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Do You Use It? Finder Tags

In OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple introduced Finder tags, an alternative way of organizing files and folders beyond traditional folder hierarchies, and Josh Centers covered the topic extensively in “All about Tagging in the Mavericks Finder” (14 November 2013). Tags have thus been available for use by Mac users for 10 years, but how heavily used are they now? That’s the question for this week’s poll: How often do you use Finder tags? Whether you’ve found tags wanting or see them as an integral part of your Mac use, let us know what you think in the comments.

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Comments About Do You Use It? Finder Tags

Notable Replies

  1. Read Josh’s article at the time. Never found a use for them.

  2. Never.
    I use column view. They don’t reveal enough there for me to consider them useful. Mail is the same problem, but there I can resort to shift-cmd-c (Show Colors). In Finder, I’ve resorted to aliases entirely for grouping things across the usual folder hierarchy.

  3. I use them some, but they became even less useful when the tag moved to the little dot rather than highlighting the whole file name. The limited palette also doesn’t allow for much differentiation. If they still highlighted the whole name, more differentiation might be possible?

  4. I love the concept and I use them, but they don’t sync across Dropbox to another machine, so they are eminently less useful than they should be. (All my work files are on Dropbox so I can work on any machine.)

    When they work, they’re great – especially when you do things like constrain a Spotlight search to only find items that have certain tags.

    I also agree with Will B. that they don’t display well enough in the Finder. I’d prefer if the entire row was the tag color.

  5. The only variant I do use is color tags in the Finder. That I find useful for on the fly grouping.

    I do use tags for files in DevonTHINK, which is my main information gatherer, research tool, general archive.

  6. Ray

    I use Labels in Yep, which I use to keep track of pdf files of receipts, tax documents, and misc. I also use some color Labels to activate behaviors in watched folders with Hazel. I don’t often use them directly from the finder.

  7. I use tags all the time. The coloured labels in the Finder aren’t helpful to me; instead, I set a folder’s view options to group by tag. This works very well for me.

  8. I voted occasionally but it’s probably an over-statement. The only time I use them is to mark a folder or file with a colour to suggest it’s complete. ie: I’m sorting old photo folders and will mark them red if I haven’t done them yet and green if they’re finished.

    I tried using them to tag files and found the retrieval so unreliable I gave up. I think conceptually they’re great but in practise not so good. Given how broad their reach could be I think they need a significant investment in both time and regime to make them work well - if they actually worked.

  9. Use them all the time at work (design studio and prepress operation for large printing company). Every jobs in its own folder, every folder on a server, every folder tagged by colour and initials. Column view. Makes it very easy to see who is/find by/group by person responsible for which of 600+ live jobs at any one time.

    Also use them at home to categorise files/folders

  10. I use them, but only in the fashion of the old “colors” menu. All my tags are named things like “Red”, “Green”, “Orange”, etc. It looked a lot better when the Finder would use the color to tint/cast the entire icon and the text background, but it’s still useful today just as colored dots.

    What I would really like is the ability to assign an arbitrary set of tags to songs in Music. I currently use a comma-separated list of keywords in the “Grouping” field, which I use for various sub-genres, but it’s far from ideal, because the iOS Music app tries to use these strings to group tracks within an album - which is not what I want.

  11. I use them to mark image and video files and also folders progress through processing stages in the Finder. As soon as I have more than a few files that I do the same things again and again with I assign ad hoc meanings to the tags. I do not rename them because depending on how many stages I have they will have different meaning. Green is always finished and red is not started, but other colors have different meanings based on the job.

  12. Very much so, far easier to see at a glance.

  13. I use color tags on files to lablel the ones I want to use or check for a particular project. I also use tags in Mail for similar things, like marking emails I want to go back and read when I have the time. Most of the file tags are used only during a particular project, but some of the Mail tags may stay for a long time if it’s Mail I will need later.

  14. I have used them periodically ever since they were introduced, I do prefer to have the entire name shown in color, the dot isn’t as easy for me to see.

  15. Can’t think of a reason to use them. It just makes things more complicated.

  16. I use the colored dots in different parts of my file system in various and inconsistent ways. Sonetimes it’s just to call additional attention to a particular Finder item, to make it easier to locate. In another area, I use a different color for each week’s iMazing app update backups, rotating through the colors as necessary.

  17. I used custom tags regularly when I had several consulting projects that shared numerous files. I rarely use them these days.
    I still use color tags to indicate the most recent version of a document file that, for example, is being developed or has been finalised and older versions are to be retained.

    The other method of avoiding duplicate files is the file alias feature of macOS so I can have an alias in a project folder, pointing to the original file somewhere else on the disk.

