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Thinking differently about blog tags

Have you ever felt burdened by the weight of unanswered blog tags? Niggled by those challenges people threw your way that you never got round to thinking about? Noticed twinges of guilt when you see link-lists with your name on - and know that you’re not playing along?

I have, a bit more than usual recently. Which got me thinking more about tags, and what it was about them that can tie us up in these kind of knots.

In their defence… I know that tags are a good way of making new connections. I met a new reader Terry Heath yesterday, because he’d tagged Jim Murdoch who tagged me. We’d probably never have met otherwise. I know they’re a good way of spreading link love and saying thanks. Sometimes they push us to reveal more about ourselves than we otherwise would - where we live, places we’ve been, random facts about our lives - helping to share something of the person behind the blog. Which is good for making connections, for developing our voice, for writing with authenticity.

But I still seem to have a lot of ‘buts’ on my list:

  • They can turn quickly (in our heads) from invitations to expectations, things that we are supposed to do, that we ‘should’ do. ‘Shoulds’ are a powerful block to enjoyable, free-flowing writing
  • There’s an additional pressure of delivering something that’s good enough for the person who tagged us. I know this is the last thing Robyn McMaster would have wanted when she tagged me to ‘think differently’ but I wanted to think of something clever and interesting to say in response to so thoughtful and intelligent a blogger. This in effect got in the way of me writing anything at all
  • Most tags come with rules. I’m not too good with rules. My instinct is to try and break them. I wonder if this is the main reason my reaction to tags always comes with some resistance attached
  • Tags can throw us from our blogging stride, from the things that we intended to write about. I’m trying valiantly to stick to the curiosity theme this month, but already sidetracked by the festive season, my blog redesign project and other things that keep on happening along (inside my head) and asking to be written
  • They can blow us off course from our blogging purpose. I try and bend tags as far as I can to a writing theme, but sometimes I think I’ve stretched them too far (which leads to that ridiculous fear that the blog police will come after me)
  • Not fulfilling tags can me curmudgeonly, lacking in generosity, ungrateful. Which is the opposite of how blogging normally makes me feel.
  • Especially when I’m not picking up a ‘niceness’ tag, for heaven’s sake, despite being mentioned by Jeanne Dinnini, Brad Shorr and Lillie Ammann, three of the nicest and most generous bloggers around. I just couldn’t bear to pick out some bloggers and exclude others. It didn’t feel right somehow (and taking part properly would have blown me further off course)
  • And I fret that I’m being ungrateful in not posting the full list of Outstanding Blogs that Troy Worman has been compiling. I’ve had a lot of link love from this and I’d like to say thanks. I’m a fan of Troy’s work and I wouldn’t want him to think I was ungrateful. But I’ve set myself a rule that I’m not going to post links to blogs I’ve not visited, and I just don’t have time to go and visit all of the blogs in this list. Is this the right answer in this case? I don’t know.
  • I don’t like the feeling of burdening someone else with a tag. That I’m creating something that they “should” write. When I’m coaching people I spend a lot of time telling them the opposite. But maybe I’m getting this wrong. Does it feel like a burden to you? Do you want me to tag you?

I haven’t worked out any answers here. But working my way through some of my mixed reactions and emotions to the words “you’ve been tagged” has given me a better framework for thinking about them, made me feel a little less burdened and guilty, and yes, has helped me to deliver on this particular tag challenge.

Which was to “find something in my life that results in negatives and decide to look at it differently”.

Blog tags might not be the biggest problem on my horizon but there’s something about the process I can learn from here. Breaking a problem down, getting curious about it, asking myself what specifically I’m bugged by or worried about - and writing it all down - well that’s how I try and look at things differently, turning them from something that’s a negative into something I can manage. From a position of being stuck - to being ready to start writing again.

If you want to join in - consider yourself tagged. Here are the rules - like me, you might end up breaking some.

The Rules

1. Write a new blog post in which you “think different”. Follow my suggestions above, or be a bit different and interpret the challenge the way you want.
2. State that the post is a part of the Think Different Challenge and include a link and/ or trackback to this post so that readers know the rules of the challenge. Feel free to use the above banner (inspired, of course, by Seth Godin).
3. Include a link and/ or trackback to the blogger who tagged you.
4. At the end of your post, go ahead and tag some fellow bloggers. Don’t forget to email them to let them know they have been tagged.
5. That’s it! Just sit back and enjoy reading peoples’ responses to the challenge.


