being a bit silly).

Singular

Of my three best practice guidelines, this is the one that you’ll ignore the most. The reason that I include it at all is that you should only use plural tags when absolutely necessary. If you stick to singular words by default, then it reduces the questions you may have when searching your tags. “Did I tag that photo ‘people’ or ‘person’?” is a question that wastes your time and adds unnecessary difficulty to tagging.

By consciously making an effort to keep everything single, you will improve your ability to find exactly what you are looking for, which is what tags are all about. There are certainly times when you should use a plural tag; just make it count.

Consistency

At root having “SLS” tags is really all about consistency. By keeping your tags succinct, lowercase, and singular, you’ll be making it easier to search them and tag similar items consistently.

There is, however, a lot of variation in how to tag an item. Whether you use specific or general tags, more or fewer tags, and redundant or distinct tags has more to do with the software you are using than anything else. But that’s a topic for another time; for now, I hope you will find the idea of SLS tags useful!

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