  18. I have set up half a dozen tags but almost never make use of them. One tag is to show files that I want my family to know about after I’m gone but it doesn’t seem to function correctly, i.e., when I click on the tag in the Finder sidebar only some of the tagged files are listed.

  19. I use them all the time. each client has their own tag. so when looking for a past job, its easier than hunting 4 raid drives for the old work. the tag, then what type of project in the title of the project folder gets me to it real quick. dont use them for personal stuff though.

  20. Actually even (or because) I have used the Mac regularly since 1987 I am very slow on adopting new features (I also try and stay with the basics as much as possible to be better able to help Mac clients, though of course you can do both). So, even though I early saw the point of labels (similar to adding info to photos – also bad on that), I seldom used the tags as there had to be a special reason and I seldom do repetitive things on the Mac. BUT, these days they are indispensable while I’m writing a bicycle related book so I can keep track of photos for it without having to move them out of their original locations. I ended up copying them all over after having selected and edited all, but then I use another tag to note the ones I have so far used. For such tasks it is really helpful. It is also good to be aware of that you can edit the names of the tags if you have run out of colours.

  21. I’ve used them often since way back in the MacOS days, when they were just “labels” - back then you could choose one color only, and there were no keywords associated with them, but my useage has been relatively unchanged since the 90’s:

    • red, orange, yellow for files/folders I’m working with or organizing, like document drafts or pictures I’m sorting.
    • green for things I’m done with, final versions of a file, or a folder I’m done organizing.
    • blue for important files that I want to keep and make sure I never delete.
    • purple for backup/previous versions of a file that I don’t want to discard (I started doing this in the days before Time Machine).
    • Grey for files I probably don’t need anymore, but just haven’t trashed yet (usually in my downloads folder).

    I really haven’t ever developed a workflow that includes the keyword tags, but I did rename the colors to things like “draft” to match my usage.

  22. I tried them for a brief period years ago. I voted Never since I didn’t find them useful. The details are long lost to me, but they were particularly problematic because there were some applications that also created what they claimed were Finder tags, but were using a a different file system property. Sometimes they worked with the Finder and sometimes they didn’t.

  23. I use tags occasionally, most commonly when organizing folders and files. I pick one color for started and another for done. When done with the project, I get rid of the tags.

  24. Tags? Reminds me of lines from a Sierra Madre sketch between Gold Hat and Dobbs. Then again, I am very text oriented and have trouble relying on icon pictures (takes me a while to decipher the picture), complicated by a significant degree of color blindness. All my folders are in list view wherever possible, as are the files within them, sorted either alphabetically or by order of creation/modification. I recognize files and folders by their names only. When I’ve TRIED to rely on icons to narrow my looksee on my desktop for documents by application application icon, lo and behold, the developer goes and changes them. I still confuse the “new” FileMaker file icon with BBEdit the BBEdit icon. I think tags would be too hard for my peanut brain to remember which tags I assigned for which categories. I see they are apparently very useful for some folks, though. I have no objection to them (not the question, of course), but I don’t need no tags.

  25. I use tags to add the artist’s name to my music files to give me another way to sort them. I don’t like Apple’s default sorting at all and don’t use it. (For instance, Apple’s sorting gives each song in a multi-artist album its own folder two levels deep.) I did this even when “Comments” was the only available method.

  26. Haphazard use of coloured dots in column view, meaning depends on the enclosing folder.
    I was vexed when dots replaced highlighting the whole file name but now
    that approach looks pretty ugly when I fire up an old machine.

    Is it possible to choose the font used for individual file names (not for the background) ?
    I’d like to experiment with names set bold or in colour.

  27. Spotlight seems to work well at finding about anything, even 25 year old files and docs.

  28. Agree

    But I still use them to mark important folders in the Finder

    e.g., Library > Application Support That’s about the only folder I access much these days in the library. But I use it for a few other folders.

    This is my only current use of Finder tags. Too many other features to keep up with.

  29. I first started using them ( just after the mavericks article) for images/photos and still do. The next step was to keep track of groups of data files of different types when working on projects: analyses by certain parameters or of certain classes of data for example. The tird way is to keep track of the current versions of databases or spreadsheets that are frequently revised. Tagging them with tags with certain assigned colours make them easy to spot inside folders and also easy to see all at once in a finder window even though they are in many different folders. There is a bit of overhead involved but the utility is easily worth the effort.

  30. Never heard of this feature, not sure what I would use it for?

  31. I said occasionally because I don’t use them on many files but the colored dots are helpful to flag the most important or most current files in a folder full of files. For example, I’ve marked the Pages document where I record my ongoing independent contractor receipts and tax payments so it stands out from all of the invoices, check images, and other work related documents.