  1. Terry Heath
    Twitter: terryheath

    Tags are a great exercise in flexibility, and flexibility can lead to freshness in our writing as well as in the way we think about blogging. It’s easy to blog with an agenda, thinking of our blog as a type of online magazine where we “deliver” a message. But while that sort of thing has its place, it limits what a blog is capable of in terms of building community. Community implies conversation, and conversations have to be two-way or they are not conversations at all. If we think of ourselves as a guru (and I’m NOT saying you seem to do that at ALL) and expect followers to circle up at our feet, then we probably won’t have enough followers to form a circle. The best teachers learn from their students, and as bloggers we can be challenged to blog outside the box.

  2. Lillie Ammann says:

    I share your ambivalence, Joanna. I have stated several times on my blog that I answer tags only if they fit the theme of my blog.

    I listed the entire list of personal development blogs awhile back, but after you explained that you didn’t list blogs you hadn’t been to, I re-considered and wished I hadn’t. Since it was too late to do anything about that post, I decided not to do that again. I’ve never participated in “link trains” or the like - but I had listed the personal development blogs because I thought the list was worth passing on because they were recommended by other excellent bloggers.

    You convinced me I shouldn’t post a list like that, even though I didn’t make a personal recommendation. So I haven’t posted the Troy Worman list or several others that have included me. However, I plan to write one post mentioning them as a thank-you without passing on the list. A good compromise or the cowardly way out? I’m not sure …

    When I do respond to a tag, I usually don’t tag specific people but just invite anyone interested to participate. The Nice Matters tag was a little different - and I would never want you to feel obligated to do anything with it. I just wanted to recognize a few bloggers who have been especially helpful to me. As I said in the post, I left out many other very nice bloggers, but there’s no way to include everyone who is nice. I don’t thank commenters every month or do any other form of regular thanks so I just thought this would be a good way to say thanks. If my post gave the idea that I expected anyone I tagged to tag others, that wasn’t my intent.

  3. Robyn says:

    Joanna, Wow! I’ve known for a long time that you think differently. I like the fact that you took time to sort out the endless blog tags that we all receive. I felt guilty when I found I could not answer all did. After awhile I asked myself what my purpose was. Since the emphasis of my blog is to help folks learn how to use brain research to their benefit. You can imagine that not many tags fit that topic. Because I decided long ago that my blog is about the facts, but it’s even more highly about my readers. So I do play along with some tags to help prosper my visitors and folks like you that I highly respect.

    If I couldn’t really play along with a tag, I simply let it go.

    Your thoughtful blog was well worth the wait. I learned much from your deep reflection and ways you think differently that I might not have seen. Thanks so much and I do intend to share this with readers on my site sometime after the holidays. :-)

  4. Karen Swim says:

    Joanna, this is truly an insightful post. I have mentioned others in my blog posts (including you) but I do it simply to share with my readers expert resources. I haven’t tagged anyone as I’m still a bit ambivalent about shameless self promotion. However when I come across something informative, entertaining, inspiring I share freely without any thought of return link love. I really appreciate your post and the comments have followed. This for me is the true power of blogging - the ability to learn from others and sometimes be gently nudged from your comfort zone.

    Thank you all for a whole new perspective.


  5. Brad Shorr says:

    Glad you raised these issues, Joanna. This is always a touchy issue with me. It’s always an honor to be tagged, but I feel awkward imposing tags on other bloggers because they may not be welcome. Then I think, if I don’t pass the meme along, will the person who tagged me be offended or disappointed? I also prefer voluntary projects. Besides taking away the various etiquette issues, voluntary group projects are more likely to result in quality writing. The initiator needs a quality idea to attract participation. Contributors are more likely to submit quality posts because they’re enthusiastic about the project.

  6. Writing the Cyber Highway says:

    This can be a touchy subject! I’ve participated in several memes so far. Some that are “different” I choose to post over the weekends and call them “weekend fun.” Right? Wrong? Who knows… I have some loyal readers. I could have more. I don’t want to offend anyone, make anyone feel horrible if I did tag them. I’ve pretty much quit tagging anyone. With the holidays it’s such a busy time and I just feel “bad” piling more on someone.

