Thoughts About Tagging & The Future of File Management

I must admit I haven’t been much of a tagger. But I must also admit that maintaining a structured folder tree requires time & effort, and becomes terribly messy when the user is lazy (like me!)

This great article made me think about tagging files and I realised that it’s a GREAT idea!!!

A simple example. Suppose I’m classifying my music library. If I organise it as a tree of folders and sub-folders, each level of the hierarchy will be a classification according to a single criterion. If my folder tree looks like this…
Genre -> Artist -> Album

… then I first classify my music into genres, then classify each genre into artists etc.

These categories are fairly rigid because I can’t assign an artist to several genres or an album to several artists. But sometimes I need to do it because an artist may release albums belonging to several genres or several artists may collaborate on one album. So I either have to make duplicates of songs to locate them in several categories or I have to remain with a music collection that isn’t very well organised.

Now let’s imagine I classify my files using tags. Of course, I would still create a more or less reasonable folder structure. But tags would allow me to create more flexible categorisations. If an artist releases a crossover album and then a pop album, I would just tag them this way and wouldn’t wonder whether I should put that artist into the Crossover or the Pop subfolder. Or if I can’t really identify the genre of a particular album (e. g. “hmm, is it epic metal or symphonic metal?”) I would just attach both tags.

Besides, I could add other, more personal tags to songs, like “makes me cry”, “aggressive”, “funny lyrics” etc. and be able to quickly see (and play) all the songs that make me cry, all the songs that I find aggressive, or all the songs that have funny lyrics. Without bothering to think “WTF, where on earth did I put this song???” Given the fact that most people use their home computer for storing and managing information they feel emotional about, that would make interaction with the computer more comfortable and personal.

I made this last generalisation because the idea expressed in The Grip, the Trip, and the Slip is about making ALL kinds of files taggable (?) and manageable with tags. And I really like the idea.

GNOME 3 is meant to feel good to both geeks and “normal” people. And most non-geek people (at least those I’ve asked) don’t think in terms of “finding a file and doing something with it”. They think in terms of “launching an application and opening a file with it”. So tagging would really make working with files much easier for such users.

Nevertheless, some people made a very good point that we shouldn’t discard traditional file management. First, many people have really got used to it and wouldn’t want to change it; second, there’s an excellent point that Horace made (in the comments): having all those tags would make switching to another OS problematic because the metadata would probably disappear or be unreadable by the other OS. My suggestion is that we could have two file management programs (a “tree viewer” and a “tag viewer“) or at least two modes in the file manager.

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