  32. I’d be lost without them although I wish they still colored the whole file name instead of just using a colored dot.

  33. I’ve used them regularly since their inception. I only wish they continued to color the entire file name rather than just using a dot. The dots are so much harder to find. That’s one thing I wish they would change back. Changing it to a dot was so stupid.

  34. I have only a few tags and I tag only a few files. For example, I have a tag, Current, that I use for files that I am currently working on. When I want to jump to one of them I click Current in the sidebar and there it is. Vary handy.

  35. I have set up just one tag - Pictures. All of the different folders across multiple locations with images, photos, video files are now tagged with “Pictures” (green dot), and I can access all of them across multiple hard drives and Google Drive, just by selecting the Pictures tag. So useful.

  36. With far more files and file folders on my Macs than I care to admit, I began using Tags as soon as I found them years ago. I also use hierarchical naming of files and folders – whereby, the name itself helps like files and folders sort together and appear in order. Add Tags to this naming practice, and it makes very quick work of a search. [Very, very simple EX: ‘Tech’ files use the orange tag. All tech files also use the word 'tech - ’ at the start, the rest of the name depends on the topic. When I need a tech file about a specific topic, I click on the orange tag, and scroll to the first letter of the name or search it. ]

    If Apple provided an automated ‘tag’ for all non-tagged files (Yes, I have asked Apple more than once for it), that would make tags even more important and useful, for me.

  37. I am an inveterate tagger when I use Evernote. It’s useful for the tens of thousands of notes I’ve collected over the years. I thought they would be useful in Finder (or really, Path Finder). But there are so many ways to organize and locate files that to me they truly are not worth the time it takes to assign them.

  38. Like @allen.gainsford, I use them for grouping. In my case, the use is only occasional, most often for projects in which having an at-a-glance view of files or folders grouped by a tag (often “Done”, “In Progress”, and “Not Yet Started”) comes in handy.

  39. The old “Label” feature was so much more helpful and efficient! I wish they’d bring that feature back, at least as an alternative to tags. Sigh…

  40. I think tinting the full icon is great for simple tagging, but I’ve come to appreciate using dots to apply multiple tags to single files.

    I suppose a useful compromise might be to color the icon to represent a “primary” tag and to use dots for “secondary” tags, but I suspect that might be simple to articulate at a high level but very complicated when you dig into detailed use cases and technical implementation.

  41. I have some thousands of technical papers, and hundreds of standards documents, on my Mac. By tagging the standards documents, I can easily limit a spotlight search to just those, without the papers coming into play. I also use tags to a lesser extent to narrow down searches to particular standards families, or documents from a particular vendor, and sometimes for specific projects.

    Spotlight (at least for local drives) seems very reliable for me these days, and being able to bring up the spotlight window and just type tag:scsi (for instance) together with a keyword is quite useful for me, and faster than opening a finder window and browsing to the file even if I know the name.

  42. I love the idea of Finder tags, and wish I could use them more. I do use them for personal files stored locally or in iCloud; but most of my files are work files that have to be stored in OneDrive (my work is all in on M365) and I find that OneDrive syncing randomly, sometimes-but-not-always, breaks tags.

  43. Another vote for this.

  44. I’ve never really settled on one specific way to use Finder tags. As I recall, tags were much later to come to the Finder than they were to come to software like EagleFiler, Leap, and Yep, and I had already implemented my own systems in those applications. When only colour labels existed in the Finder, I did attach them to files and folders: Red for Research, Green for Teaching, and so on. The problem was that I always felt I could do with 2 more colours to cover all the areas of my life. Then unlimited tags came in, inviting a certain amount of chaos.
    On reflection, it seems to me that Apple (and arguably the third-party world) didn’t do a great job of explaining how to use Finder tags.

  45. I think of the color labels and the keywords as different things.

    The ‘new’ scheme in mavericks broke the pre-existing color labels by allowing more than one color, and using a small dot instead of changing the file name color. Now to change the label color there’s an extra step of explicitly removing the old one. The tiny dot might be acceptable if it was just to the left of the filename, but instead it’s at the far right of the filename field, so if the field is set to be wide and the filenames are short (common for me) it’s hard to associate the dot with the correct file. I used to use the color labels all the time, but far less often now.

    The keywords could have been a great addition and I wanted and tried to use them when they came out. But, like Finder comments, they’re too fragile. I expect them be lost with ssh or a generic sync service such as dropbox (bad, but understandable). But they can be lost even copying files between mac drives. Finder copies on the same mac are almost always ok, but between macs less so. SMB seems to be worse than AFP, but they just can’t be counted on (both HFS and APFS).

  46. Similar for me. Finder tags applied to PDF documents and Yep are the corner stones of my paperless office since more than 15 years.

