Technorati tags: an introductionMonday, February 21, 2005
Delicious bookmarks before domain name change:
This is a introductory guide to "tags" on Technorati, the blogosphere search engine, which started using them in mid-January 2005. It's a practical introduction rather than a tutorial (ending with some personal thoughts about tags), but I'll summarise the basics about Technorati tags and how to use them in your own blog posts - stuff I've learned from digging around, playing around and, as you'll see later, much tearing out of hair. I do assume knowledge of basic HTML (for which see e.g. this or this), but if anything needs to be made clearer or expanded upon, please post a comment and I'll try to help.
What's a Technorati tag anyway?A Technorati tag is a keyword or category used to describe the subject matter or topic of a blog post. For instance, I've labelled my post about ID cards with the tags Identity Cards, ID Cards, Government, Politics, Society, Privacy, Human Rights, Identity Theft, Crime, Hackers, Terrorism; whereas for my post on the rather rude interpretation one-track minds can give to ambiguously-worded Google Groups FAQs, I've used the tags Humor, Humour, Funny, and Dirty.
So, Technorati tags are like the tags with which people label their photos at Flickr, the free photo management/sharing site (e.g. using the tag "Cat" for a photo of a cat). Or like the tags used to categorise bookmarked Webpages at Del.icio.us and Furl, the services (also free) which enable you to bookmark Web pages, organise/tag them and search your bookmarked Webpages from any computer (Furl even saves a copy of the Webpage on their servers). In fact, due to a hookup with those sites, when you go to Technorati and view their page for a particular tag, you'll see not just blog posts using that tag (e.g. "Funny"), but also any pics and links to Webpages which have been given the same tag by users on Flickr, Del.icio.us or Furl.
You can tag (i.e. keyword) a post with anything you like. You can even make up a tag which didn't exist before anywhere (such as my "Gnashing of Teeth" tag for one of my earlier posts) - and, theoretically, they'll still index it and display it on their tag pages. (I say "theoretically" because I had real problems getting any Technorati tags to work - see this post and this post - but fortunately David Sifry the Technorati boss picked up on it (see his comment at the end of my previous post), and, miraculously, Technorati tags are now working for my blog - as of last night. It's odd because it's been about a week since I posted or tagged those posts - why did it take so long for them to show up on the Technorati tag pages, when the Technorati's info page on tags says that, after pinging them, "Your post should appear on the page in a few minutes (up to an hour during periods of intense activity)"?)
How do you view a Technorati tag page?To see what blog posts, pics or Webpages have been tagged with the keyword of, say, "Privacy", just go to the URL "http://technorati.com/tag/Privacy". (Or go to Technorati first, and in the search box search for "tag:Privacy" - don't include any quote marks, or any space after the colon). This works for any keyword you like; for "Privacy" just substitute, for example, "Politics" (or indeed "Latex", if you prefer, and who can blame you). Be warned (and be patient): Technorati tag pages can sometimes take an age to load, even on my 1MB ADSL connection.
Note: tags on Technorati are not case-sensitive, so either capital letters or lower case letters are OK. The format above is recommended on Technorati's site for use when tagging your blog posts (the method is explained below). But when you're searching for a tag, at least, it doesn't seem to matter if you use a "www" in the URL or not, or if you use "tag" or "tags" in the URL - the results are still the same. So I believe that when tagging posts also, it doesn't matter - I've seen blogs on Technorati tag pages which have been tagged using "www" and "tags", and obviously they've still been indexed.
To see a list of the major tags on Technorati, go to their general tag page. This only shows the most popular tags. The bigger the fontsize of the tag word, the more posts, photos etc which have been tagged with it. That page is worth a look see to figure out which tags are the most common, and which the most popular (so you can adopt them in your own posts to get more visitors - assuming that the tag is relevant to your post, of course. People wouldn't be very happy with you if you tagged a post with "Game" and it was about your Morris dancing proclivities). There are, it seems, over 300,000 more tags that aren't listed on that page. And counting.
