On titles, or maybe not

Sunday, 9 Jan 2005

Brian Bailey’s writeup Building a Better Blog is an interesting read. (Thank you for the link, Perry!) Some of the things it codifies should be no-brainers. The proposition to mind posting times is sort of silly as it neglects the fact that the Web is international and spans all timezones. Some I could extrapolate. But some were suggestions genuinely new to me.

In courtesy towards readers, I “only” run afoul of… the most basic rules: titles and categories. The lack of categories is something that has been bugging myself as well for a while. It is solely a question of implementation, though, and will be thoroughly fixed by the new backend’s design – and the one who can least wait for that is me.

The other rule, however, is something I have been quite conflicted about ever since I started logging my thoughts. I didn’t do titles when I started and I still don’t want them – at least not titles in the traditional fashion. My initial aversion toward titles stemmed from the fact that they’re really a form of metadata and must not be necessary to understand a piece of writing, even though a title is beneficial for a long article where it can summarise the content, tantalise the reader, and provide an anchor in memory which it is easily remembered by. Short entries, inconclusive entries, meandering entries, single link entries, site change notification entries, however: they all defy the attempt to be titled clearly, uniquely, concisely, informatively.

I actually briefly tried titles, including restrospective titling of all my existing entries, because I wanted to permalink by title. Unfortunately, I had to back out immediately because titling had an instant and very sharp stunting effect on my logging. Titles don’t easily work for me. Since I don’t do incoherence, it often took far more effort to title an entry than to write it. And since I was looking for a permalink scheme, only titling selectively was not an option.

Looking at the opaque number sequence my feed presents itself as in my aggregator, though, I can well see the utility titles would provide.

I’m still unsure about what I’ll do, but I think I have a working plan on how I will title my entries. Here’s the trick: I won’t use titles.

Bear in mind that my “categories” are really going to be keywords or tags. You’ll be able to bring up /programming/seen to read my commentary on thoughts about programming seen elsewhere, f.ex. (You’ll also be able to subscribe to a feed for just that keyword combination. Flickr and del.icio.us have demonstrated the principle.

How does this tie into the titling quandary? Well, it solves it. There’s no need to title entries: the title derives from the combination of tags. A title might be something like “seen obfuscated functional programming unlambda”. Or if you arrived at the entry by visiting /seen/programming (obviously, the order of tags in the URL doesn’t matter), the title will instead be “functional obfuscated unlamda”. If you visit /seen /obfuscated /functional /programming /unlambda, well, then the entry won’t have a title. But does it matter? There might be a total of two of those during all of the log’s existence. If you picked that URL you knew what you were looking for anyway, so you don’t need a title to help you find the relevant content.

That’s my take on titles.