I’m working on a new design for this website. Although the look of the blog still draws compliments, there are a number of things that frustrate me, like readability on mobile devices, site navigation and the styling of comments. Plus, the site has looked more or less the same for a couple of years now. It feels like time for a change.
Yesterday I spent some time reworking the categories and tags which will allow me to use a more streamlined navigation system. In doing this I had a look at everyone of the 1,642 posts I’ve written since October 2004. This is the biggest change I’ve made to the categories on this blog since I started using WordPress in 2004.
From today, there are only four categories – Sounds, Images, Words & Adventures.
A New Approach To Categories
Like most bloggers, I approached categories like a filing system. Categories were a way of filing blogposts according to different interests. The problem is that, over time, as your interests change and evolve, the category system becomes really messy.
When I looked at this from the perspective of people who come to this site and read the blog, it became clear that people only engage with my writing for a handful of reasons. So, it made sense to build the categories around those foci.
Sounds – Everything related to music and audio. From original music I compose, to reviews of concerts, stuff about guitars, music software and on into music technology.
Images – Photography is the main focus here, but this category also includes other visual arts and art history. Basically, this is everything that goes into making images.
Words – By far the largest category, this includes essays, opinion pieces, book reviews, food writing, film reviews, stories and lots of posts about blogging, social media and creativity.
Adventures – Travel, holidays, expatriate living and all sorts of new experiences and challenges.
Going through all my posts I tried to avoid assigning more than one category to any posts. In my old approach, reviewing a book on photography could have easily meant using two or three categories. Now, it would just sit under images. Largely, I was able to do that because of the role tags play in making blog searches work.
The Importance of Tags
The way I used to think about categories on this blog was a legacy of my approach to organising files on a computer. Once upon a time you had to work hard at creating logical folder structures (and sub-folders) in order to manage your work. While folders still matter, a lot of programmes (from Lightroom to iTunes) build folder structures for you and most of the work of finding files actually involves searches and tags.
The beauty of tags is they can be very specific and you can use lots of them for every file while keeping a simple folder or category structure. So, I now have four categories, but over four hundred tags. They work for you and your readers because tags are one of the first things search engines look for.
So, your Google searches are more effective if you use lots of well chosen tags. But, more importantly for me, local searches, when readers use the search button on my site, will also be more effective as well.
No Category For Faith
Spirituality was one of my most popular blogging themes from 2004-09. It might surprise some long-term readers to see no category for it now. The simple answer is that a search for any number of terms – faith, theology, church, prayer – will yield a large number of posts and lots of words.
The deeper answer resides in my dissatisfaction, back in 2009, with the direction of my spirituality-related writing. Too much of it was negative and focussed on past experiences. I believe good blogging comes from focussing on present day experiences. That’s why a lot of my essays, these days are about creativity.
Moreover, faith is a deep identity issue. Right now, having a spirituality category made about as much sense as having a brown curly hair category, or a life in Singapore category.
Location Doesn’t Matter Much Either
When I started this current blog, I didn’t plan to write much about life in Delhi. But, looking back, I actually did put a lot of experiences into the blog.
In Hong Kong, I always struggled to get local traffic and was criticised a few times for not blogging enough about Hong Kong. Going through my posts from those years, I actually did write a lot of Hong Kong related stuff, especially in my first two years there. In fact, the only real dip was in 2008-09, which were the years when I really didn’t write much about anything.
It feels like something similar is happening again in Singapore, which is OK by me. I never set out to be an “expat blogger.” Location doesn’t define who I am. My life is defined by what I do, how I do it and who I do it with. I hope the new categories make it a little easier to tell that story.