  47. I use the colors to note that source material for text has been processed. Green=done

  48. I use tags extensively in Mail (Mailtags) and DTP and thus some get ascribed as Finder tags as well.

  49. I tried and I tried to make them useful for me, but I never got in the habit of consistently tagging files. And like others have said, I use column view and the tags are just not obvious enough for me. I was hoping tags would obviate the need to organize files in folders. Now that it’s not a trusted system, and I use the PARA Method, I think I’m over Finder Tags.

  50. I use tags as part of my personal automation system on my Mac, in conjunction with Hazel and DEVONthink. However, I don’t currently use them for anything else, mostly because — outside of DEVONthink — they’re not really visible nowadays. And yes, I made the mistake of having DEVONthink automagically add tags to things — it took a long time to clear up that mess!

  51. I use them mainly to organize my application folder so apps are grouped by their function (and because you can apply multiple tags to a file/app it will appear in two places when the folder is grouped by Tag!)
    However the downside is that when an application is updated the tag is wiped and so I have to periodically go in the application folder and reapply the tags. Sigh. I mean I get it, it’s a different file but it would be nice if that info was retained during the update process at least for apps that Apple manages on the App Store or as part of the UI requirement for developers when they have a built in system to update an app in situ.

  52. I never used Labels either, but it did give me a laugh when this article described Tags as something new in 10.9!

  53. Took me awhile to start using tags

    Initially, I used them just to flag actionable items by color only (todo, new, pending, complete, etc), then later refined/differentiated some of these by using tag-names, generally colored the same as the ‘actionable items’ categories - this only when tags were given a separate field in Finder file ‘Get info’ dialog

    Later (maybe around fall of 2019) I started using tags to indicate file content topics/categories of interest (much as I was seeing them used by others online, e.g., in blogs and media content). This is when I really began to appreciate their usefulness, especially for the numerous areas of interest I research, e.g., using them in Finder and DEVONthink searches to find related documents. Naturally, tags are more useful when a document might not contain my tags’ text within its content.

    This, of course, entails a lot of work, and sometimes gets neglected when I’m swooping up numerous files while searching online. But then, on actually reading/reviewing a document I’ll keep the Finder file in view so I can add tags as I read.

    I also learned the value of maintaining tag-name consistency and started keeping a list of tag names, aiming for selecting tag names that more broadly described the content within a knowledge category, and mostly choosing only nouns, and only the singular form. This, too, has added to the time spent tagging inasmuch as I (sometimes) spend more time in Dictionary / Thesaurus looking for those ‘more broad’ overarching category terms

    I recently did a quick count and had 980 tags in use - a lot of these were added to Finder tags when I started using DEVONthink more (mostly indexing Finder docs), as many documents contained tags associated with them.

    I still use iTunes(*) and collect podcasts and ‘home videos’ covering topics of interest and started adding tags in the Comments field so I can create smart playlists on related topics. I also, assiduously curate my iTunes Podcast library and add content ‘Descriptions’ where content providers don’t, which can also be ‘searched’ with smart playlists. Of late, I’ve been editing media files’ metadata to add this info so it will be available outside of iTunes

    (*) Yup, still running iTunes in Ventura thanks to “Retroactive”. The newer separate media apps don’t cut the mustard for my purposes - they’re pretty lame IMHO, compared to the ‘database’ nature of iTunes (even with all it’s foibles) - still looking to find a suitable long term replacement for iTunes… (DEVONthink is a strong contender if I can get them to reveal more of a media file’s metadata, especially the Description, Comments, Album Artist (viz. podcast ‘guest’ names) fields ++)

    I added a Finder keyboard shortcut (CMD-CTRL A) to add tags to Finder files in situ so I don’t have to open the Get Info dialog and/or Click on the ‘Edit Tags’ icon in a Finder window title bar (which, of course isn’t there for files on the Desktop)

    • Quite aggravating, however, is a long standing issue where the system frequently ‘forgets’ that keyboard shortcut and I have to Force Quit Finder to ‘restore’ it’s memory.

    • One other aggravation - perhaps due to the great number of tags I have in use - when creating a new tag name, Finder goes into overdrive, using 100% +/- (% CPU) for quite awhile and prevents any further tag additions to the Finder file (and even moving the document to another Finder location) until it ‘settles down’

    So, yeah, I’ve become an advocate of tagging - it really pays off when doing research within my sizable Finder knowledge base

  54. Here’s the problem with these polls - and this one in particular.

    I bet a lot of your readers, like me, have been here since System 7/8/9 (“TOS”?). We long ago found ways to make our Macs bend to our will, and don’t jump at most shiny new OS features (unless they’re undeniably awesome, like Shortcuts, Hot Corners, AirDrop, etc). It’s like how at a certain point you’ve accumulated so much great music that you no longer pay much attention to the new bands.

