Dr. Drang over on Now All This went though a brief discussion of OSX Mavericks today. I just wanted to briefly comment on one portion of his post. (I pretty much agree with everything else he says)
I can think of few things less exciting, and less useful, than tagging. In the example Apple gives, the user clicks on a tag in the sidebar and all the files with that tag appear in the main area of the Finder window. If you have only a few dozen files, this may be just the thing for you, but I actually use my computer, and this is absurdly inadequate and the reason I’ve never cared for tagging. If you restrict yourself to a small number of broadly applicable tags, each tag is likely to apply to hundreds of files. If you use more specific tags, the number of tags explodes and they become impossible to remember. Either way, the tags don’t help you find your files.
I’m sure there are tagging systems that address this problem, but it doesn’t look like Apple’s is one of them. I’ll stick to the hierarchical file system, thank you.
First off I actually think tagging is pretty important for Apple’s future going forward. If iCloud doesn’t have hierarchal organization it needs some way to handle a large number of files. Apple’s opted to take a queue from GMail and adopt tagging. Now I’ve not used tagging much in GMail, primarily because I primarily access it via IMAP.1 What Apple introduced with Mavericks is only a first step. The next step requires tagging on iOS and inter application communication. A feature that was apparently either not ready for this summer or perhaps is undergoing changes after Apple’s management reorganization.
Ignoring the future of iCloud let me just focus on tagging. First tagging is one of those things that’s easy to do poorly. Further, I think that for tagging to work well on OSX Apple and developers will have to figure out auto-tagging of files. Even for tagging advocates like myself it’s quite easy to be rushed or forget to tag files well. Once a file’s not tagged it’s amazingly difficult to work with in a tagging workflow. I’ve written scripts to do a lot of tagging for me, but they primarily utilize a file’s folder hierarchy to generate tags. I suspect I’ll have a slew of tagging scripts once Mavericks is released officially.
Let me address Drang’s key point though. The trick for good tagging is to use tags related to each other. So, for example, the tagging I often use is the type of file (i.e. “Invoice”) and then extra data like the data (i.e. “20110405″ for April 5th, 2011). It’s using tags in concert that you get the most power. If you were just using a few tags or ultra specific tags then Drang would be 100% correct. However what you end up doing is using a combination of a few general tags and a few ultra-specific tags which solves most problems.
Still Drang is correct in one way. OpenMeta (which presumably is Apple’s approach) doesn’t have a conception of hierarchal tags. So consider the date tag in the above. What does the date mean? Is it the date the invoice was due, the date it was received, or the date it was paid? You can come up with workflow schemes to handle this. (i.e. prepend an ‘r’ to the date for “received” or ‘d’ for “due”) What you’d really want is to have related tags with an implicit relationship between them. So you’d have a tag like “invoice.due date.20110405″ and have searches for “invoice” find it as well as searches for “due date.20110405″ which might find all invoices due on that date as well as all projects due on that day. Right now you can work around that with workflow hacks or Spotlight searches with wildcards. It’s not ideal though.
- To say GMail’s IMAP handling is a tad underwhelming is an understatement. But so long as you don’t do anything weirdly GMailish it actually works quite well. ↩