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January 15, 2009

Filed under: meta»blosxom

Click in a Box

Four years ago, when I converted a spare domain into this blog, I started putting posts on technology into the random/tech directory (since it runs on Blosxom, which builds this page from the UNIX file system, that means that these posts are in a "tech" subcategory under the "random" top-level category). In retrospect, this was not a good idea. I've written a fair amount in that subfolder, to the point where it's not really random anymore. Today I moved it out to a top-level category of its own.

A category-based system on a blog with any kind of topical range has serious flaws. For example, there are a fair number of posts under the "bank" directory (for World Bank) about technology in development, and these could probably be better posted under "tech." But at the time when I wrote them, I didn't have that category, so I put them where they're best suited. And since the heirarchical system can't "share" posts between categories, I can't really cross-post them--especially since, if the URLs for permalinks were category based (and most of mine are), those links will break when the URL changes.

If I used a tag-based system, that wouldn't be a problem. Everything would live in a big database soup, and moving things around would be as simple as adding an additional tag--if I hadn't already done so. Indeed, people like Clay Shirky often use this as a reason for why tag-based systems are superior to heirarchies, because you don't have to perfectly plan out your ontology, and because it becomes responsive to your subject matter instead of the reverse.

I understand that reasoning, but I was kind of counting on a system that dictated my categories--they're mine, after all, so I can't really complain about the imposition. I find that when I use tags for personal categorization I tend to use them in silly ways. I can't take them seriously. And I had hoped, frankly, that this wouldn't be a tech blog: putting "tech" under "random" was meant to keep me honest. It didn't work, but I still think it was worth a shot.

Actually moving the posts to their new place is pretty easy, but now anything linking to /random/tech is broken. There are three ways to deal with this. I could write a script that would go through and correct the links. I might do that, but it's not high on my list of priorities, for obvious reasons. I could leave the posts where they are, in which case browsing by category (something I do much more often than I link to myself) would remain unintuitive. Or I could just break the system (links by date, which until very recently was the default for my RSS feed, will continue to work correctly).

I'm going to do the latter. First, because I've already been through a server change that probably destroyed half of my date-based URLs, and second, because I just don't really care that much. Honestly, I don't think it matters. A permalink and a good category is a wonderful thing. But 99% of the time, if I'm looking for a specific post either here or elsewhere, I use an third-party search engine to get there anyway. The benefits of categories or tagging are, I suspect, more for the writer than the reader.

If nothing else, think of it this way: Have you ever wished the Internet could forget? I certainly have. So I'm giving the Web a little bit of forgetfulness, limited to my tiny patch of it. Every link's an adventure, and possibly a problem-solving challenge!

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