Been doing more tinkering this week with the vexed question of how best to organise and catalogue the growing amount of material. I'd like to get things improved before the next big tranche of documents gets uploaded as I feel that we haven't got it right yet.

The first issue is that there are three distinct types of material on here. There are articles which appear in this main area on the page with menus and other information above and to the right. Then there are images - photos and graphics - which generally appear embedded in articles, but may also form pages of image galleries on particular themes or events (or they will when I get around to it...). And thirdly there are the source documents which are available for download as pdf files from the Document Library. 

I'll leave a discussion of images for a separate post. 

The system we have allows for items - documents and articles - to each be assigned to a single category. The categories are organised in a hierarchy so a category - for example "Events" can have sub-categories for example "Gatherings", "Demos" and so on. The "Organisations" category can spawn sub-categories for a particular organisation once there are more than one or two articles about it. Everything has to be assigned to a category (or use a default category called "unassigned") and so that is the first level of organisation.

So then there is the question of what we should use as categories and how finely grained should they be (eg should there be a limit on the number of items in a category before it merits splitting into two separate categories or a category and a sub-category). We have already had to restructure the choice of article categories once as the scheme we used at first soon developed limitations. Currently the main top level categories are Events, Organisations, People, and Opinions (plus a couple more). Does this make sense or is there a better scheme?

In the Document Library we initially categorised everything by the type of document - was it a leaflet, a manifesto, a magazine or what. We then switched to using the organisation or group that produced the original as the primary categories - grouping them by Political, Non-Political and Publications. For both articles and documents we end up having to have a miscellaneous or general category.

Of course often things seem to belong in more than one category and that means a choice has to be made. Does this article about how the Green Collective was organised to promote the Green Gatherings belong in "Organisations/GreenCollective"  or "Events/Gatherings"? Is this document a Leaflet or a Poster - one side is clearly a leaflet or flyer with lots of text, the other side is a poster to display?

So categories are a bit like the Dewey Decimal system used for books. But it rapidly falls down once you want to make links between things in different categories, or assign an item to multiple categories.

So there is also a facility for Tags. A tag is a short keyword which can be applied to any number of items and then used to bring together all the items with a common tag. So tags are a bit like the index entries in a book. Just as an index item might list several pages where the item is found so a tag might list several articles (or documents).

This of course provides a lot more flexibility and is probably a better way of indexing the site. But like an index it is also a lot more work to manage and produce. When indexing a book generally the book is written first, in the case of a site like this the content is continually growing and so each new item might trigger one or more new tags which then have to be retrospectively applied to everything that is already here, as well as having to check the list of tags to see which existing tags should be applied to the new item.

A further complication is that the facilities for generating menus and lists of tagged items are considerably less sophisticated than those for categories. So I find I am also having to do development work to improve the way the results of tagging get displayed.

A final complication is that the category and tag systems for the articles and the documents are currently completely separate - this actually has some advantages, but it does mean that there is no easy way to produce a combined list of both articles and documents in the category "GreenCollective" or tagged with the name "Benfield,M".

Anyway, my current thinking is to develop the tagging systems and actually use those as the primary mechanism for generating lists and cross links.

Oh yes, we left the vexed question of images out of this discussion - but this is quite enough for one post. Now I've cleared my head it is back to the grindstone...