Tagging files with file libraries
Tags for every situation
I know it’s hardly standard practice to publish things on major holidays, but I wanted to give my U.S. readers something to do while they’re recovering from eating too much turkey, and I can hardly think of a better distraction than an article that I’ve been meaning to write for months, continuing my series of tagging software recommendations. This time the topic is file libraries, and unlike file system tagging solutions, there’s a lot of good options out there.
To recap, a file library is an application that collects, searches, and browses your files outside of the standard Finder and Spotlight interface. File libraries contain some of the best examples of tagging interfaces currently available on the Mac, and thanks to the limitations Spotlight has with regards to tagging often provide streamlined and useful tagging for a variety of file types.
The main contenders
To my mind, there are currently three main contenders if you are looking for a tag-based file library: EagleFiler, Yojimbo, and Together.
EagleFiler ($40) is currently my file library of choice. EagleFiler stores your files in a Finder-friendly format very similar to iTunes (they’re on-disk in a folder of your choosing, but EagleFiler manages them). This (and the pseudo-hierarchical tagging) is perhaps the most attractive feature of EagleFiler. Getting files into EagleFiler is dead easy (usually a single keypress away) and EagleFiler natively supports PDFs, web archives, RTF documents, emails, chats, and more (you can always store unsupported documents in EagleFiler, as well; they just won’t have a preview and you’ll have to edit them in another program). Of particular note is EagleFiler’s support for archiving email; this is a cool feature in and of itself (and not available in the other two), but to make things even better EagleFiler supports MailTags.
EagleFiler’s pseudo-hierarchical tags are one of its main selling points for me. Particularly when it comes to tagging generic files, most programs only support tag clouds which are often little use for people who have a large number of tags. EagleFiler’s tags are not truly hierarchical unfortunately, because the program doesn’t recognize any relationship between parent and child tags, but just being able to sort tags into related groups makes browsing them much easier, and EagleFiler’s developer has mentioned that he may in the future beef up EagleFiler’s hierarchical tagging. EagleFiler’s tagging is complemented by standard-style folders (which are mirrored in the Finder) for those who are not comfortable with a flat, tagged library.
The major downside to EagleFiler is that users cannot create smart views or otherwise save their searches. However, browsing by tag and then using the reasonably powerful search bar are usually enough for me. EagleFiler is not a program to miss if you are looking for simple, powerful, tag-driven document organization.
Yojimbo ($39) is probably the simplest file library you’ll find, but is quite effective despite its simplicity. Yojimbo provides basic tagging and folder-based organization (called “collections” within the program), but does not have any sort of tag browser. Instead, you have to create pseudo-smart view “tag collections” to browse your tagged files. Yojimbo does not store your files in a Finder-friendly format, but in this case it’s a good thing.
Yojimbo’s strength lies not in expansive features or open storage (Yojimbo is, to be honest, pretty bare bones), but rather in the fact that it is phenomenally portable. If you need to access to disparate files and data (such as text documents, images, PDFs, web archives or bookmarks, serial numbers, or passwords) across multiple computers (Mac or PC), then Yojimbo is a solid home run. Not only does it provide synching via .Mac (cool in its own right, when you consider the range of data Yojimbo can handle), but Webjimbo ($29.95) provides a completely web-driven interface into your Yojimbo library from anywhere (including your iPhone).
I wouldn’t recommend Yojimbo for large file libraries or for general tag-based organization, but for keeping yourself connected to your data and files, Yojimbo is the single best solution that I know.
Together ($39; $14.95 upgrade from KIT) is a recently released massive upgrade to KIT (Leopard only, unfortunately). I was never a big fan of KIT. It was completely tag-based, which was cool in theory, but it was as simplistic as Yojimbo without really providing a compelling reason to use it. Together, on the other hand, is a whole new story. Together now permits hierarchical folder organization (mirrored in the Finder), smart groups, a tag-browser that mixes in other types of metadata in addition to tags, tab browsing, and a svelte widescreen-optimized interface that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used iTunes.
Together provides an excellent merger of form and function. Its tagging is not as good as EagleFiler’s, but its tag-browser-on-steroids provides a kind of power that casual taggers who aren’t totally comfortable with giving up folders will find intuitive and useful. Its interface shares many similarities with Yojimbo in a really good way (particularly the quick import “shelf” that hangs out at the side of the screen) and is all around just a little more inviting than either EagleFiler or Yojimbo. Additionally, Together allows you to move, copy, or simply link to your files, which means that you can, presumably, use it as a searching and browsing front-end to your current file system without modifying your folder hierarchy. Like EagleFiler, Together also easily supports multiple libraries if you want or need to separate your files.
Although EagleFiler, Yojimbo, or Together is probably what you’re looking for if you’re looking for a file library, there are also a couple other pieces of quality software to consider. They aren’t quite file libraries in the traditional sense, but they aren’t quite file system tagging, either. The culprits: Nifty Box and Leap.
Nifty Box (€24.95) provides a tagging and searching interface for your files, but doesn’t collect or manage them in any way. Instead, adding a file to Nifty Box creates a link to that file. Additionally, tagging files in Nifty Box causes the tags to be added to the file’s Spotlight comments, allowing you to find your files via Spotlight as well as using Nifty Box’s quicker and more efficient tag database. Nifty Box doesn’t have any particularly standout features, but it is a solid possibility if you want something a little more involved than TagBot or Punkea but a little less managed than typical file libraries.
Leap (currently $34, bundled with Yep), currently in public beta, is another pseudo-file library but with slightly more ambitious aims than Nifty Box. Leap ties directly into Spotlight, thus requiring no “importing”. Tags applied in Leap are not attached to files in the Finder (although the developers plan to export tags to Spotlight comments), so if you want to tag or browse via tags you have to it from within the program. On the other hand, Leap has a complex tag browser similar to Togethers, allowing both folders and tags to be browsed as if they were tags. This makes migrating from a complex folder structure to Leap’s tags that much easier, and allows you to find a fair amount of usefulness from Leap without ever having to tag a file.
Leap is advertised as a Finder replacement, and although I don’t think it’s adequate to really replace the Finder, it’s an intriguing way to access your files, and may be a great solution if you don’t want them managed, but still want the lightning fast searching and tag browsing of a file library.
When I was your age, tags was called folders!
Although it pains me to admit it, there are a plethora of options for collecting files and other data that don’t involve tags at all.
DevonThink ($39.95 personal; $79.95 pro; $149.95 pro office) is a favorite for people who like real ultimate power (no, not that kind) when it comes to handling their files. DevonThink’s complexity and price point have always scared me off, but if you’re looking for something with a little more umph than the file libraries above, this may be the one.
Whatever you end up using, by choosing a tag-based file library to manage your documents, files, emails, and whatever else, you’ll be providing yourself with a searching and browsing experience that Spotlight, Leopard improvements notwithstanding, still can’t match. If you’ve ever wondered if there’s an easier way to store files than your documents folder, you have only to download a good file library to see the difference it can make.
Found the perfect tag-based file library and shocked that I didn’t include it in the list? Give me a shout and let me know the error of my ways! I always love hearing from readers, and any excuse to try a new piece of software is good thing.