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Tagging stuff in the Real World

Posted on 8/1/06 by Felix Geisendörfer

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So yesterday I finally decided that it was about time to clean up my desktop (the one my computer rests on) and the book shelfs + storage spaces behind me. So after about an hour and a half (yes it looked pretty messy before I started) I ended up with a good stack of loose papers, magazines, and some other stuff. The problem: A lot if this stuff was just very difficult to group. So normally I would have sorted out bills and account statments put those away in a seperate place and would have hidden the other stuff somewhere in a drawer. But it just didn't feel right because I knew it would take me forever to find this other stuff again when I would need it. So I tried something new.

My first idea was: Wouldn't it be easy to have all of that stuff in a database? I'd just give it an ID (an auto-incrementing number starting at 1) which I'd stick to it with a sticky note and then add a title, date and description for the item. So I could have all that stuff at one central place, sorted by the ID and easily to find by querying the database. Exicted about this new idea I started talking with a friend on ICQ (IM) about it. He thought it was a good idea but after a while it would get a pain to go through a stack of a thousand items looking for ID's and pulling them all out. And even more work to sort all of them back in after using them. So I came up with another idea another idea: How about another field in the database called "location"? This way I could have stuff like bills and account statments on seperate stacks, easy to find and easy to put back.

So the next logical step of course is having a second table called "tags" where I could tag all the items to order them in a meaningfull manner. So I created a table for it and a third table called tags_items which would contain the relations between those two tables. So beeing a lazy person who wants to start with the good stuff right away I used CakePHP's scaffolding functionality to create a quick interface for my database. The two Models I used looked like this:

// models/tags.php
class Tag extends AppModel
    var $name = 'Tag';
    var $hasAndBelongsToMany = array('Item' =>
                                    array('className' => 'Item',
                                          'joinTable' => 'tags_items',
                                          'foreignKey' => 'tag_id',
                                          'associationForeignKey' => 'item_id',
                                          'uniq' => true));    

// models/item.php
class Item extends AppModel
    var $name = 'Item';
    var $hasAndBelongsToMany = array('Tag' =>
                                    array('className' => 'Tag',
                                          'joinTable' => 'tags_items',
                                          'foreignKey' => 'item_id',
                                          'associationForeignKey' => 'tag_id',
                                          'uniq' => true));     

After beeing done with that it took me about an hour to create all items & tags for the stuff I had and to put sticky notes on them, but for the first time I felt like I've created a way of organizing my non-digital stuff in a meaningful manner. So the next couple of days I will write a little CakePHP application that will ease the mangement and search for items. I hope it will work out ; )

So what are you thinking, does this sound like a piece of overdone crab or do you think it could work? How do you go about organizing things 'non-digital'?



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Daniel Hofstetter said on Jan 08, 2006:

Your idea sounds interesting. But why do you use sticky notes on your items?

Felix Geisendörfer said on Jan 08, 2006:

I don't use it on all items. Mostly on single sheets of papers that I group to big stacks, so I can find them faster.

Le6o  said on Mar 14, 2006:

I wrote an application to do something very similar for my 3rd year project at university. I am planning on re-writing it using cake as i no longer have a working copy, plus i rushed it and although it was functional the code was pretty poor. If your interested in reading my project report i would be happy to forward it to you.

Sonic  said on May 04, 2006:

I think this is a great idea as I offten have the idea of trying to organise everything but can't seem to come up with suitable groupings for the multitude of random sheets I seem to have. It was bound to be done at some stage so I'm glad someones doing it now :-)

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