It’s my impression – from various reading around the internets – that of the many new features that came with Tiger, Spotlight hasn’t lived up to the hype it initially generated. While my filing habits have slipped slightly, I still don’t use Spotlight as much as […]

It’s my impression – from various reading around the internets – that of the many new features that came with Tiger, Spotlight hasn’t lived up to the hype it initially generated.

While my filing habits have slipped slightly, I still don’t use Spotlight as much as I expected I would almost a year later. Spotlight utilizes both full text search and metadata indexing. While full text search is great for the common user, the real power comes in the metadata.

The beauty of metadata is its flexibility and dynamic nature. Spotlight Comments offer users the ability to append the standard metadata set (date, file size, file type, etc, etc, etc) with their own keywords/tags/what-have-you. This is accessed from the Get Info pane of each file. (Though I prefer the quicker access provided by Quicksilver…)

Professionally, I’ve been using metadata on an enterprise level for about 6 years. So I’m not a stranger to the power it represents. But I’m an old dog, and a fairly structured old dog at that. I don’t know if I can surrender my personal computer to use this new trick… But I’m going to try. Here’s what I’m planning:

  1. Adhere to a strict tagging practice with all new files using Spotlight Comments & Labels
  2. Put all new files in a flat directory
  3. Setup Smart Folders for most regularly used files (a quick Spotlight search/Quicksilver should find the stragglers)
  4. Stick to this system for no less than a month

Ultimately it boils down to which system is more useful in the real world – structured directories, or metadata. I wonder if a properly executed metadata scheme can yield better results than the decades old folder/directory structure. Has anyone else taken to a similar ‘filing’ scheme? The old (structure) is in my veins as much as right-clicking still is. Yet I’ve seen enough of the new (metadata) to shy from writing it off without a fight.

Which do you think will win out in a home computing environment? If you’ve already run a similar experiment, please share your insights!

By Nick Santilli

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  1. I will be interested to follow this. I’m a big fan of utilising features, or at least trying them out. I would ideally like to set up my Mac so that it stores things in the right place for me, without me having to go through and arrange it all. I may try something like this with just my photos.

  2. Rik Eberhardt Monday, January 9, 2006

    I’ve tried this (although not to this extreme extent) and couldn’t follow through. There is no easy way to tag my files within the apps I’m using. True, Word has the properties section where I can add author, description, and the like, but this isn’t a part of the basic file dialog box. If Apple were to add a second input line, below the file name, where I could list my tags (del.icio.us style) that would be great. But as this does not exist, I would have to find the file, right-click, Get Info, and enter the tags – 3 steps I’d rather not take.

  3. Metadata is a great to locate things, especially if you use a lot of relevant keywords to describe something. BUT… if you´re new to this and have tons of files without keywords – like pictures – then start to cry and get lots of patience to fill every single file you use with comments.

    I´ve been there before when i was introduced to iTunes. Man, it was painful. No, not painful, but PAINFUL. It was almost impossible to find anything because i never used the ID3 tags. However, after a lot of work, I can´t live with it anymore: now i can find any music with a few keystrokes.

    My two cents: it would be great to have an “iTunes interface” to the whole system, because it would force me to use the tags, like iTunes did to me. Of course it will scare a lot of users at the beggining, but after that it will be a bliss.

  4. I implemented that exact system for the previous semester of classes–Spotlight comments for the name of the class with smart folders for each class, and all the documents got dropped into the Documents folder. It was a lot easier once I created an “untagged documents” smart folder. This folder holds all the untagged documents made within the last two days (I do most of my work in Word, so I simplified it down to all Word documents made in the last two days without Spotlight comments). Since that folder had a prominent place on my desktop, it was a helpful reminder to actually go and tag the files.

  5. Nick Santilli Monday, January 9, 2006

    Rik – that’s the best idea IMO. Add a metadata/comments/tagging input for all save dialogs. I sure hope to hear something along those lines from Steve tomorrow.
    In the meantime, try using Quicksilver for tagging. once you’re comfortable, it’s super fast and fairly painless.

    Colin – Awesome. That’s what I was waiting to hear. Hopefully I can turn the corner and find the same amount of utility as you have.

  6. Interesting that Microsoft is implementing a section to add tags, ratings etc in every single save dialogue in Office. I like how they are implementing metadata into Vista. I would be astounded if Apple doesnt make it just as easy in Leopard. The current Spotlight comments field simply takes too long.

  7. The idea to add the metadata info in the Save dialog is awesome. Even if Apple doesn’t rig this up, there’s gotta be an enterprising programmer out there who could make a few extra bucks by putting together a share/donateware app that does this.

  8. For Spotlight to be really useable you definitely need to make it easier to put metadata in – and not into some grand “desktop database thing” but into the files themselves.

    The suggestion of making it possible in the Save dialog is great but also to do it through Spotlight itself (other than just a boring Get Info style comment). Spotlight reads things like IPTC (Photoshop style comments) but neither Spotlight or iPhoto lets you put then back into the images – you have a wonderfully keyworded library that falls flat as soon as you send it to someone.

    …and that nothing beats proper filing. Just look at Google. Great in the total absence of a organised filing method but looking for things like George Bush will hardly give you what you want!

    A nice start though and Quicksilver is definitely the “bees knees”!

  9. Well following the fantastic comments to add a tagging field to the save dialogs, I shot off an email.

    Default Folder X does a lot to enhance the save dialogs in OS X. So I sent of an email with your ideas to the developer. He responded that it’s already on his list of enhancements for a future release.

    So if we don’t hear about it as a part of Leopard today, we can at least look toward Default Folder X to fit the bill!

  10. It appears Vista is not just incorporating it into all save dialogues. They have a bar thats prevalent at the bottom of EVERY explorer window where you can add the metadata.


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