Tagging is attaching “tags” or keywords to your files (pdf documents, images, data tables, mail messages, text notes, etc.) which would allow finding them easily. Tagging is a more advanced method of organizing information than sorting it into hierarchical folders. For example one and the same file, say a map of gas pipelines in Eurasia which you are using for your article, is related to “maps”, “gas”, “Eurasia” and “article_name”. Which folder will you keep it in? Tags solve this problem because you can attach many tags to one document. So how do you do tagging?

Until recently tagging did not really work for me. One reason was that each piece of software: Mail, reference and pdf managers (e.g. Sente and Papers), iPhoto, Finder, Evernote, Simplenote used their own tagging or keywording systems. This meant that I had to maintain the identical tagging system for all these programs. I was never sure that it would work if I switch to new programs. It did not help me much to do such simple tasks as for example display all my text notes, pdfs and images related to one topic alongside each other.

The breakthrough came with the OpenMeta which is an OS X standard for adding tags, ratings and other metadata to files. I did not know about OpenMeta though I noticed that my DevonThink tags show up in Leap and vice versa. I found it really convenient but did not know why it happens. Then in the 45th episode of Mac Power Users Brett Terpstra explained the Open Meta standard. I started to use it immediately and it really changed the whole way I work with references.

OpenMeta tags are accepted by a growing number of applications and allow you to use the same tags across all file types and mail messages. Here is what you may need to work with Open Meta tags (not all of this is necessary, but the whole package together works really smooth for me):

  • DefaultFolder X allows you to assign OpenMeta tags to anything you Save to disk (e.g. documents, webpages, pdfs from the Print downloads, mail attachments); you can type your tags in in any Save dialogue and it offers convenient autocompletion. So anytime I save anything which can be used as a reference in the future I tag it;
  • MailTags for Apple Mail allow you to assign OpenMeta tags as “keywords” in mail messages; I use it sparingly so far;
  • Tags app allows you to tag more or less anything, especially files in Finder. You can also browse and organize your tags (delete, rename etc.). So if you find a “lost” file on your hard drive, just bring up Tags and assign OpenMeta tags to it – you won’t loose it again!
  • NotationalVelocity lets you assign tags to your text notes;
  • Leap is “Finder 2.0”, it goes far beyond folders in organizing your files allows you to search for OpenMeta tags very fast, combining it with many other criteria and bookmarking your searchers.

Examples of some other software which also use OpenMeta tags are DevonThink, Hazel and several products of Ironic Software. I hope the list will grow in the future.

With OpenMeta tags I have confidence that my tagging system does not depend upon the applications I use so that I will be able to preserve it long into the future and I do not need to be bound to any specific application for note-taking, writing or pdf management. Eliminating the worry that my tags will disappear or my files will be lost is very important as it makes processing references much faster and frees my mind for more important things.

I am planning to write a bit about each of these pieces of software at some length in the future and also explain my academic tagging system.


About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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19 Responses to Tagging

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  14. Kurt says:

    Aleh, I noticed that you don’t have a “Hazel” tag in your tag cloud. As a Hazel fan, I think this would be a nice addition to your site.


  15. Aleh Cherp says:

    Kurt – thanks for noticing! Done.


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