Review: Tags for adding metadata to Mac OS X files

Tags 2 is an unobtrusive application that enables you to tag most Mac OS X files. It complies with the OpenMeta effort and lets you enrich all sorts of files with one-dimensional metadata. It also has its own Spotlight-like search feature.

Metadata is becoming increasingly important to easily find back files, integrate systems, etc. Tags is an application that allows you to add the keyword form of metadata to many content files — images, text files, audio files, e-mail… — in the form of tags or keywords. For that purpose it uses a system-wide keyboard shortcut to recall a tag entry HUD and another shortcut to search for files having tags.

The Tags 2 Browser

The search capability closely resembles Spotlight, but adds a category to the results list, called “Tags”. It also enables you to drill down in results so you can find more files in folders that contain your search criteria.

Tags also has a browser, where you can browse through all your tagged items. The browser effectively turns your one-dimensional tags into categories (the tags) that contain the files you’ve tagged. The toolbar lets you further fine-tune your results by turning on or off more tags as a sort of filter.

The Tags HUD window which you activate with a keyboard shortcut.

Furthermore, the Tags developer has added some nifty Automator scripts, one of which can be attached to a folder — let’s say your Documents folder — and which will ask you to add tags every time you save a file in that folder.

There’s nothing more to Tags ‘an sich’, really. It works well, the Spotlight replacement actually returns better results than Spotlight itself and the browser is a great addition to the Finder. In fact, all the while I was trying out Tags, I was wondering why Apple doesn’t include this functionality as a standard feature to the Mac OS X Finder. Why not license Tags from its developers? Or buy the whole company, for all I care.

Other than that, I also think there’s one weakness to Tags that is inherent to tagging files with keywords: keywords are one-dimensional metadata as it were. For example, in a DAM (Digital Asset Management) system that complies with the Dublin Core, I can add metadata fields that allow me to create significant contexts. Such metadata is of a higher quality than any tagging system, because it’s three-dimensional. By being three-dimensional such metadata allows for more than categorising and more accurate searching, but usually also for integration functionality with other systems that rely on XML to exchange data.

Tags 2.0.2 Spotlight search list

Admittedly, this would make Tags a far more complicated and complex program and people are already reluctant to tag files as it is. Tags also targets a different ‘market’ — that of the individual Mac user, not the enterprise user or even workgroup user, I imagine.

It tries to offer a simple solution that makes us more efficient. After all, Spotlight is good but it could be better if it would not just rely on content and automatically added metadata, but also accept custom-created labels that we than can use as search criteria.

Tags provides this in a nicely designed and user-friendly packaging. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s fair enough, certainly as it is a bargain. Tags costs approx. 18.00 EUR, about the price of 2 packs of cigarettes if I’m not mistaken.

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