What's the point of using Technorati tags in your blog?Well, first, to get your blog posts onto Technorati's tag pages in an organised, structured way - and also the tag pages of other blogosphere search engines that recognise tags, like Icerocket. That means people searching or browsing through those tag pages will be able to find your blog posts - more exposure, more traffic, hopefully more readers for your blog.
Also, these tag pages often get indexed on Google, and Technorati tag pages commonly appear quite high in Google search results lists due to the high number of blog posts pointing to those tag pages. So, if your blog is linked to from a tag page, someone searching Google is again more likely to come across your posts.
For other possible uses of Technorati tags, see below.
How do you use Technorati tags in your blog?That's the 64 million euro question. If your blog platform already supports categories and RSS/Atom (e.g. WordPress, Movable Type or TypePad), just assign categories to your posts and publish via RSS/Atom, and you're laughing - Technorati will automatically use those categories from your feed for its tags. (Though note that Technorati tags are more flexible than the broad "categories" used in many blogs - they can be anything from general categories to very specific individual keywords.) UPDATE: in Blogger Beta, which made its debut in late 2006 and is now out of beta as New Blogger, Blogger introduced a new feature called "Labels". Labels essentially operate in the same way as categories on Wordpress etc, so you no longer need separate tools to use categories and, more importantly, Technorati tags, see this post.
If you want to include tags manually on your blog, you're still laughing, because you should be able to make up any tags you like, use them in your posts, and Technorati should include them on its tag pages.
How do you do that, then? Well, according to the Technorati help page on tags, all you have to do is insert this sort of markup into your post (using the privacy example):
<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/privacy" rel="tag">Privacy</a>
The important bits to include are those I've put in bold - the "rel="tag"", and the "/privacy" at the end of the URL, in order to get the post (1) recognised by Technorati as tagged in the first place, and (2) filed under "Privacy" on their tag pages.
The "href" URL could in fact be for any site at all, not just Technorati's, as long as the URL ends in a backslash followed by the name of the tag you want (though, if nothing else is suitable, then the Technorati page for that tag may be the easiest choice). To adapt one example Technorati themselves gave, you could use
<a href="http://apple.com/ipod" rel="tag">iPod Stuff</a>
for a post to be tagged with "iPod" and show up on their iPod tag page (but it will NOT be tagged "iPod Stuff"). In other words, you don't have to link to Technorati for your tagged post to show up on Technorati's tag pages.
Tip: if you want to use a tag which consists of more than one word, like "Customer Service", Technorati say to use a "+" symbol between those words in the "a href" bit (although I've found that a simple space works just as well, check out the contrast between my first two tags at the end of this post - both should work, but "+" is safest). Example:
<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/Customer+Service" rel="tag">Customer Service</a>
You can have more than one tag for a post. In my case I've listed the tags with that code at the very end of each post, see e.g. the end of the ID card post example. I've deliberately included both singular and plural versions of tags and similar terms to try to help people looking for this kind of information find my post, for reasons I go into further below - and you might consider doing that too.
The tag markup could be included in the main part of the post instead, it shouldn't matter, as long as it's in the body of the post (and not, e.g., your blog's sidebar); I just find it easier to keep all my tags together at the end of the post.
Invisible tags?If you want your Technorati tags to be invisible to readers, but still get your post tagged on Technorati's tag pages, one possible way is to add the tags but just leave out the link text (the text that's normally clickable) between the
< -so in the first example above you'd just use the following, and the post will appear on Technorati's "privacy" tag page, but readers won't see the tag in your post (unless they view source, of course):However, for all sorts of reasons using invisible tags probably isn't a good idea, e.g. it probably goes against the purpose of tags. Kevin Marks of Technorati thinks it doesn't make sense, and more to the point many believe that if you try to make your tags invisible, Technorati and other search engines won't like it and may decide not to index your posts. While leaving out the link text as above worked once upon a time, that doesn't mean it will always work - I wouldn't be surprised if Technorati for one tweak things to penalise those who leave out link text for tags by refusing to index their posts properly, if they haven't already. For some debate on invisible tags please see the comments to this post.
<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/privacy" rel="tag"></a>
Nevertheless if you really want to try invisible tags (and on your own head be it!), the best way to increase your chances of having them indexed is probably to have them there on the page, but just not displayed (though who knows whether the search engines would want to penalise that sort of thing too). You can do this through CSS - use a class for your list of tags and set it to display:none (for more info on that, see this post and this post).
