Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thing 9 : File naming, tagging, and other ways to find things

Winter from xkcd.com

Names matter. That's true when you're naming a cat (thank you, T.S. Eliot), a child, or a computer file. So, today's Thing is about naming files and other methods of being able to find them again later.

File names and how they matter: 

There are lots of ways to find things on your computer (or in your email or in whatever storage took you use). Today's technology makes it at lot easier to search entire files for particular words or phrases, but that doesn't mean you don't want good file names, too.

Why? Because searching can still have problems. If you have lots of files about the same topic, searching on that word may get you dozens or hundreds of files. You may misremember a particular phrase in a file, or word something differently, and miss something. Good file names and some organizational structures can help in both cases.

Also, good file names help when you come back to files after a period of time - you may not remember key phrases from a paper you wrote three years ago, but if you name your files consistently, you can find it again a lot more easily.

Some good things to consider:

Working on something with multiple versions? Consider putting a date at the beginning of the file name (Year-Month-Date will allow you to sort files by their date easily.) Otherwise, it's easy to end up with a string of files named things like Final.docx, ReallyFinal.docx, LastOne.docx, ReallyFinal2.docx (and so on.)

Consider a revision number: Another option is a project name for a file, and then a version number. So, something like English v. 2. (Obviously, you'll just edit a file in many cases, but sometimes you'll want to keep a draft copy and then open a new file.)

A particular note for submitting similar files to other people: If a hundred people apply for a job, and most of them name their resume file resume.pdf, or you're in a class with 20 people and submit files called paper.docx, it can be really confusing for the person on the other end when they have all these similarly named files floating around. Using something like your name or a form of it (for example yourname - assignment name can make it a lot easier for the person reading all those files.

If you have a lot of related files, think about a way to name that makes it easier to find the connection (a project word in the name, for example) or keep them all in the same folder. You may want date or other information in a consistent format too.

Other ways to find files:

Another way of sorting through files is what's called 'tagging'. Tagging is a kind of informal way to organize data (the fancy technical term for this is 'folksonomy') and it's used in all sorts of places - online bookmark tools, sites like LibraryThing or GoodReads, and sometimes also in file systems or note tools or other software.

The short version is that the best tagging method is one that you use and that makes sense to you. At the same time, there's a few considerations. You don't want lots of variation on the same term - you want to pick one term, for example.

The best advice is to try tagging some things, and see what works for you. But here's a few articles that give you some other ideas. Top 10 Tagging Best Practices is a good place to start (with some other interesting links), and an article from the American Bar Association has some tips if you're using tags somewhere other people can see. I review my tagging practices every six months or so, and I'm currently using a system that I use across several platforms that's making it easier for me to remember what tags I want to use.

Things to do:

1) Take an hour or so and take a look at your files. Clean up your Google Drive space or your computer files. Can you rename some? Create an archive of older files? Spring cleaning is a good habit.

2) Look at your habits for file names. Could you make them more consistent and helpful? Pay attention to how you search for files for a couple of weeks, and set up a method that works with that.

3) Do you use tools that support tagging? Experiment with other ways to organize and find your files.

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