    This is definitely a lot to consider! I hope I haven’t made anyone feel any of these things…


  7. Jeanne Dininni says:


    I appreciate your honesty in this post! Memes can definitely be pressure-inducing to the “tagee”-though, of course, that’s never the intention of the tagger. No matter how cleverly conceived they may be, these writing projects with strings attached often tend to cause feelings of guilt when we haven’t managed to find the time-or the inclination-to complete them. And this can cause us to feel a real resistance to them, which prevents us from seeing them in a positive light.

    But, I agree that it is indeed a good thing for us to try to think differently about them. Here’s how I see the issue:

    First of all, we need to give ourselves permission not to complete them if we lack the interest, inclination, or inspiration to do so, knowing that the wonderful bloggers with whom we love to interact will understand-and forgive us. (Remember that they, too, have an unfulfilled meme “obligation” or three that they may never get around to completing. And despite that fact, the world hasn’t ended.)

    Then, I think we need to allow ourselves to ignore the “hurry” element-the feeling that we’ve just been handed a ticking time bomb that will explode at any moment if we don’t hurry up and complete the project. We need to give ourselves the freedom to take as long as we need to discover whether there is in fact any spark of inspiration buried within us that would allow us to approach the meme with enthusiasm, curiosity, and enjoyment-rather than forcing ourselves into the drudgery of a dreaded task. (Maybe those positive motivations will never come-and if they don’t, we need to realize that that’s OK.)

    And finally, I think we need to focus on the meme itself, rather than letting the responsibility we’ve been handed overshadow it, and see whether we don’t quite naturally discover an element of fascination in its premise, its topic, or its approach. We might then see the potential it can have due to the creative touch that only we can give it. And, as you’ve done, we should feel free to alter it to fit our personality, our style, and our own unique vision-to make it totally ours. Once we’ve taken “ownership” of it in this way, we’ll actually be free to enjoy it. We’ll relish the challenge and approach the project with anticipation, enthusiasm-and maybe even excitement. We’ll see it in a whole new light.

    Like many other things, it isn’t the meme itself that has the power to throw us off kilter; it’s our own frame of mind about it that does that. As with everything else in life, it’s all in how you look at it.

    Just a few thoughts that came to me about the subject after reading your post-which isn’t to say that I have totally overcome the “meme monster” myself! ;)


  8. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Terry, thanks for coming back - and for more constructive food for thought.

    I know what you mean about authority, expertise and how that can jar with the way blogging ‘works’. I don’t think I write with an agenda - but definitely with a purpose. Otherwise I find myself getting a bit jaded with the whole thing. But that purpose does include conversation, community and learning :-) BTW are you familiar with the http://www.joyfuljubilantlearning blog? Lots of good learning and community based conversations over there.

    I do also recognise what you say about fresh challenges - and your 5 random things tag plus this thinking different one have got me writing in slightly different directions which is no bad thing. I guess the trick (for me) is to make sure I am sticking within my broad overall purpose


  9. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Lillie, thank you for your comments. You teach us all so much about adopting a principled yet human approach to our blogging. I learned the value of responding to tags only if line with our blogging objectives from you, and I think it is a wise principle.

    I see we’re now in the same place on the link posts - for now I think it’s the right thing to do, but like you have some niggling anxiety about being cowardly or not reciprocating what I’ve been given.

    Which is why I made the comment about the niceness tag - I didn’t feel I’d received it as a tag that I had to pass on, from you, Jeanne, or Brad, just that I was left with some awkwardness that I wasn’t playing it forward.

    I think ambivalence is the perfect word for the feelings these tags and memes evoke.


  10. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Thanks Robyn, and for sharing your own reflections on how you see your blog, and the importance of identifying your purpose in blogging. And what a powerful purpose:

    “Because I decided long ago that my blog is about the facts, but it’s even more highly about my readers.”

    Focusing on my blogging and writing (and coaching) purpose is something that’s very important to me too, and I guess the only way we can really apply the litmus test of ‘will I do this or not?’. Would be nice not to have the associated guilt or awkwardness though!


