Tagging the desktop.

Seattleduck asks why we don’t tag our desktop:

But why dont we take this to our desktop, and use tagging to get our work stuff organized in some rational manner? Why cant we tag documents? And file shares? And intranet sites? Then tag communications: emails, Messenger contacts, and address book contacts?

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Regarding documents and the desktop, the focus to date has been search, via Google Desktop and MSN Desktop. This is great but once you find that document or email, what next? You end up copying it over to your own folder, or dragging and dropping it, or creating a link to it from within your project plan. The net result is still chaos. We now have discoverability, but no memory. No personalized categorization of the content you actually use.

Tags allow us to categorize and group information. We already do that everyday. We just refer to them as folders. Folders are personal categorization, and a metaphor for real-world file folders, where we gather similar items. This is also a pretty good metaphor for tags.

Unfortunately there is no standard taxonomy for tags or file folders, so we occasionally forget what we called something, or where we put it. The reason desktop search is so useful and necessary is because it helps us find the stuff we lost. Any usable system will required both the ability to categorize, and the ability to search across categories.

The folders we are already comfortable with address all of Kevin’s requirements. They can aggregate documents, contacts, other folders, and links or shortcuts to other information. And he can call it “Q2.Marketing.Campaign” if he likes, or he can have a folder called “Marketing Campaigns” that contains Q1 and Q2, which would be even more effective.

Tags are a poor man’s metadata, more about categorization than defining the attributes of an item. It is a great way to group items that we can’t otherwise organize – as we do in Flickr or Technorati, and is very useful in situations like that.

It’s easy to jump onto the next cool idea and forget that sometimes we already have the same tools at our disposal.