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Organised Tags

A robust URL scheme, app integrations, and more stuff I can’t seem to find a use for

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‘. 

Don’t Skip Chapter 8

I was reading Austin Kleon’s list of his 15 favourite books of the year when his description of “The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang stood out (in bold):

I learned about this 1937 bestseller while reading Will Schwalbe’s Books For Living. It’s basically a book about the ancient Chinese art of chilling out and living a good life. (One thing: If you pick it up, just skip chapter 8 and Lin Yutang’s sexist views.)

Please don’t do this. That might be the vital chapter and maybe the one you’ll learn the most from. Maybe it will teach you that even the most wise are still a product of their time. That great men and women are often greatly flawed. It might teach you that sometimes you have to reject advice from a person that has given nothing but good advice before. It could help you understand why certain people are sexist, sympathise with them, learn about their flawed logic, and maybe one day convince a sexist not to be one anymore.

Don’t skip chapter 8.

Link discovery chain:
Browsing the shawnblanc.net blog archive
—— Shawn Blanc: How to Read More
——— Austin Kleon: How to read more
———— Austin Kleon: My reading year, 2017