  11. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Karen, it sounds like you have a very sound approach to sharing links and resources on your blog.

    I’m not saying that tags are about self-promotion at all - I’ve taken part in quite a few myself, and have enjoyed and learned a lot from them. My life as a building was one of the more interesting challenges I was given, and did pass on as a tag because I was so interested in where others would go with it. And they can be a good way of encouraging us to share ideas, information about what makes us tick - and all of that is part of what makes blogs interesting.

    But get too many and they can seem burdensome, and I guess what I was trying to do here was work out why that was, and how I can best sift through those that I want to reply to and those that I’m just going to let go quietly by.

    BTW I liked your definition of the benefits of blogging - “the ability to learn from others and sometimes be gently nudged from your comfort zone.” Very true.


  12. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Brad, you echo my feelings here. It’s that mixture of honour and appreciation for what you’ve been given, but awkwardness about what to do with it - not least the fear of disappointing an another person.

    My preference would be for more of the voluntary projects and an encouragement to jump in too. That way people are responding for positive reasons rather than a sense of obligation. I suppose the only downside is that they don’t spread in the same viral way.

    I’m looking forward to your next writing project, whatever it maybe.


  13. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Michele, I try and write my more ‘different’ posts at the weekends too, but I don’t always manage to stick to my own rules! I’m not sure there are rights and wrongs, just what works for you, your blog, and as you say, your readers.

    I doubt very much you’ve made anyone feel bad in your tagging, the tone of your blog and your writing is far too warm and friendly for that :-)

    Smiling too


  14. Jim Murdoch says:

    When Terry tagged me my first reaction was to go on a downer. My head told me to be pleased, this is what I’m here for and this is an accepted way of breaking the ice (not unlike the blog chain I participated in recently), but, as you say, it is the fact that there are expectations that come along with being tagged. I don’t mind playing by the rules and I only revealed as much as I was comfortable with, the kinds of things I drop into my blogs anyway, but it bothered me feeling that I had to involve others not all of which have taken the bait. I thought long and hard before asking people like you to join the fray.

    My main gripe was that it distracts from the reason I am blogging. I don’t mind veering a bit to the left or the right in my blog. I’ve talked about film and television but, since these are major sources of influence, I’m happy to stray that way but I’m not so hard up for topics yet that I need to do too many memes. Maybe once I’ve been doing this for a year or two I might think differently.

    It certainly has been something to talk about though judging from all the comments.

  15. Robert Hruzek says:

    Joanna, I want to thank you for rounding up all these thoughts in one place! As someone who’s participated (and attempted to start) my share of memes over the last year, my thoughts have pretty much ended up along the same lines as you (and apparently others, too).

    Much as I enjoy a meaningful meme (the Home Town Meme was my favorite), I’ve come to realize that one-on-one, personal communication with a few is better and ultimately more fulfilling for me than a shotgun approach. I don’t think I’ll be tagging many folks this coming year for that reason.

    Now Brad brought up group projects, and of course I happen to LOVE those! They provide (voluntarily) an outlet for creativity that sometimes can’t be beat.

    (And by the way, I’m a little like you in that I tend to see how far I can bend things too :-)

  16. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jim, they’re a bit of a mixed blessing for sure. But it makes it easier to work out whether to play if you’ve got a clear idea of why you’re blogging in the first place - and it sounds like you do.


  17. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Robert, this was a most auspicious comment :-)

    I have enjoyed some of your tags - in particular the Home Town meme (and it was a great way to learn about other bloggers too) and my life as a building - which deserved to go viral around the blogosphere it was such a brilliant idea (IMHO)

    But yes, I’m with you on group writing projects - they’re creative, interesting and voluntary. There’s also more chance of us getting round the 20-30 participants to comment, share links, make connections - I just give up when I see a list of blogs over that length.

    Taking part in your own writing challenges has given me a great opportunity to share a bit more of the face behind the blog, making it more personal as Jamie mentions in other comment. Thanks again for all your input in organising them.


  18. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jeanne, sorry your comments got buried (filtered by over aggressive Typepad) earlier. I’m glad I found them.

    I think you’ve hit on three most powerful principles for looking at tags in a different light.

    I’ll find a way of compiling the learning points from this comment conversation - and highlighting yours - in the New Year.


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