As a follow-up to the previous article on tag management, and the great feedback we have received, we would like to get your feedback on whitespace in tags.
Here is the question: is a space a legitimate character within a tag, or is it only a valid separator?
Why does it matter? Arguments for the jury, in favour of whitespace in tags or against it.
- Pro: Tags represent concepts. A concept is sometimes a single word, but sometimes multiple words that cannot be separated. If the tag is “dog animal”, really you are saying it is both a dog and an animal, and thus the two words are two concepts. If, on the other hand, the tag is “Sierra Leone”, (country in West Africa), this is one concept. It is not both in Sierra and Leone. We can think of lots of other examples where the two words together make one concept.
- Con: Most tagging systems do not allow whitespace, indeed, many treat it as a separator. In many tagging systems, if I type “cat dog” I will automatically get two tags, one cat and one dog, and the whitespace will be treated like an automatic separation. Wiki systems work similarly. For obvious reasons, maintaining maximum upwards compatibility with other tagging systems, or at least not locking us out, makes a lot of sense.
Here are our possibilities:
- Separator: Whitespace is a separator. If you type in “dog cat” or “Sierra Leone”, that is two distinct tags in each case. If you want to keep “Sierra Leone”, you need to manually and explicitly type Sierra_Leone, SierraLeone, Sierra-Leone or some variant. This is the del.icio.us method.
- Allow: Whitespace is allowed. If you type in “dog cat” or “Sierra Leone”, that is one tag in each case. For the “dog cat” case, if you want two tags, you will either need to type “dog” then hit an add button (or similar) then “cat” and add, or use a recognized separator, e.g. “dog, cat”. Obviously whitespace at the beginning or end of a tag name will always be ignored. This is the Gmail method.
- Auto-Convert: Whitespace is not allowed, but isn’t a separator either. Rather, every time you type in whitespace, it is automatically converted to an underbar ‘_’. So, if you type “dog, cat” you will get two tags, one of “dog” and one of “cat”. On the other hand, if you type “Sierra Leone”, you will automatically get “Sierra_Leone”. This is the Wikipedia/MediaWiki method.
One thing we definitely do not want is for there to be multiple options. Too confusing, and support is a nightmare, creating the worst of all worlds. Thoughts and feedback are always appreciated. If a working example would help, let us know in the comments.