Data is stored in files and files are stored in directories. That's a great way for computers to store data, but not so great for humans, the end users of that data. Imagine you're writing some document on the computer. You must save it and that means giving it a filename. You must also tell the computer what directory to store the file in. This is difficult to do in a good way. If you do it right, you'll be able to find the document quickly in the future. For me this is quite difficult and that's why I often have to search for documents on my computer. That usually works Ok for text documents, but for pictures it's different. A directory structure that makes sense today, may not look so brilliant next year when lots of files have been added.
Here's a good problem illustration. I registered on a web site recently and I wanted to use the same picture as I used for another registration some months ago. So how to find it? I knew fairly well when it was taken, with what kind of camera (mobile phone), the situation and what vacation. But I couldn't remember the meaningless filename nor where I stored it. It took me several minutes to find out I didn't have it on my computer, but on picasaweb. Then it was a matter of looking at directory names, which I usually give a time name, say "2011 april vacation". I found it finally among tens of thumbnails in a vacation directory.
There has to be a better way, and that's what the article is about. Tags seem to be pointing towards a solution. As I said above in the example, I knew fairly well:
- when the picture was taken (time),
- with what kind of camera (device),
- the situation (on a plane),
- what vacation (place).
If the picture-file had been tagged with that data, and that data had been accessible to a search engine, the picture would have been much easier to find. (That it was stored outside my computer made it extra difficult.) But it would have had to be an intelligent search engine, which doesn't care about date formats, time formats, place formats and such. Tagging has its difficulties too. The camera I used would have to be pretty clever to know I was on a plane and where I was, and that I was on holiday.
The reason we often say that Information Technology is in its infancy, has a lot to do with the way we handle data. There is a better way and we're going to find it.