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Comparison of Tags versus Folders

We will be discussing which of these methods of organisation works best:

  • Folders (sometimes known as directories)
  • Tags (sometimes known as categories)

Tags versus Folders

Folders are places to store particular types of information. Some common examples are:

  • Documents
  • Photos (digital)
  • MP3 (or other music files)
  • Videos
  • Emails

Paper-Based Filing Cabinet

Let’s use the examples of photos to discuss the limitations of folders when organising information.

If you have a photo of a friend on holiday then you could have this in a folder called friends OR in a folder called holidays.

It should be apparent that traditional paper-based filing cabinets don’t allow this. Do you file your home insurance under home or under insurance? With tags you would mark such a piece of information as both home AND insurance. The advantage is that if you are looking for information on your home insurance you could look in either home or insurance and would find the information in both places. Note: It shouldn’t be thought that we have duplicated the information… it is just that it is marked with both tags. If we delete or modify the information then it would change in both places.

With the filing cabinet example we would have two choices with the home insurance example. We could either:

  1. Have one copy of the home insurance document and put it into the home file or the insurance file (not ideal as we don’t know which file it will be in when we come back months later)
  2. Have two copies and put one in the home file and one in the insurance file (not ideal because now we have duplicated the information)

So as you can see a digital filing system is superior when using tags as our information isn’t duplicated but we can still file it in more than one way (home and insurance).

Applications or Systems that Allow Tags

Here is a list of some applications or systems that allow the use of tags:

  • Outlook (web-based email – called categories not tags)
  • Gmail (called labels not tags)
  • Evernote
  • 1Password
  • OSX files(right click on a file and select Tags…)
  • Windows Photo Gallery
  • Microsoft Word (you can tag files in Word)

Twitter also uses tags, although they call them hashtags as they start with a hash symbol (#). A tweet can have multiple hashtags which enables people to find your tweet later on by searching for or clicking on a particular hashtag.