    Finder Tags were like a new band. And when they were introduced, most of us had long since found our own more-or-less satisfying workarounds for Finder’s meager organization aids. This is an inherently conservative crowd.

  55. How does that make the poll “a problem”? If if this crowd were indeed “inherently conservative”, how is a poll reflecting that a problem? Wouldn’t — if anything — only the result of that poll be the data basis for proving or disproving such assertion? My guess is, you’re concerned with how such a poll is interpreted (which @ace hasn’t written about yet either) rather than the poll itself. But there’s really nothing wrong with asking folks if they use a certain feature.

  56. It skews the data.

    No problem whatsoever with Adam doing it, of course. I’m just saying results are not widely representative.

  57. Nobody claimed it was. It’s at best representative of people who frequent this site. No data is being “skewed”.

  58. Oh my god. That’s crazy.

    And it’s a great example of a problem that surely would have been immediately solved if anyone powerful at Apple used the feature with any enthusiasm. It’s vitally important for management to smoke its own stash.

  59. I use them in conjunction with Hazel to flag things like files that should be cleaned up at various times, etc. They’re more transitory than folders for me.

  60. I use Finder tags infrequently. I have a few specialized situations in which tags are very useful. But otherwise I don’t use them much at all. I rarely use the built-in tags; I generally make up tags to fit the situation.

    I would probably use them more frequently, if the interface were better developed.

  61. 100% rely on tags in Daylite. Looking for something to MANAGE tags across all files / folders.

  62. Absolutely, as I said when I introduced the polls to start.

  63. Concerning the polls, the responses that bother me are the folks who respond to the poll and don’t have access to the feature. I look forward to the reactions of people who use a feature, especially one I don’t use. It opens my thinking about ways I might improve my experience. I think that most of the polls could be improved by having two extra checkmarks (“Never tried [feature].” and “[Feature] not available to me.”

    Concerning tags, I don’t use them in the Finder, but I do find the somewhat related colored Mail flags to be quite helpful. I have rules, and Smart Mailboxes defined that use them quite heavily. Unfortunately, the user-defined smart object concept is only available on MacOS and not the other Apple OS’s.

  64. I use them a lot, but I would prefer the color to apply to the whole name of a Finder item, as it once did. I suspect the reason Apple moved to the dots was so that an item could have multiple tags, but I don’t think this works all that well. For one thing, AppleScript can’t handle multiple tags. The fact that Apple still have not implemented the “label” Type in AppleScript (in Monterey, anyway) is reprehensible. Apple ignores AppleScript at its peril; it’s one of the main things that make using a Mac worth while. Shortcuts is for kiddies.

  65. A good suggestion because that also reveals something about Apple’s marketing and how available the feature could be.

  66. In my view would be about tags in mail which currently require a plug in that will be unavailable in Sonoma - keeping me from upgrading at this point. A product being made less useful - perhaps more secure.

  67. I have a question for tag users.

    A traditional method of organizing files, documents, etc. is to put them in separate folders and name each folder appropriately.

    Has anybody tried putting everything in one folder instead and using tags to identify and categorize them? I’m curious to know how that will work.

  68. I really love being able to use Finder Tags! I use colored tags every day to make important and most used files stand out in Finder so I can easily find them in folders containing lots of files. My folder containing info on hundreds of apps is sorted on tags in Finder, allowing me to see the alphabetically sorted apps that I actually have installed on top. I love being able to show or copy selected files in a context that is different from the one I used to save them in a particular folder, e.g. to give my wife a a folder containing just manuals of home equipment, originating from my folders that are organized differently on my Mac. Finder Tags are really marvelous when they are used with logical expressions. So for example, I can use tags to add status info and other info to series of files in one or more folders and use queries to select files based on any combination of tags (and other info like (parts of) the file name, meta info embedded in photos etc.). I agree: this advanced use of tags is difficult when using just Finder. And it used to be not very reliable (hopefully it is now). So I use HoudahSpot instead. HoudahSpot is a great file search utility that uses the existing Spotlight index and supports tags and lots of other meta info. While it’s far more powerful than Finder, it’s also much easier to use and it proved to be reliable in advanced search queries where Finder wasn’t. It makes creating logical expressions easy and shows the results while building them, drilling down on the information you are looking for. I therefore love using HoudahSpot for any advanced searching. This way, I can prevent having to build or buy applications to handle file based information, I can prevent needing duplicate files and I can prevent mistakes that are easily made when having to deal with duplicate files. All in all: I am very happy with Finder Tags!

