(2015-02-12) Forte Tagging Is Broken

Tiago Forte on why Tagging Is Broken in EverNote and everywhere else

There is an axiom in the productivity world that goes something like this: “Tags are inherently superior to folders”

Now let me explain why these pros, although theoretically real, are overwhelmed by a tidal wave of cons. I will use EverNote as an example.

Decision Fatigue: “But I’ve memorized my tags!” you say. First of all, you’re relying on one of the few things your brain is worse than machines at — remembering stuff. Second, any change in your current projects, collaborators, priorities, interests, etc. breaks this system. This is the opposite of antifragile. It’s superfragile.

Memory Fatigue: As good as your brain is at recognizing patterns, it is terrible at storing and recalling multiple patterns precisely... And autofill also doesn’t address this...

Lack of Stigmergy: cognition is embodied and situated... Yet tags completely disregard stigmergy and instead force us to think about our notes in a completely abstract way... The “limitation” of notes residing “only” in a single location is in fact a strength!

Perverse Affordances: So which behaviors are desired and undesired when it comes to organization? In any organizational system, the constant temptation is to overorganize... Yet in Evernote and most tagging systems, all it takes to create a new tag is to type one. If the tag is not recognized as already existing, it is created. Thus the most problematic behavior is implicitly encouraged and enabled.

Over-optimization: I theorize that the mentality behind using tags to create hyper-specific targeted searches (“.conversations I had with girlfriend about ^butternut_squash while wearing #shorts”) comes from the mainframe age, when “running a search” required, basically, writing a custom program that took hours or days to run... We’ve reached the point where search is so good, effectively the whole document is made up of tags. (WikiWord Vs Search)

Intimidation: I’ve come to realize that these systems are about much more than functional utility. They enable one of the most important aspects of any self-driven endeavor: what I call creative self-esteem. The real potential of a digital organizational system is to be a tool for capturing and systematically reminding you of past ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections (Associative)... The real problem with tags, and why they not only fail to help, but actually even hurt people’s creative self-esteem, is that they give the impression that creating such a system requires a heroic feat of comprehensive planning, followed by years of meticulous, unwavering cataloging and annotating... When I look at successful people, I notice again and again that it is this — the ability to systematically capture and review and deploy their ideas, further strengthening their creative self-esteem, leading them to value and generate more ideas, and so on in a virtuous loop — that really sets them apart. (Notice Patterns And Garden Your Private Wiki Notebook) *

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