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  • Tags and Tagging
    By John Nolt

    A tag is a word that describes a thing. Usually that thing is an item on your computer, like a picture or Microsoft Word document, or a link to a Web site. Anything that can be collected can be tagged!

    Computers have trouble organizing things like songs or pictures in a way that humans can use. They need help in order to show you, for example, all the pictures of your dog.

    And when you start trying to organize text files, Word docs, and links to Web sites, computers run into another problem. For example, if you search every file on your computer for any that contain the word pets, you'll get many more results than is useful.

    Tags were designed to overcome these problems, helping people organize their digital "stuff" in a way that's easy and fast.


    How Tags Solve the Problem

    Tags let you purposely organize things into groups with similar properties. For example, you might add the following tags to a photo of your dog:
    • Rover
    • Vacation
    • 2007
    You could then add some tags to another photo, this time a surfboard:
    • Vacation
    • 2007
    • surfing
    Then if you searched for everything tagged vacation, both photos would appear in the search results.

    Tags in EarthLink MyFavorites
    Tags in EarthLink MyFavorites


    How are tags used?

    Tags are what you make of them, and each system that incorporates tags offers different ways of using them.
    • Searching: Search for items tagged a certain way.

    • Community: Web sites like My Favorites or Flickr let you see tags that other people on the site have added. On sites like Flickr you can even tag other people's photos or links. (Although you always have ultimate authority over your own stuff, you can delete tags people add to your stuff.)

    • Navigation: View a list of your tags and click them to see the items that share that tag. There is also a cool thing called a "tag cloud."

    A Tag Cloud
    You can find tags on many Web sites, such as EarthLink's My Favorites link organizer and the photo site Flickr. Tags are also built into programs that run on your computer, such as iPhoto, and are an integral part of Mac OS X and Windows Vista.

    How To Use Tags
    It's all well and good to know what a tag is, and what you can do with it. But don't worry, I'm not just going to send you off with a hearty "Now go use some tags!"

    Tagging is a pretty wide-open concept; it's hard to get started because there are so many possibilities! With that in mind, I asked some of my fellow EarthLink employees how they use tags.

    Alon Goteman:
    I use tagging to maintain my bookmarks using del.icio.us. I use tags in a way that makes sense to me (I'm totally unconcerned with trying to make them accessible to other people—I use them as an organizing tool for myself). I'll typically use at least one tag to describe what I'm bookmarking (articles, blog), sometimes another to describe the source (wsj, youtube), another to describe the category (politics, humor, television), and then others as I find relevant.

    Rob Levy:
    The big one that I've got is for the renovations of my loft. I tag everything renov and then just dump it in the Documents folder on my iMac. I've got a Renovations smart folder on the left pane of every Finder window. Whenever I click it, I see every file tagged renov, from drawings to pictures to documents. I never have to bother collecting the stuff. It gets collected for me.

    I also have a smart folder called Loft. This includes pictures of the loft as it was being built, as well as any decoration my wife has done to the place. I don't have to decide which folder a picture of the renovations should go in, and I don't have to make a copy or shortcut. The file shows up in both folders automatically.

    Reid MacDonald:
    I use tags for both flickr and del.icio.us. I use a simple general tag like "music" to create broad categories. These are useful to make (RSS) feeds from and for other people to easily browse my items. To make things quicker to find at a later time, I find that the more specific tags like band seen live are very useful. On del.icio.us, I often use the suggested tags.

    Eugene Kim:
    I use tags with Photoshop Album. An example is if I wanna see all the pictures of my daughter Mina at her first birthday when she was playing with her grandma. If I've uploaded pictures from a recent fishing trip, I'll create a tag like march 2007 fishing trip, select those pictures, and drag-and-drop the tag onto them.

    Maggie Wendel says:
    I'm very precise about it. I tag things with multiple tags so I can quickly sort depending on what I want to find. So, one picture might have all of the following tags attached to it, as an example:

    2007 05 11
    Paris
    Notre Dame
    Gargoyle
    Honeymoon

    I don't ever use the term "vacation" or anything that I consider too generic. I know in my mind that Paris, Belize, and Honduras were all vacations, so I tag by the specific location.

    I tag dates, and keep a very specific order so that my pictures are easy to find. I go back and actively use old pictures because one of my hobbies is scrapbooking, so I want to be able to quickly and easily find the pictures for a specific event.

    When In Doubt, Tag It!

    One thing all my friends above have in common is that they have taken the idea of tags and made it work for them. If you decide to try out tagging, just remember one thing: relax. Tags are an easy, low-stress way to make things easier to find, and find out what other people are interested in. There's almost no wrong way to tag.

    Tagging in Mac OS X

    OS X doesn't call tags "tags." They let you add comments to any file, but those comments act like tags when you search. Searching via Spotlight searches the comments you've entered as well as the file names and contents of files.

    Adding Tags/Comments to a File
    1. Select a file and choose Get Info from the File menu.
    2. Add your tags to the Spotlight Comments
    3. Close the Get Info window!
    Tip: If you search from a Finder window, you can save the search as a Smart Folder.

    Tagging in Windows Vista

    Windows Vista lets you add tags in several ways:
    • Right-click and choose Properties, then enter tags in the box next to Tags. Separate your tags using semicolons. This lets you enter tags that have spaces in them, like "red vines."

    • There's a Tags box in the Details pane that appears at the bottom of the Explorer window when a file is selected.

    • You can enter tags right in the Save As dialog for certain file types.

    Note: Windows Vista lets you tag certain kinds of files, but not others. For a list of file types that can be tagged in Windows Vista, and lots more info about tagging in Vista, check out this excellent article on LifeHacker.com. When viewing files in Vista, you'll see an option to sort by Tags in the Explorer window. Tags are also included when you search, and you can create "Saved Searches" that work much like Smart Folders in Mac OS X. For more information about saved searches in Windows Vista, check out the LifeHacker article mentioned above.


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