  69. I use them, but rarely.

    I remember when tagging was added to OS X; John Siracusa had a lengthy explanation of the underlying structure: you could add not only your own tags, but entire taxonomies. I wish it were easier to do that—I could add metadata to a file to indicate client, subject matter, etc, and slice and dice my files accordingly. If you did it right, this could be very powerful.

    But it also requires some extra effort, and just sticking a file in a folder as a taxonomical system is well-supported and easy.

  70. Right. I never use them, and in fact actively banish them, because they require Mac-specific filesystem metadata that won’t sync reliably across systems and are non-portable in a way that simple hierarchy (which, in any case, I’m perfectly all right with) and searches (based on metadata that’s stored in the file itself) are.

  71. I voted “occasionally”, because at times I don’t trust they work (maybe due to problems with past Mac OS releases and compatibility with other software).

    I have two main uses:

    1. I mark folders with a “work in progress” tag to keep track of the various projects open and then I have a saved search in Finder with its folder in the Dock and in the left sidebar for quick access even in the Open/Save dialog boxes.
    2. I use colour labels to denote various statuses for files, out of very old habits yellow/orange for stuff in progress, green done, red problems and purple for sent stuff.

    But, as others have said, colour labels in Finder are way less useful since they were transformed in the little dot instead of the full line as in Classic (so betraying my age). For a certain period of time has been a reason to continue to pay and use for Pathfinder as a Finder replacement/companion.

  72. I know people who attempt to do this simply by adding such tags to the Comments field in the file’s/folder’s Information panel (or through helper apps to do exactly that). That information field allows for almost unlimited user-defined tags that Spotlight will include in its searches. Now, instead of searching for file/folder name, you’ll be searching for (or saving pre-configured searches for dynamic display of) tagged items with specific tags.

    I don’t use this myself, but I can see why somebody would find it very powerful.

  73. My favorite macOS feature. Mac had been so close to file management nirvana for years and then Tags put it over the top. Key to my paperless office quest. A filing cabinet (electronic is no better than physical, really) is how to make finding files virtually impossible, it’s just a maze of folders and ridiculously long and cryptic file names. Now with Tags, along with other finder properties like names and dates, I just dump all files in one place and find them quickly.

  74. I’ve been doing that for years. I try to be as paperless as possible.

    • I use a “random sequential” search. Tags filter to a reasonable list that I then sort, filter and search as needed.
    • Tagging specificity down to individual files is a fool’s game.
    • File names and dates are important
    • I use two apps from Yep and Fresh
    • Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner - flatbed scanners are useless for volume, frequency, and scanning customization
  75. Welcome to TidBITS Talk! Good to see someone is finding Tags useful.

    I suspect that many of us, going back nearly 5 decades when Apple was “Apple Computer” and Mac was “Macintosh,” have an aversion to dumping everything into a single directory. There is the desktop/folder/file paradigm that is baked deep into the System. There is also the reality that for many iterations of what became MacOS it was impossible to put more than, say, a hundred files into a folder without experiencing major performance and reliability problems.

    We have been trained away from it. We have been required to impose hierarchical organization on our files. So tagging seems more like a solution in search of a problem.

    So it’s neat to see someone able to use more of a “data soup” approach to retrieving Mac information.

  76. I used to use these apps a while back, but I thought they were dead. It looks like they’re alive and well. I probably should re-examine them.

  77. In The Humane Interface, Jef Raskin argued that with sufficient search capabilities, there should be no need for any kind of user-visible file system, or even file names. Just big pools of documents that you identify from their content.

    Raskin’s favorite product, the Canon Cat, was actually designed around this paradigm, although it was probably easier to make practical due to its limited storage capacity (256 KB per floppy disk). And you would need to provide your own organization system for tracking what was on each disk.

    I personally don’t agree with this theory. Maybe because I can’t imagine “sufficient search capabilities” ever existing. Or maybe because I’ve been using files and file systems for over 40 years and I don’t want to unlearn it now.

    But it is interesting to see that, at least for some people, that paradigm is working.

  78. I don’t think I agree with it either. I’m accustomed to searching for everything in Gmail, where I almost always know some fact about the messages I want to find, but if I don’t know the search space well, I struggle. As an example of that, I have real trouble thinking of music to play using Siri on the HomePod—I find a list of artist names helpful for reminding me what I like. It’s not that I don’t know these artists, potentially well, but the list is too large for me to be able to pull out any given artist.

  79. I think Raskin would argue that in lieu of a filename, documents should have titles (as are usually on the first page), which you can search for.

    Interestingly, Apple has mostly embraced Raskin’s vision with the Music and Photos apps.

