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To Tag or Not to Tag: Punakea and SpotMeta

Mat Lu

Everybody knows about the endless wars: Mac vs. PC, Coke vs. Pepsi, Tags vs. Hierarchical Filing... Well, okay, so the last one isn't quite as long-running, but it does seem like a point of controversy. A nice article on theappleblog about Spotlight and meta-data has gotten me thinking again about the whole tagging thing. The file folder metaphor is so strongly embedded in the way many of us long-time computer users think that it's sometimes hard to appreciate the benefits of new ways of doing things. I still instinctively crave hierarchical folder systems and was very happy, for instance, when iTunes finely gained folders (and remain annoyed that Yojimbo doesn't support nested Collection Folders). That said, as big of a stick in the mud as I normally am, (especially with Pukka) and some other tagging implementations have finally got me seeing that tags are definitely useful. At the end of the day, of course, there's no need to choose since neither filing method is exclusive of the other, so I think I'll continue to use both for the foreseeable future.

All of that was a lead-in to a couple of applications that make tagging with OS X easier. Of course, the best thing would be if Leopard included an official tagging mechanism, rather than the improvised systems involving Spotlight comments, but even if it does not there are some tools out there worth looking at if tagging is your thing. First there's Punkaea (donation requested) from nudge:nudge. Punakea features a drawer that pops out of the side of your screen onto which you can drag and drop files. When you do so, it will pop up a small dialog allowing you to define tags for that file. You can then search for tags with Spotlight or use the Tag Cloud within Punakea's browser window to find your files. Punakea can even be set to manage files you drop into it. That is, you can define a folder for Punakea to manage, and whenever you drop a file onto Punakea's application icon it will ask you for the tags and then move that file to the folder, in essence creating a non-hierarchical filing system.

SpotMeta, an open-source project from Ben Summers, takes a different approach, which is more integrated into the Finder, but also seems a bit more limited as to the practical number of tags possible. With SpotMeta you must first define your tags or "keys"in the application, and then whenever you want to tag a file, you just right-click in the Finder and select "Edit Metadata with SpotMeta...". (or alternatively you can select the file and then hit SpotMeta's Hotkey combo). This will bring up an editing window in which you can chose one of your pre-defined "keys" or tags. Finally, when you want to find you tagged files, you can just use Spotlight directly or search by Kind with the Finder search box.

Of course, in addition to these two applications, there's also the very handy File Tagging plugin for Quicksilver.

Thanks to Steve for the SpotMeta tip!

[Edit: fixed SpotMeta description; turns out it's not as new as I had thought]

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