Overly Organised Tags

I have two digital brains for storing stuff: Pinboard and Evernote. Pinboard is a bookmarking site, so I use it store anything at a web URL that I may want later. Evernote is a notetaking application and is for anything that I will probably want later, including personal data like receipts, notes, and book excerpts. Both of these services fill up with information very quickly, so rely heavily on efficient tagging. But until recently I had been using tags anything but efficiently.

Tags are great because it’s metadata you chose. Take the Evernote note of a painting above. The only metadata that was automatically added was the painting title, artist and the source URL. Is this enough for me to find this note in a years time? Probably not. But by adding the tags cosy night.sky painting shovel snow I will have a much greater chance. It’s personal metadata, so I am more likely to recall it later.

In the past however I would of just tagged that note as photo:painting. Which is better than nothing, and I would of probably found the note again, but that tag may have hundreds of notes in it and I would need to browse through them all to find this particular note. It’s slow and ineffecient. I was severaly hindering myself by being picky with my tags and keeping them overly organised. I’ve now learnt that tags work best when used heavily and without mercy.1

Equally stupid was how I used nested tags, so ended up with loads of crazy long ones like travel:england:resource:walking. There’s simply no need for that as both Evernote and Pinboard allow me to search multiple tags at once.2 And I had to remember the nesting order. That tag was often written like travel:resource:walking:england in error. Tags work much better alone. Context can be added later.

And it wasn’t just overly neat tags that was an issue. It was also my bad habit of spending multiple hours a week ‘cleaning’ the contents and tags of these services. I had to keep them tidy and was often too keen to delete stuff, especially tags with only one item. I’ve learnt to let go now, and the majority of my tags are only being used by one or two entries. And that’s okay. It’s not my real life brain, it’s my digital one, it doesn’t have to be perfectly organised. It’s just a place to store stuff that I might want later that needs to be low maintenance and not take over my life with too much filing. And I think my new way of using these services fits that definition. They’re easier to manage and more competent at finding my data.

  1. And as Evernote supports up to 100,000 tags in an account, and 100 per note, I’m unlikely to hit any tag limits. 

  2. In Evernote, by searching for tag:england tag:walking for example. And on Pinboard related tags show up to the right of a tag search page - highlighted here in red - and can be added to the search by clicking ⊕. Pinboard also supports tag ‘bundles’.