    You access your music by the document (song) content - the embedded metadata (title, artist, album, etc), and you never see the actual file and have to dig a bit to get the underlying path to the file. And you don’t even need that information to share the music, since you can drag the song from the Music app to an e-mail message (or anything else that can accept a dropped file).

    Photos are similar, but even more so. You see thumbnails of everything. Organized spatially (e.g. by albums) or by metadata (dates, identified people, locations), but again, the underlying file is hidden. And even moreso than with Music, because it has separate internal files for the original, thumbails, a sequence of edits and the final post-edit version, and there is no way (via the app’s GUI) to learn the actual locations of these files. But again, you don’t need that information because you can just drag/drop pictures into other apps (or export images to various formats via menu commands.)

    But as a way of organizing all your files on a Mac? No, that seems like a bit too much for me.

  80. I think the theory is correct - in fact I think I mentioned something similar in another thread - but in practise it’s not that practical. On top of this, the thought of thousands of files littered around my machine would trigger my OCD something terrible.

    If everything could be searched without structure there’d be no need for Lightroom, Photos, Music etc, but the fact they exists demonstrates it’s not there yet.

    Having said that, most people do close to this with the web. With the exception of the dozen or so sites I visit on a daily basis, everything else is found via Google. I can’t remember the last time I actually bookmarked something or even visited my bookmarks page - it seems just as fast to search for things I need.

  81. I use tons of bookmarks. In Safari entering the first few letters is usually enough to get the bookmark to show up. Hit return. Done. I’m not sure there’s anything faster. Before iPhone and Safari bookmark syncing, I had a script that exported my Safari bookmarks to an html file that I dumped on my personal web server just so I could access my usual sites from afar.

    I cringe when I see people go to Google to enter target when all they could be doing is enter

    Or use a decent browser like Safari (with Include Safari Suggestions enabled) and then typing tar in the address bar is already enough. The less use of Google, the better IMHO. DDG all the way here. There’s always !g after all.

  82. I find tags very useful when working on projects to note the state of certain files. For instance, any PDF where I’ve highlighted certain sections during my research will get tagged with annotated. Or if I’m processing files for another reason I’ll use tags to mark what stage they are in.

    The other way I like to use tags is when I want to mark files for future action. If I’m travelling, I might use a ‘to print’ tag which is applied to files in all sorts of locations in the filesystem. I’ll create a saved search that has the tag as its only condition. That way I have a ‘folder’ on my desktop containing all the files, and it’s easy to deal with them at the appropriate time. Here’s an example from the last time I did a clean install of MacOS:


    I’ve also used tags+saved search to create a folder of disparate items inside a project folder, as @eyeless does when keeping track of photos without moving them from their location.

  83. I don’t agree with this theory either. I think it works on a small scale. I mentioned “data soup” above, which users from the swinging '90s will recall is how Apple Newton stored information. It worked great in that relatively small pot, but I do wonder how sufficient the search capabilities would need to be to retrieve disparate chunks of data on an immense scale like we have today.

  84. I hadn’t thought of Google as an analogue to Apple Photos, Music, iMovie, Final Cut Pro, etc. But with all three of those, as @Shamino alluded to above, they are really just catalogues of files, with auxiliary pointers to fragments of those files. Google is the most transparent example, because it points directly to URLs, which are either static files residing on a server or potential files that are generated on demand by a CMS.

    The suites on my local Mac are also fancy catalogues, each of which operates on a subset of discrete files and generates a visual representation of what’s there. (Even FCPro is at heart a catalogue of files, and uses edit decision lists to generate a composite representation of those files—which is really all a video is.)

    Whether Google on the Web or Apple Music, you are always looking at a discrete file, which you can prove by surfacing the original. A data collection à la Raskin couldn’t be pulled out that way in an understandable form…you’d need a search query to assemble what you’re seeking.

  85. I’ve wondered that also over the years. But they work on my M1 MacBook with Ventura OS.

  86. Oh! Those five colors. I have been using them from the start. (I’ll see if I can change my vote. But read on.)
    Let me be clear: They are simply colors on line items (sadly, merely colored dots when “Boy-do-we-look-slick” design). I was blissfully unaware of other uses. Nor, having read a very small number of the preceding posts, would I invite misery, by trying other uses.
    Four schemes:
    Regular user account:
    o Pathfinder: Red Important
    o Thunderbird: Red Important, Orange ToDo, Green Money
    Confidential user account
    o Pathfinder: Red Important, Blue (if not in the separately encrypted volume) Confidential Work
    o Thunderbird: Red Important, Orange ToDo, Blue Agency matter, Purple Strange
    (I ignore the predefined labels. And I much prefer the neat use of the number keys in Thunderbird; hat the jumping around when I accidentally type when (rarely!) in Finder (I forgive Pathfinder for being compatible with Apple, one of its many virtues; and praise them for using the full line color, instead of the cutsey-tiny dots.))

