Last week I began talking about using metadata effectively in OS X. I think I stirred the honey pot a bit by leaving things hanging – eg, not explaining my process – but felt it would be better organized and prepared in a series of posts. So here we are with Part Deux.
Q & A
Before we dive right back in however, I wanted to start by addressing questions of a common thread that were asked – both in the post’s comments and in the digg thread. The recurring theme of questioning was something along the lines of, “How well could it really work without any folder structure?” Well I’m afraid I wasn’t quite clear enough on that topic. Allow me to clear things up a bit.
Trying To Make A Point
When I recommend ridding the Documents folder of any folder structure – as I did when I began this project – this is more for impact. This is to show that the practice of tagging files and then locating them free of a hierarchal structure is possible, even easy. I also make the claim that you can rid yourself of those folder structures in favor of tagging practices. The point is, you can…
But these things were mainly to prove a point around the topic at hand. My Documents folder is actually still a horrendous mess if you look at it, because I actually do use my tags to locate the files I need. But in folders like Sites, where I’ve got my web projects, everything is in a typical hierarchal folder structure. In my Pictures folder, I have very specific foldering setup in order to handle and clearly organize the many photos I take and process. In both cases there are outside forces that tend to require a standard hierarchy – cleanly coding web stuff requires appropriate folders, and using a photo cataloging app like iView Media Pro thrives on proper folder structure. But all the while, I’m still applying tags to my files, and free of these outside practices which basically require proper organization, I still use the tags to quickly get at the files themselves.
Using metadata tagging in conjunction with smart foldering practices will make you just about as bullet-proof as you can get when it comes to filing and finding anything on your system. Ok, so hopefully we’ve cleared that bit up.
Now On With The Show!
While OS X supports tagging files and locating them through Spotlight, it really does a pretty poor job of promoting the practice. If you were to use nothing more than the baked-in ‘functionality’, you would have to touch the file’s Get Info window (obviously after creating it) of each file to add the tag(s) of your choice. Pretty much a pain to track down each file after it’s been created and then apply tagging – who needs an extra step in their workflow that takes that kind of effort? Granted, you can manufacture some help via Automator, but it’s still not as intuitive and streamlined as [I think] it should be.
The only way – at this time – to really streamline a file-tagging scheme is to use third party applications and utilities. There are dozens of options out there to choose from, and I’ve tried using most of them. Some of have been great tools, while others have been less than I would have liked. But even the great tools have mostly fallen by the wayside (in my workflow – I want to emphasize that, because your mileage may vary) because they haven’t fit the way I work, or rather, the system of tagging that I’ve found to work best for me.
My Tagging Bag of Tools
There should be no need for a big unveiling of the most important app [that I use] in my tagging workflow…It’s Quicksilver. Don’t ask questions, just download it if you haven’t. Food will taste better, colors will be more vibrant, your computer will become something new and wonderful you never imagined. You probably think I’m joking.
Quicksilver makes it possible to hook into just about every nook and cranny of OS X, so using it as the main interface for tagging makes the process much faster than the operating system allows on its own. But Quicksilver needs some tweaking to do the things that we want. I’ll get into the meat of these tweaks in next week’s metadata post – which will be a thorough screencast, so you can see what to do, rather than rely on my incoherent babbling – but for now, I’ll just say that advanced features will need to be enabled, and at least the ‘file tagging module (+)’ plugin will need to be installed. I’m fairly certain that additional plugins are required to support the file tagging plugin, but I’ll research that and address it in next week’s screencast, so please hold off on the questions about why it’s not working for you right now…
As great as Quicksilver is, I also found a couple other tools that I use regularly in my bag of tricks. Default Folder X, from St ClairSoft is a utility that enhances your Save Dialogs in OS X. It allows you to create favorite folders to quickly navigate to, default folders for specific apps, and so on – essentially bring one of the useful functions of Windows to the Mac platform. But the reason DFX shines in a metadata sense, is it has an option to enter Spotlight Comments for a file when you’re saving it. This right here ladies and gents, is the missing link. I would have a very difficult time believing that Apple has left such an important feature out of Leopard, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Finally, a Dashboard Widget that I’ve found to be pretty useful is TagBag. This Widget essentially collects the Spotlight Comments (the tagging field we’re talking about in this series) for all files, and displays them in a nice list. It also gives you a count of each tag. TagBag has a couple other features, one of which is the ability to click on a tag and have it open a SmartFolder search window for all files with that tag, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. No matter though, because I don’t need it for that reason. I mainly like to get a census of my tags and use it to track down odds and ends that have ended up in Spotlight Comments that I don’t want there. It won’t make or break your workflow, but it’s a handy tool for keeping track of your tags, or remembering tags that you may have forgotten about.
There’s one more little app that I’ve been playing with very recently, that could very well make this list. I love the idea and functionality, but I can’t really talk about it just yet. Hopefully at the end of the month I’ll be able to say more. But in the meantime the above programs should get you where you need to be.
Putting The Pieces Together
The first step is obviously getting into the habit of tagging your files. So obviously using Default Folder X is going to make this hugely useful for any files you’ll be creating from here on out. But what about all the existing files on your system? You can either leave them behind and just start this practice moving forward, or being the process of tagging them and getting them current in your new system.
Luckily, Quicksilver and the File Tagging plugin make this a lot less painless than it could be. My suggestion would be – if you don’t already have things foldered accordingly, group the files as you’d like to tag them. Then select all the files in a folder, bring them into Quicksilver focus, and add a tag or tags to all of those files at once. It’s really as simple as that. (Don’t worry, I’ll be demonstrating all this stuff next week in the screencast!) Then you may desire to hit files on a more individual basis to add more specific tags to their Spotlight Comments. No need for a comma separated list, just spaces – and whatever prepending symbol you’ve settled on.
The other great use for Quicksilver and the File Tagging plugin is the ability to quickly scan your catalog of tags. In this manner you can access the tags and the related files right from within Quicksilver, with only a few keystrokes. Better still, you can tell Quicksilver to open one of these tags from the catalog, and it’ll generate a SmartFolder for that tag, which you can then save for future use. I prefer this method far more than creating my SmartFolders manually, as it leaves really no room for error.
Lastly there’s the TagBag Widget. As mentioned earlier, I use it more for clean-up duty, allowing me to get my tags/files groomed a little more nicely. But from time to time it’s helpful to know just how many files are tagged a certain way with a quick glance.
Obviously you may feel free to check out these tools on your own and see how they work for you. The Quicksilver and File Tagging plugin may require a little tweaking however, for them to work properly for you. I’m sure there will be comments and questions asking how to do it. As I’ve mentioned already, I’ll be addressing these issues next week, in a screencast that should show how it all gets setup and works. So if you can help it, wait for that. The following week should be the conclusion to this three-ring-circus with a road map of where I’d like to go with this workflow and some ideas on how to get there.
A few last things you may want to consider or play with until next week:
- Tagging your songs in iTunes – check out the screencast
- My friend, Weldon, found this nice doc on Apple.com, explaining how to use the operators for building Spotlight Queries.
- And if you want to experiment with Raw Spotlight Queries (an option when building SmartFolders) you may like to read this article as well.
- Check out SpotlightFS, which is a part of MacFUSE from Google. It offers some neat SmartFolder capabilities in conjunction with the reading from the 2 above links.
I’ll do my best to answer some of your questions in the comments below. But understand that if I don’t, I’ll most likely be covering them in the next week or so.