Archive for November 22nd, 2004

Delving Deeper into Categories

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Looking back over our
posting of last Friday
, when we
introduced our new cat-a-gories, we note that it is almost all about
our cat, and not about our agories at all. Categories deserve a bit more
attention than that, both in theory and in practice.

While we couldn’t program our way out of a paper bag, we do have a vague
idea of what metadata is. It is the secret ingredient that makes all
of the verbiage on a blog accessible, manipuable and searchable. It turns
our postings into an ingredient, or rather a collection of ingredients,
that can
be borrowed, remixed, intertwined and rearranged to suit the needs and
interests, the individual recipes, of a variety of users.

The information that can turn our blog postings into an RSS feed is
one kind of metadata, allowing readers to aggregate, time-shift and display
our work in a variety of forms and formats. The information we impart
when we place our postings into categories is another sort of metadata.

This variety allows the mad rush if ideas, impressions and idiocies
which constitute the Dowbrigade News, for example, to be separated out
into distinct streams, topics, genres and media groupings, which in turn
allows users to remix, counter play, juxtapose, highlight and compare
our ideas with a thousand other threads from other sources, weaving a
rich
tapestry of impression and understanding which cannot be rivaled or
reproduced
by any existing
mainstream or alternative media.

We have only begun to scratch the surface of what can be done with these
individual strands of thought and information. Sites like Frassle,
micro-content management systems and next generation aggregators are
all pushing
the envelope on what can be done with this marvelous new way of looking
at content.

On a practical level, an efficient use of categories can please users
in a number of ways. We regularly receive mail from readers who like
some of our postings and hate others. One of the drawbacks of hosting
an eclectic blog, we always figured.  They invariably suggest that
we brach out and establish multiple blogs, one for our political and
"serious" commentary, and a separate one for the bizarre sex stories
and feeble attempts at humor.

To which we reply – Never! What you see is what you get.  The
seemingly incongruous sides of the Dowbrigade are part an parcel of our
balanced and broadminded psyche. If our occasional rants and obsessions
cause some to wrest gravitas from our serious social and political punditry,
so be it. Their loss and no skin off our ass, so to speak. If the folks
who enjoy our zanier posts are bored by the politics, skip ’em.

On the other hand, if they really object to the commingling of fruits
and nuts, they can always subscribe to the RSS stream for only the categories
they are interested in. By clicking on the picture of our cat, you can
go to a list
of the RSS feeds for each category
.

Finally, in terms of implementation of this important stream of metadata,
we must say our present blogging platform, Manila, leaves something to
be desired.  While it makes it pretty easy to assign categories
to a posting via a pull-down menu, it lacks two abilities we now see
as essential to a robust implementation of the technology; multiple
categories and nested sub-categories.

Multiple categories allows content creators to cross classify postings
along a number of parameters simultaneously.  This in turn allows
many more dimensions for contexturalizing, comparing and cataloging individual
information streams.  Nested sub-categories allow for logical organization
of information and a branching tree-structure which aids visualization
of taxonomies and borrowing and splicing between trees.

We do like the categorization by pull-down menu method; it is the easiest
and most intuitive implementation we have tried.  Dave
Winers
unfinished
Channel Z software
featured a pull-down menu based categorization scheme featuring nested
sub-categories,
and it looked just like what we had in mind, but
we never got a chance to try it our.

Hopefully. our next blogging platform will feature an integrated outliner
for managing both posts and categories, as well as multiple category
and nested sub-categories.  Any developers listening?