New feature: Loose tagging (and why it rocks)


We’ve just launched a major rewrite of the tagging system. We heard from many of you that minor variations in your tags made it hard to get an accurate view of your spending, and that you wanted us to make that easier.

Since tags run throughout three of the four tabs on the Wesabe site, and since they’re so significant as a tool on the site (relating to summaries and reports, targets, automatic editing and suggested tags, tips, goals, and more), Brad has worked for quite a while to get all of the uses of tags to work much more easily.

Here’s how tags have changed:

  • If you enter “Restaurants” as a tag on one transaction, and “restaurants” on the next, we used to consider case differences as two separate tags — now, they’re aggregated into one.
  • Likewise, “groceries” and “grocery,” and other plurality differences, are now aggregated together.
  • If you use punctuation differently, such as “work-expense”, “work_expense”, and “workexpense”, those are now viewed as the same tag.
  • Where you have variations, your tag list and your spending/earning summaries will show the tag format you use the most commonly. You don’t have to use the same capitalization as everyone else — you get to use the variation you like, without losing the benefits of aggregate data (how much people spend on average, connections to tips, etc.).

All of these features are designed to do the same thing: to allow you to _not have to worry_ about the exact wording you used last time, while still getting all the benefits you would get if you were exactly consistent.

We think the great thing about tags is that they let you be loose and informal with your organization, and that this is vastly better than older, more laborious strict-category systems. Up until now, though, there was a ‘penalty’ for being too informal, namely that not all of the data would add up. Now that’s fixed. You shouldn’t have to think like a machine or an accountant in order to get great results from Wesabe’s tags.

We learned a lot from the way Flickr deals with tags — they do a great job of letting you say “Dog” on one photo and “dog” on the next and linking those photos together for you. We decided there were some interesting differences between our sites, though, and we didn’t do exactly what they do. For photographs, ‘dog’ and ‘dogs’ have different meanings — the first is a photo of a single dog, while the second is a group of dogs. For financial transactions, the same isn’t usually true — tagging one transaction as ‘restaurant’ and another as ‘restaurants’ probably means exactly the same thing. Even looser variation matter less — ‘grocery’ and ‘groceries’ should be the same group of spending. Also, we decided to show you the variation you use most commonly in your lists and reports; I believe Flickr shows you the variation you used first.

I’ve long resisted making you add a ‘category’ and then optional ‘tags’ on top, even though it would make our job much easier as programmers. I don’t think it’s your job to do more work so that we have less programming to do; I think it’s exactly the other way around! Likewise, we didn’t want to make you work to be consistent with your tags in order to make your reports come out right; we wanted to do that work for you. As we release some of our other changes to the tagging system, coming up soon, you’ll see a common theme: you get to be human, loose, informal, and inconsistent, and get all the benefits that you would have gotten had you worked much harder, with a much more laborious and rigid category system. That’s what tags are meant to offer, and we’re glad to figure out all the ways they can work better with organizing your money. Let us know whether we got it right, and what else we can improve with tags.

7 Responses to “New feature: Loose tagging (and why it rocks)”

  1. Tanc Says:

    Thanks Marc, its a welcome addition. Now if only you had CSV import as most UK accounts use this format…

  2. Kory Says:

    I love the new changes. The loose tagging definitely makes sense and is easy to understand. I already struggled with the grocery/groceries issue, so this is welcome news.

    A suggestion that I would like to see is the notion of hierarchical tags. I typically mark a trip to the supermarket as “food” and “grocery” but I also mark going out to lunch as “food” and “restaurant”. If grocery implied the food tag as well as restaurant doing the same I could still see the summarized data of both. I have the same issue when I mark a majority of my re-occuring costs as “nondiscretionary”.

    This also brings us another issue that I currently don’t know exactly how to deal with: How do people manage their data with multiple tags when viewing their expense reports as now both tags are assigned the same amount of dollar value? In a sense, it appears that I am spending more than I really am. Perhaps I just need to get used to the concept of tagging more…

  3. Rob Wilkerson Says:

    Another outstanding upgrade. I just recently – like 3 days ago – started using Flickr’s tagging (I didn’t have many pics) and found myself wishing Wesabe behaved similarly. Now it does. Very timely, indeed.

    The only downside is that now I’ll expect you to start making other changes simply based on my thinking about it.

  4. Jason Knight Says:


    Hahahahahah…we’ll get right on that…but then you knew that didn’t you?

  5. Zelnox Says:

    One way to help tags be more consistent and easier is via suggestions (ala that we just select. I love the way it’s implemented by the add-on for Firefox (non Yahoo one).

  6. anon Says:

    If I consistently use “groceries” and others use “grocery”, do they get correlated by the server when the tips show up?

  7. Marc Hedlund Says:

    Hi, anon,

    Yes — we’ve put a lot of work into making sure you can use whatever form you want and have the features of the site still all work. If you catch any problems, let us know and we’ll get it fixed.

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