Let’s talk tags

If you are serious about using today’s technology to streamline your research workflow and reduce your digital housekeeping, then you need to become a tagger. As we have seen in Evernote, tags are the new folders. Instead of physically moving an item into a folder – or making copies so you can file it in more than one folder – now you just add tags.

Tags are keywords embedded into a digital file to describe the contents of that file. They are part of the file’s metadata. Tags aren’t always called tags. Gmail and Blogger call them labels. Microsoft Office, iPhoto and other apps just stick with keywords. Whatever they are called, they all do the same thing – make it easier to organize your archives so you can find stuff quickly. Mac users running the latest version of OSX (Mavericks) now have the ability to tag documents as they are saved.

The key to using tags is consistency. To a computer, Florida, Fla. and FL are three different places. Most family historians are already familiar with this concept thanks to our genealogy software. When including surnames as tags, I preface the family name with “surname:” (example: surname:Barker). Since my research includes family names like “Link”, I’ve found this little trick keeps my search results down to a much more manageable number.

Search is one big reason why I’ve traded in folders for tags. All I need to do is hit the Spotlight icon at the top of my Mac’s screen and type in a tag – or two – or three – and almost before I finish typing it presents me with a list of everything on my computer (including external drives) matching that criteria. No amount of folder organization and management is going to do that for me.

Generally, you can add as many tags as you want to a file’s metadata. Is this file associated with more than one family? No problem! Just add tags for each surname. You don’t have to duplicate a file to associate it with other people or places – just add more tags.

In addition to making your life easier, tags have another very useful purpose. Because they are part of a file’s metadata, they become a permanent part of the file. Metadata stays with that file when you share a copy with others, back it up to an online service or include it on a blog post. It’s the digital equivalent of the pencil notes on the back of an old photo.

You are looking at Yep [Mac – $23.99], a document management app I use to manage both research and personal documents. Apps such as these are very useful when scanning documents into your family history archive as they manage the scanning, indexing and saving operations – including adding appropriate metadata tags.

To best take advantage of the time-saving features your digital tools provide, get into the habit of tagging your documents, photos, presentations and other files. Start by including tags when you add new documents to your archives or as you update existing documents. Even if your current operating system doesn’t support metadata searches, when you do upgrade those tags will be there ready for you to take advantage of their capabilities.

The toughest part about tagging is making it a habit. It won’t be long before it becomes an automatic process.

  • Margaret

    Loved this article. Can you tell me the name of this document management app? Are there others you would recommend? I use a PC not a Mac. Thanks