  87. Somewhat off-topic.

    I agree in general (twice, once for using Google and once for not adding .com to the search term), but I have a specific counter-example (which could be avoided by using “tons of bookmarks.”)

    I have read (but have never seen firsthand) that some sites take a URL that is one character different (or a pair of characters swapped) from some URL where people might enter sensitive information. For a situation where I might enter sensitive information and I do not have the site bookmarked, I might type site into a search engine and then click on to avoid the possibility of typing in error and then divulging information inappropriately.

  88. That was true for me before Arc. Now it’s just the opposite, which shows the power of dedicated UI over search, when done right.

  89. My approach to filing took a turn when the why-organise-use-tags era arrived.

    I did look again at my file naming strategy which is consistent searchable and informative (to me) and used steadily since the late Nineties and realised that I didn’t need the endless and at times less than stellar cascade of folders which projects ended up being.

    So I use Hazel to automatically add all text files in one folder, spreadsheets in another, movies in another etc. I don’t tag but the filename contains the data I need for searching.

    When it comes time to archive I add them all to a DevonTHINK database per project and tag within that for classification of various types of projects.

  90. Your example of websites run on CMS is actually exactly that – every URL is essentially a search query which the CMS then uses to assemble the page by pulling pieces from different databases and files on disk. So there is no discrete file behind the page. This page is a good example of this. There is no file containing all our musings, instead a collection of databases and image files.

  91. I use them routinely in my work, identifying my role in jobs, so I don’t accidentally take on someone else’s task.

    The change to tiny coloured dots was annoying until I found ColoFolXS (, which is invoked with a right-click and applies your choice of colour (user-definable) to the folder icon as well, making the tag stand out better.

  92. I am used to tags from using them for many years in my wiki. I like to use them in MacOS too, but I find it uncomfortable cause of the lack of tools and the smooth integration in the OS. But I still use it with hazel, obsidian and with the extension MailTags. And with these tools I use them extensively. I would like to see a software or better support for the daily use with files. Tags are great to organise my stuff.

  93. I use them in a very limited fashion. For example I keep file notes on my desktop indicating important appointments coming up and use a colored tag to indicate types of appointments (being old most are medical lol). This gives me a quick view since they are listed by date. Other than that I sometimes use them with multiple tags attached to a given file for quick finding folders I regularly use.

    I too miss the ability to have the whole file or folder name highlighted by the color.

    Interesting discussion - given me some ideas. Thus the need for TidBits discussions!

  94. I use them at tax time to tag each slip or document when I’ve entered it into the tax software. And monthly I use them to tag bank statements as reconciled.

  95. I’ve used tags regularly for years. But perhaps my uses are just specific to me. I only use column view and tags give me an easy visual indication about a file. For example, I scan a lot of documents. Some of those documents have to get uploaded to a financial site, but I don’t want or need to separate them out. Once uploaded, I tag the file as uploaded to [site name]. Then I don’t have to do other kinds of organization with the files. It makes it really easy.

    I like to use tagging with the photos I take. I organize my photos by month. Tagging lets me easily know favorites, etc in column view. Also, GraphicConverter shows finder tags so that really helps me.

    A sort of silly use of tags is marking youtube videos I’ve downloaded (shout out to Softorino’s downloader) as watched or partially watched. I can’t always remember what I’ve watched otherwise :slight_smile:

  96. Have you tried this recently? I can’t speak to the past, but in my testing, tags are syncing in Dropbox now. Not Google Drive, however.

  97. Interesting. No, it’s not working for me, but I use Maestral to sync, not the actual Dropbox client, so maybe that’s a limitation of Maestral.

    (I switched to Maestral a while back as the Dropbox client had gotten so bloated and buggy it just wasn’t worth using any more. I’d actually considered canceling Dropbox until I discovered Maestral. Maestral isn’t perfect and has a few limitations, but it’s way better than the Dropbox client.)

  98. Ah, yes, I think I remember seeing that Maestral doesn’t sync extended attributes.

  99. I use tags routinely, but only for identifying the source of the application or something similar. I divide the sources into Apple, App-store, Microsoft, 3rd-party written, shareware, shareware-not-yet paid-for, freeware, unknown, etc. Unfortunately, Apple won’t allow their applications to be tagged. Why?

  100. I’ve used tags regularly, particularly to identify important images in large folders, so that I can select them for posting in the future. I only found recently that I can tag the default colors with the key combinations of ctrl-1 through ctrl-6, which has made tagging much simpler and useful.

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