Then, of course, you need to publish your post and ping Technorati, and theoretically, according to their help page, your post should be indexed by them and added to their tag pages within an hour if they're busy, less if they're not.
[Note added 14 Jan 2006:] This post is just about how you tag individual posts. After it was written, Technorati introduced their Blog Finder, with the ability to tag an entire blog (see their instructions on how to tag your blog). Tagging your blog isn't dealt with in this post - see my separate post if you're interested in tagging your entire blog generally. They are two separate things, tagging your blog generally (as a blog about e.g. knitting), as opposed to tagging an individual post (e.g. with "purl" or "knitting needles"). Tagging your blog (Technorati call it "listing" the blog in their directory of blogs, which is by general topic), will not make your individual posts automatically appear on the pages for that listing category, though your blog should appear on that list. Similarly tagging a post individually (e.g. with "knitting") won't cause your blog to be listed in Technorati's directory in the "Knitting" category listing blogs about knitting, although the post should appear on the knitting tag page for individual posts. You can do one or the other, or indeed both kinds of tagging, and you probably should do both if you want to increase your blog's exposure.
How does Technorati pick up your tags? Amended tags?When you update your blog's main page by adding a new post, your blog's feed gets updated too. Technorati picks up on the changes in your blog feed, including your new post with the tags you've included in it.
The important thing to note is that Technorati, like many other search engines (e.g. Google's Blogsearch), indexes blogs by their site feeds. It mainly indexes going by what it sees in your site feed. That's why it's important to ensure that your blog settings are such that you output a full feed in some form, and that the search engines are given the URL of your full feed, not just of e.g. an excerpts or headlines-only feed. If your feed only shows the first X characters of each post, and your tags are at the end of your post, Technorati will not pick up your tags because they are missing from your feed, even if they're on the blog's Webpage. See further this post - scroll down to "Checking your feed" - on how to set a Blogger blog to output a full feed; and this post on feeds and search engines, plus how to offer your readers the choice of what type of feed they want.).
Update: Technorati's spider will cross check your feed against your main blog page so that if you only put out a summary feed, it will still get the full text from your front page - but unfortunately, until recently it had trouble with blogs whose URLs started with "www" for the feed but not for the main page (or presumably vice versa) (e.g. see this post). And it wasn't fully indexing posts from those kinds of blogs, as Kevin Marks has explained. Fortunately, he says they've now fixed that bug.
Because most blogosphere search engines, not just Technorati, base their indexing mainly on your feed (unlike say Google's main crawler, which does revisit old webpages), this means your old posts - which no longer appear on your main page - may not get indexed for tagging purposes, not even if you go back and edit them to add tags. If a post is not on your main blog page (eg http://consumingexperience.blogspot.com in my case) the tags in it will not get indexed. You can try increasing the number of posts that appear on your main page via your blog settings so that your old posts will appear on your main page (with the intention of decreasing it back down again after the old posts have been indexed), but this doesn't always work and will certainly slow down the loading of your main page considerably, which may annoy visitors to your blog. I was also told by Janice Myint of Technorati support in April 2006 (my emphasis):
"Technorati does index all posts on the main page, or Atom feed if the Atom feed contains full post content, however old. If the posts have been indexed before, only updated posts are reindexed. This applies to all post content.
For tags, all new tags in new posts on the main page, or Atom feed if the Atom feed contains full post content and tags, are indexed.
New tags added to an old post that previously did not have tags are considered an update and are indexed as well. However, if a post has been indexed before and the tags indexed before, then changing the tags, deleting or adding tags to the post, to my knowledge do not get indexed at this time. This is a bug that is currently being researched and fixed."
That last point is important to note: if you change your mind about a post you've published and you want to tweak the tags, even if the post is still on your blog's main page after you republish the edited post, Technorati will not pick up the changes - not until they've fixed that bug, anyway.
[This section added 13 August 2006 - just to share what I've learned since, including what Janice Myint of Technorati support told me.]
