Just a couple of weeks ago I was trying to set things straight in the rather troublesome relationship between tags and topics. The bottom line was that tags are just the same words we use in the content and are hence just as arbitrary and hard to generalize as the content itself. No perfect solution for this problem exists as yet, although I proposed to topify the content in order to keep the generalizing terms (tags.. topics..) as close to the content as possible.
Now I get reminded that there is a third member of the family that may be used in this way, but rather tends to go astray and entertain people. I’m of course talking about the ever present headlines that set the tone to a piece of content long before we actually get to read the whole thing. So what is the function of this, rather distinct, member of the meta-family?
One might have thought that titles should provide the reader a short taster of what is coming next, so that he or she would be able to filter and prioritize a piece of content among others. However, certain media actors don’t like to play fair, especially those who don’t have much of worthy content to offer. This is first and foremost the case with the so called Yellow Press, which has invented and perfected the art of indirect headline for the last century or so.
The idea of an indirect headline is to use a quality of human nature – a humans curiosity – to drive readers to some potentially utterly worthless content, as was the case in a blog entry in The Blog Herald that inspired this here post. The evil thing about this is that we can’t help it but take the bait over and over, even after getting disappointed time and time again.
So what can we do to tame this extravagant member of the meta-family? Well, frankly not much. One could check out the site’s tags to get some additional information, but the problem with tags is that they are becoming more and more like headlines as well. If you tag your content in detail, you risk losing readers who know for sure they don’t care about certain stuff. General tags on the other hand don’t allow you to filter and prioritize the content properly, so you have to check out at least the first few lines of the text. This is where, I think, a more intrinsic way of meta-describing content by topics e.g. can come in handy, from the user point of view anyway.