I think we’ve covered a lot of ground in the past 4 weeks, talking about Metadata in OS X. While it’s clearly a large step in a new direction, attacking that new way of thinking can really pay dividends as you hone that system to your own needs. In this wrap-up post about Metadata, I’ll share some of the ideas I’m trying to work out, which may even take tagging to the next level of usefulness.
But before we dig into my dark and twisted mind, I wanted to address a question that has come up a couple times in the past weeks. I’m excited to finally be able to share the details behind the robot icon in my menubar. As some of you have surely guessed, it’s from BigRobotSoftware, who have in the past offered Meta, which is a somewhat enhanced Spotlight application. Well as of today you can check out their newest offering, TagBot. I’ll cover it in a little more detail soon, but here’s the quick and dirty:
Drag and drop files onto a window of tags (automatically prepended with the &) for simple tagging of single or multiple files. Double click the tags for an instant Spotlight search window. Or better still, add tags to files (or search for similarly tagged files) via a right click contextual menu item. It’s no frills and works really well. It’s a handy little application on its own, but even moreso if you’re not a Quicksilver user, but want to easily tag your files. The guys at BRS have let me test drive it for a while, and I highly recommend giving it a look.
The Future of Tagging
So you’re getting into the habit of tagging your files and searching for them via Spotlight or Quicksilver. Where do we take it from here?
I’m optimistic that Leopard will heavily integrate tagging into the operating system interfaces. I have a hard time believing that the smart people at Apple would continue to overlook this most awesome feature. Should they be releasing added functionality, I’d love to see the ability for programmers to hook into the metadata functions of the OS for more universal use of the tags. For instance, it would be killer to have non-proprietary tagging available within iView Media Pro. (I realize it’s Microsoft owned now, and not likely to happen, but you get the idea.) Hopefully we’ll know more about Leopard soon!
But how can we take tagging to the next level now? I’ve been tinkering with an idea for a while now, that I think would really make the use of tagging files absolutely blow up. Picture this:
As you create files on your hard drive, tag them, and edit them, a Folder Action (or something of the like) is intently ‘watching’ in the background. A rule (based probably on some fancy Apple Scripting) would evaluate to determine if there were 5 or more files with a matching tag, that had been opened or modified in the past week. Those files would then cause a Smart Folder to be generated on the Desktop, as they’re clearly files that are important in the here and now. Should the date in which those files were last touched slip out of the last 5 day range, the Smart Folder disappears from the Desktop, assuming you’re no longer in need of them.
Basically, if I’m putting in the time to tag my files appropriately, I’d like the OS to do the rest of the thinking for me. Show me what’s relevant to me now and leave the rest of the stuff where it’s at for whenever I decide to go ‘digging’ for it. I think that with some tricky Apple Script-fu, this could be a reality. However I’m not currently the one to produce it.
But as I’ve tried different approaches to making a system like this a reality, I’ve exhausted Automator’s limits (or rather, my knowledge of Automator’s abilities). But I think recently I’ve come up with a decent alternative. It’s not the full system I’ve imagined, but a good compromise, should it pan out as I hope.
Hazel sort of acts as a Folder Action, but gives a lot more flexibility to the user (especially if they’re Apple Script challenged, such as I am). There is still a little fore-though required, which means it’s not as automatic and dynamic as I’d like, but it may suffice for the time being… But the setup – for use with Hazel – would go something like so:
Create a Smart Folder looking for the Spotlight Comment &now and save it to the Desktop. Then create a rule for each tag that you plan to use frequently. Each of those rules would additionally look for an opened/modified date of the past 5 days.
This would effectively put your recently important files of specific tags right at your fingertips on the desktop. Of course you’d still need to remove the &now tag from the file once it’s no longer immediately important, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’m still playing with different rules in Hazel to see what may work the best. But the ability to attach Apple and Shell Scripts to your Hazel rules is something that I really like, and hope to leverage moving forward along these lines.
If you’ve got some snazzy Apple Script skills – or other ideas you think may be useful to this vision – I’d love to hear your thoughts!
In The Apple Blog Community, one super smart user had the idea of using GeekTool to keep track of his tags generated from within Quicksilver. The tags are stored in an XML file which can have a shell script run against it, and then displayed on your desktop via GeekTool. This way you can quickly and easily keep track of your tags, should the listing get to be more than you can handle without assistance.
I’m sure there are more excellent ideas out there for leveraging Metadata and the wonderful tools available to us on the OS X platform (both baked-in and shareware), and would love to hear any other wild and crazy thoughts you may have on the subject. Please share these, and any other comments below!
And in the meantime, just try to think in a more meta state of mind. Don’t let the history of folder hierarchy keep you confined to such a limited approach to storing your files – there’s much more flexibility at your finger tips than you may realize. Force yourself into the habit of tagging and searching on those tags. Couple this new approach with regular foldering techniques and you may soon find an efficient equilibrium that should make you more productive than ever before.
If you enjoyed this series of articles, let us know! It’s been a lot of work putting them together, but also a lot of fun. If there are specific topics you’d like to see covered in this same detail over a period of time, share with us and we’ll do our best to bring it to you.