Problems getting your posts onto Technorati's tag pages?When I first tried tagging, I was sure I'd done everything right (these tags ain't exactly rocket science); I tried pinging them direct and also later (in desperation) through Pingomatic too - and yet, though the pings seemed to be successful, none of my posts showed on their tag pages, even after raising the matter with Technorati support and chasing them a few days later... until last night, when the whole lot suddenly appeared at once on Technorati's tag pages, mysteriously all dated the same date (of yesterday). So it took a whole week, and going to Technorati support, for my posts to show up on their tag pages. I think that for some reason they'd just not been indexing my blog. I'm still looking into why - too many posts with tags on one single blog page, for instance? I'll post further as and when I find out.
[Added 14 June 2005:] I've now got as much info out of Technorati as I've been able to, and summarised why sometimes your posts don't appear on Technorati's tag pages, even though posts before and after them may appear - for an explanation of what's behind these problems and possible solutions, see this post including this comment by Niall Kennedy of Technorati regarding validating your blog. Note that the problems continue - sometimes certain posts don't get picked up on the tag pages even though you can find them on Technorati by searching. For days or weeks at time, you may find that none of your posts get picked up at all - I've had at least 3 spells of my posts not getting fully indexed by Technorati for tag purposes; the last time, they had to tweak something behind the scenes to get their crawler to start recognising my tags again. I can only suggest that you make it a habit to regularly check that your posts are appearing on Technorati's tag pages, and if not, get on to Technorati support immediately and try to keep the "missing" posts visible on the main page of your blog (not slipping into an archive) until they've sorted it, or else they will never get recognised on their tag pages.
[Updated March 2006:] The last time I had problems, in February 2006, I decided to test what it was about the post that Technorati's system didn't like. I've posted my findings, and David Sifry Technorati's CEO says they're puzzled too, but they're on it. If you suffer problems with certain of your tagged posts not appearing on Technorati's tag pages (but appearing on say Icerocket's), you should report the bug to Technorati, giving them a link to the problem post's permalink, which should help them work out what's going wrong. I sure hope they sort it out soon!
[Added 13 August 2006:] I have since had an issue again with two posts where some tags did not get indexed. Technorati told me that it seems that they did pick up the tags, but then due to an index glitch the tags were dropped mid-way through. Thus the posts fell into the last category mentioned in the previous section (if a post has been indexed before and the tags indexed before, then if changing the tags, deleting or adding tags to the post, the changes do not get indexed). So the tags were treated as "previously-indexed" (because they were - they just got lost in Technorati's system) - and they could not be indexed again after I updated my posts and the posts stayed on my main blog page. I raised the problem with Technorati who tried to override that in the back end and have the tags indexed, but they were unsuccessful. I don't know if it's related to the bug that I've mentioned before, but I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Question: will your tags work if you use the target="_blank" attribute or similar in your markup in order to display the Technorati tag page in a new browser window? I really don't know. I can't see how it should matter, but there's nothing about that in the Technorati tag help page. When I first tagged my posts, I included that attribute, and Technorati didn't index my blog for a week (even after I deleted that attribute from all my tags and then tried again). I don't know if that's what made Technorati's crawler choke, but I've asked Technorati support about it. I've not heard back on that point, but as far as I can see, people who use that attribute are managing to get their tagged posts indexed fine.
Tools for Technorati tags and other infoCreating tags - for tools to help you easily create, without any hand coding, tags that consist of multiple words:
- Magical Sheep Technorati tags bookmarklet - see also this post e.g. on customising the favelet for "meblogging" etc, see below [updated 13 August 2006]
- Greasemonkey script for Firefox users who are on Blogger, for full details on its use see this post (based on the Bryan Price version) [updated 13 August 2006], and
- ICE online tag generator. [Added 20 August 2006:] That link doesn't seem to be working, I don't know if the problem is temporary or permanent, so here's another online Technorati tag generator from rsart.
UPDATE: on New Blogger you no longer need third party tools in order to create tags that Technorati and the like will pick up; you can use the new labels feature for that now, see this post. However, I will still be using the Magical Sheep Greasemonkey script for my tags, because I consider them to be low level keywords, while I'll be using labels for higher level categories -I think those are different concepts.
