Organizing our growing personal data files

With the explosive growth in the amount of data we keep, the current folder-based approach to organizing information is becoming insufficient.

The music, photo and video industries have been leading the path in defining new ways to organize vast amount of information, mainly using various forms of tagging. However people don’t compartmentalize their lives in music world, photo albums and video libraries.  All these are intricately intertwined with many other aspects of our lives, as well as with other data types.

Characteristics of a useful file tagging implementation:

  • Universal – applies to all file/document types
  • Portable – tagging follows the object
  • Flexible – each user can define his/her own tagging scheme
  • Multi-valued – each tag can be defined as a category with a specific value. e.g. media=photo, media=sound, or media=video, such that a search for media produces a result set containing three buckets of relevant content, instead of a single list.
  • Multi-level – allows for multi-tag dimensional view – the simplest being a grid with for example the multi-valued media tag on the x-axis, and time on the Y-axis
  • Evolutionary – borrows from existing organizational paradigms such as folder hierarchy, file date/time, music file tags, etc. and provides migration from current structures
  • But not revolutionary – allows users to view result of tag search in a familiar format such as folders
  • Cross-platform – Windows, OSx, Linux, iOS, Android, etc.
  • Intuitive – one click, integrated to searches, available within apps, network/cloud aware
  • Ubiquitous – available everywhere, not just on a specially configured device

What other characteristics should this functionality have, and can we have it before we lose track of our current data?

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7 Responses to Organizing our growing personal data files

  1. CalUWxBill says:

    I think these are all good. Out of everything, I think intuitive and user-friendly is the most important feature. The folder hierarchy despite it’s drawbacks is very intuitive and easy to use. I’ve tried out a few file tagging programs for Windows 7. Most of them are cumbersome to use and handle large numbers of files poorly. One issue is that if files are being created outside of these file management programs (where most people use computers/devices) it’s not easy to keep up the task of tagging them. And if files are deleted, renamed, copied or moved outside of them the tags often need to be reassigned.

    I propose a few extra characteristics

    * Application Programming Interface – Allows for any program to use the file database structure in creating and modifying files similar to how the directory structure is used by nearly all programs now.
    * Market Share – People who want to design applications will need to use this API in there programming if their program is creating personal files.
    * Capable of all File Management Tasks – Basically all Explorer functions + File Database functions.
    * Different Types of Attributes – Sometimes tags work, sometimes a description or note, other times a quantity
    * For quantities be able to filter by ranges
    * Built-in Date/Time and Geographic Location Attributes – Not creation date and time but reference date and time. I work with a lot of geographic data in my work but even personal stuff can have these needs.

  2. Spencer says:

    Why can’t I tag multiple PDF files at once?

  3. Maybe this program could be an answer: http://tabbles.net/ . I have just started to use it. But at the first glace it lacks total integration in to OS.

  4. Jack says:

    When???? When will it happen???? Every files should have metadata capabilities!

  5. philliphayes says:

    Hi, I have developed http://www.taggtool.com – it hooks into the file system in order to track file system changes and allows tagging of any file or folder.

  6. Dijji says:

    Another variation on the theme. I have written the free and open source http://filemeta.codeplex.com. It stores tags (and other properties e.g. comments) in NTFS as part of the file, using the mechanism built into the file system to store properties in ‘alternate streams’. Thus, the tags get moved around autmatically with the file. There is no separate database. This works for any type of file (universal) and is portable within NTFS, although not when, say, the file is sent as an e-mail attachment. The user experience is Windows Explorer, which is not revolutionary, but not very rich. It is pretty usable within its limitations, doing things like offering drop downs of previously used tags. This solution also integrates automatically with Windows search, from Explorer and from the Start menu. Speaking to CallUxWx’s thoughts, the API is just a built-in Windows API, and any of 625 or so standard editable Windows properties can be used, including GPS data.

    Feel free to take a look!

    It is very interesting to think about richer APIs and UX; on top of this, or something else. Multilevel tagging and intuitive Uis could be excellent, though I think quite a bit of experimentation would be needed to get this right. Cross-platform is another very important issue. And how might we think about mobile?

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