What are tags and why are they useful? Tags are keywords that go in the meta data of a file and help you to organise your files. You may think what is the point because you have Finder which allows you to find your work based on any number of criteria, including what is actually inside the file in terms of text. What tags are great for is when you want to find a set of files that are different kind and all stored in different places in the computer. You may have a project that has text files, audio files, movie files and files from other applications such as Scrivener that you want to find all at the same time.

You can apply many tags to a single file or a single tag to many files. Often you can tag things based on tags already made, which is great because you don’t have to be typing the same thing over and over. Just a click on a previous tag and you are done. Either that or you put in the first couple of letters in the tagging field and the software does some guessing for you, so you can choose. It is good to be organised when you are writing for a living with InfoBarrel.

In fact the Apple way of doing thing is to just throw all your files into one folder and let Finder do the sorting when you need it. You already have the ability to save the searches and have smart folders that will automatically get updated as new files are added. Tags are an extra layer of naming that will let you do a few more wider searches that are very useful. You may already be familiar with tagging if you use gmail, Delicious or Flickr.

What shall I tag? You can tag web pages as well as image files, spreadsheets, audio files and so on. OpenMeta lets us assign keywords to any information and breaks the constraints of having hierarchical folder structures that are a throwback to the PC way of doing things. It can actually save you time to use keywording / tagging rather than doing the filing thing. You can if you want do a combination of both activities to be even more organised on your MacBook.


HoudahspotYou might want to get your hands on HoudahSpot which supports tags and is kind of like Spotlight on steroids. The application does cost to buy, but you might find the functionality worth it. Depends on how much searching for files that you do and how successful you are with finding files with the standard tools. As I write this we are on the run up to the next version of the operating system Lion and I would probably wait until then to see if the new version has upgrades that mean I don’t need to spend any money.

There is an application called Tagit which is good for searching files that have been tagged. When you open it you get a window in which you can type in the tag you are looking for. It also has a list below that of recently used tags. Click on one of those hit the search button and you instantly get a list of the files with those tags in the meta data. You can choose more than one tag and only the files with both tags will appear.

You can actually do the same thing in Spotlight by starting the search with tag: but with Tagit you do get to see the recently used tags you have created to help you remember the exact word you should be looking for. I did find a problem with Tagit when you click to tell it to look for files that have a star rating there is no way to turn that off. You have to close the app and start again or run the search and in the finder window delete the part which is for the star rating.

How to get the files tagged in the first place

Tagging is a superior way to associate files to one another by using keywords, rather than rigid folders. There is an application installed called Default Folders and when I save any files I have the opportunity then to save a tag with it at the same time.

With Tagit to tag the files in the finder that you have not created, i.e. the downloaded files, or files that you have not tagged during save, you can tag them by dragging the files from the finder to the icon for Tagit on the launch bar. Hazel can tag files for you too.

Tags is another application that allows you to group together files which have something in common, whatever that might be. This one lets you tag directly into Gmail, iPhoto, Calendar and all applications that support Applescript. There is a tag browser and it also integrates with Spotlight.