Bookmarklet to search Technorati tags - highlight text on a Webpage, and this bookmarklet searches for the highlighted words in Technorati's tag space. It only seems to work with Webpages, not if you highlight text in say your word processor.
Tag searches, newsfeeds, Technorati Mini - Technorati have since introduced feeds for specific tags. Search on Technorati for say "tag:trainspotting" (or browse to a Technorati tag page, or from the Tags tab just search for "trainspotting"), and at the top right of the search results page you'll see a little orange RSS icon, which if you hover over it gives the URL for the tag search feed to paste into your feed reader. You can also create a Watchlist for a tag search (effectively, your private feed on your own Technorati watchlist page with all your watchlists shown together, which you can view only after logging in). (Only Technorati members can create Watchlists - but it's free to join. For an intro to Technorati watchlists, see this post.) Or you can have a tag search result show in a Technorati Mini window, continually live and updated (just click the "View in Mini" button).
Technorati's info page on tags gives a good general overview - and don't forget the Technorati developers' tag tools page, which still has some stuff for the less techie amongst us (that's where I found the precursors to the tools mentioned above).
Technorati have now introduced a helpful howto page with links to tutorials and tips (including this post, thanks Technorati!), plus their own tools page again with links.
What else can you do with Technorati tags?"Meblogging" is one use I've come across, and very clever it is too. If you post to several blogs but want to see all your posts in one place, just tag each of them with a unique identifying word and then the Technorati tag page for that word will pull all your posts together (I'm going to start labelling my own posts with "Improbulus", "Consuming Experience" and, because I'm anal retentive, "A Consuming Experience" too). Of course there's nothing to stop other people (like practical joker friends) from using the same tag too, and cluttering up "your" tag page with their stuff...
A group of people could even set up a "secret" group page by tagging their posts with a special private tag (say a jumble of letters and numbers) that no one else knows, perhaps making that tag invisible on their posts (although that may go against the idea behind the rel="tag" specification, which intends tags to be visible links).
A tag could also be used to collect together conveniently a whole bunch of related blogs on the same general topic, all on the same page - if the bloggers concerned co-operate to use the same unique tag (decentralised group blogging).
No doubt people will be able to think up many more creative uses for Technorati tags.
WishlistAs I can foresee an explosion in Technorati-tagged blog posts, I wanted some way to be able to narrow down a search better. For example, being able to search for "tag:dogs" AND "tag:cats", if I want to find posts that are about both dogs and cats. At first you couldn't do that, but Technorati have since come up with the goods and you can now do quite sophisticated searches of their tag pages.
More generally on Technorati, I think it would be really useful to combine a search for "blog:this" and "tag:that", to look for posts on a particular topic within the one blog, for instance. (Then you could even add links in your sidebar to bring up all the posts in your blog (or someone else's blog) about a single subject/keyword, for instance.) Perhaps all this will come, in time - the Technorati people seem very savvy and responsive. In the meantime one solution is to do an "AND" search with the meblogging tag for the blog you want, combined with the tag you're looking for. [Added 13 August 2006:] Technorati have now provided a way to search for a particular tag just in your blog. In your browser go to http://technorati.com/tags/[YOURTAG]?from=http://[YOURBLOGURL] to search for YOURTAG in your blog URL.
But the most important issues I have with tags are as follows.
Any downside to Technorati tags?In principle Technorati tags seem a very good idea and, if they can be made to work properly, are an excellent way to get categories functionality for Blogger blogs, amongst other things. But there are two possible problems that I can see: the potential for confusion, and the potential for abuse.
Order, order...First, there's the potential for chaos and confusion - people not finding what they want (or other people not finding what you want them to find). What do I mean by that? Well if you look at the main Technorati tag page you'll see for instance that people have been using as tags both "Humor" and "Humour" (and "Funny", too). If I search for the tag "Humour", I wouldn't find anything tagged just with the US spelling "Humor", or the similar concept "Funny". Same for singular and plural - searching for items tagged with "Blog" would not find those just tagged with "Blogs", and vice versa.
