The smartness of Smart Folders

by Chris Adamson

So after griping yesterday, I have to give some praise today, because I've found myself using a Tiger feature I never thought I'd use: smart folders.

Back up: two years, before I worked with O'Reilly, I dismissed the "smart playlists" feature in iTunes because it didn't seem useful. After all, your music is already pretty self-organizing - by genre, artist, and/or album - in the iTunes interface. Is anyone really creating these "soundtrack music from the 70's with 4-star or better rating" playlists?

Yet, when I was thinking about my editing workflow for ONJava and, an idea occurred to me.

Figure 1 shows my editing folder. Most of the folders are articles I'm working on (these folders contain the original article and a history of edits, but that's not important right now).


Figure 1. Chris' O'Reilly/editing folder

My scheme is to append [oj] or [jn] to the name to remind myself what site the article is for. I use label colors to indicate state: no color for a new (untouched) article, orange for one that's been edited and sent back to an author, yellow for a revised article needing my attention, and green for a finished article.

This allows me to see what I need to work on, but a smart folder makes it a lot nicer. Figure 2 shows a smart folder with the following rules:

  • Look in the path O'Reilly/editing

  • Look for folders that have "[oj" in their names

  • ...and have color==yellow or color==none


Figure 2. Smart folder showing ONJava articles to be edited

The result is a folder that always shows me what I need to work on for ONJava. And when I finish an article, changing its color label causes it to disappear from the smart folder.

I've only been using this for a day, but it seems like a neat trick and well worth continuing. Editor-in-chief Daniel Steinberg and I iChatted this afternoon about what other tricks we could get Tiger to perform, like whether we could create Automators to pull articles and their images out of e-mail and set up folders for us to work with.

Final thought: why do I like smart folders and hate smart playlists? Two factors I can think of: first, as mentioned above, iTunes is already pretty self-organizing, thanks to the tagging of MP3's and AAC's. But also, my iTunes collection is pretty static - I'm not gaining and losing content on a regular basis. By comparison, my editing folder is a constant hub of activity, with new articles coming in and finished ones going out. The smart folder is a good way to provide a consistent view of inconsistent data.

How are you using smart folders?


2005-05-05 15:21:24
For a similar effect, check out the Finder/Add Spotlight Comment to Finder Items in Automator. Type the comment into Spotlight, and Voilà! There's your items, and no messing around with the name.

A little looking around would probably reveal a few other ways of doing it, too.

2005-05-05 22:54:08
So why are folder labels still so butt-ugly?
That screen shot you have there highlights (pun intended) a visual component of OS X that has the appeal of a car smash!

What about a coloured anti-aliased shadow or a glow around labelled items? Come on Apple, make Finder labels look cool.


2005-05-09 12:47:19
Smart Playlist in iTunes
I'm surprised you can't find a use for them. I have several, but the "killer app" is my "Shuffle Me" Smart Playlist.

When I just want some background music, I like to shuffle my whole library and let it run. But there are certain files I don't want to be included unless I play them explicitly-- Christmas tunes, not-safe-for-work-or-the-kids lyrics, audio books, etc. I give all of those a rating of 1. My "Shuffle Me" list plays all of the songs that are either unrated or have a rating >= 2.

I've got others to combine genres, play things I haven't listened to yet, etc.

I've got plenty of plans for Smart Folders and Smart Mailboxes too. Hierarchies are great, but being able to cut across the hierarchies when you need to is better. I just wish Apple would give us full boolean search capability.

2006-03-05 10:45:15
Excellent, hopefully I will soon earn enough money to buy a mac too