This is because the nature of tags used on Technorati etc is that people choose whatever words they want to use for a particular concept, and different people may use different words to mean exactly the same thing. Or the same words to mean entirely different things. There are no rules or even rough guidelines for tags on Technorati, Flickr, etc - people can use any words they like.
(In researching Technorati tags I've learned a new word, "folksonomy" - which seems to mean, people making up their own categories/keywords as they go along, instead of using a recognised standard classification set or "ontology" or "taxonomy", as it's called. See also this post and the paper linked to from sardonick's post (warning, learned paper alert!), if you're keen on that kind of thing.)
Plus, here's no way of figuring out how categories of keywords are organised in different people's heads. You wouldn't believe it from the state of my desk, but I do think about information in a fairly structured, hierarchical way, with categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories (transport, car, Ferrari) - and so do lots of other people. The problem is someone else may be thinking in a completely different way with different hierarchies (sex, babe magnets, Ferrari). It'll get worse and worse as more people get tagging, and create more and more new (and different) variations on tags.
That's the first problem which occurred to me, but (not surprisingly) I'm not the first person to have thought of it - see for example this post or this one. (For an alternative viewpoint, see this post. Don't think I'm saying folksonomies, a.k.a. "social tagging", are a bad thing as such - I think they're a good thing, but I'm just concerned about possible chaos in the longer term if something isn't done soon about organising tags; even several multiple parallel hierarchies, like my Ferrari example, would be fine (see, I've got the jargon down pat now - that's known as "polyhierarchical", that is). And as a further aside, I don't think the Google vs. Yahoo analogy is valid (i.e. that if hierarchies were the way to go, Yahoo would be a Google-beater), because Google use their own, very effective, techniques to figure out how to rank search results; they don't depend entirely on what Webpages authors say, as tags do. Yes, it's interesting to be able to see which tags are the most common ones, but that doesn't actually help me find what I want especially if what I want is something quite specific, given that the popular tags tend to be so broad.)
You can see where I'm going, can't you? I'm on the side of order and structure, rather than a free for all mess. In my view, Technorati needs as a minimum something like Google's "Did you mean..." for mis-spellings or similar words. I don't know how Google does it - uses a dictionary, maybe; but it must be possible to combine an actual thesaurus for the search software to look up (with humans editing the thesaurus - e.g. to add associations between say "humor", "humour" and "funny"), plus a list of common mis-spellings etc. [Note added 6 March 2005 - Technorati have now introduced the concept of "related tags"]And what about providing a comprehensive list of tags for people to view and perhaps click to select their own tags from (so that they can use any existing one which fits the concept they want, rather than having to coin their own)?
Yes, I know, the maintenance burden on the teams of (volunteer?) people organising and editing the "taxonomy" would be a pain (not to mention the pain of organising the people concerned!) - but wouldn't it be worth it? There's still time, while Technorati tags are in their relatively early stages, to introduce some form of order into the chaos, perhaps a standardised list of synonyms at least (even if not organised in a hierarchichal manner) - and, personally, I think that opportunity should be taken. Even Furl provide for their users a basic list of major categories ("business", "entertainment", "health", "technology" etc, not to mention the all-conquering and all-embracing "general" and "personal").
Tag spammingSecond, there's the potential for abuse. Too many sites already overload their Webpages with meta keywords that have nothing to do with their subject matter, in order to draw traffic. There's nothing to stop people from stuffing their posts with irrelevant tags which then show up on Technorati's tag pages (and could drown out the legit stuff), but I guess Technorati would ban their sites in that case - if they found out.
I'm not sure what can be done about that, apart from blacklisting "bad" sites. If this is done however, it must be done intelligently. I'm still trying to work out if my blog got blacklisted for having so many tags on one page, but as you can see if you scan the posts on my main blog page, I wasn't engaging in tag spamming. I was trying to use variations on the same word to make sure that my tags were comprehensive enough, plus there are several posts (and therefore even more tags) on the main page, because that was how I had to set my blog so that my Feedburner animator would cycle through the last few posts (instead of just sitting on one static post). I have asked Technorati if this is why my blog didn't get indexed, and I will report back when I hear from them.
(Updated on 10 January 2006)
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