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Just prior to Macworld this year, I wrote that my one wish was for Apple to release a version of iTunes that supports tags — a la Flicker and Technorati — as a way to categorize and sort music. As far as I’m concerned, “genre” just doesn’t cut it any more. Yesterday, Lifehacker took up the cause. The comments on their post provide several ideas for getting tag-like functionality out of the current version of iTunes, but I’m afraid they all fall pretty short of the ideal solution. Most of them have to do with adding tag words to the comments field in iTunes. The main problem with this is that it can be cumbersome to add tags on the fly. Scripts like Tune Tag make it easier, but even then, it can be difficult to remember which tags you’ve previously used, so that everything stays consistent. Ideally, there should be a pop-up or drop-down list of tags that you can quickly display as you’re listening to a track. Then, with a couple of keystrokes, you tag the song and get back whatever you were doing.

There is one suggestion in the comments that caught my eye:

Another thing to consider is to stop thinking about the star rating system as “good” to “best”. Just mentally pick your own category for each star (e.g., “one star” equals “yoga music” and “four stars” equals “driving music”).

If you have five heavily used tags, you might consider this as the primary method, and the grouping feature as secondary.

I’ve never really used the stars to rate my songs, so coming up with five broad categories to assign the stars to might make sense (ballads, NSFW, running, nighttime, etc.). Obviously, that’s much more limited than what I’d ultimately like to do with tags, but it does have the “quick and simple” factor that a successful tagging system needs.

Another comment pointed to a new tagging application (Mac only) called Quick Tag. It’s in very the early beta stages, and I haven’t had time to test it out yet, but the feature list is promising:

  • Tag songs in iTunes for easy organization and better smart playlists!
  • Launch Quick Tag with a user definable global hot key
  • Existing tags are auto-suggested when entering a songs tags
  • Existing tags can be read from iTunes for auto-suggestions
  • Tags are saved to either the grouping or comment field in iTunes
  • Configure how your tags are stored internally in iTunes
  • Support for existing internal tag formats
  • Optionally, starts playing a specified playlist in iTunes upon activation
  • Multi-word tags are supported
  • Displays information about the song you are currently tagging
  • Lightweight and easy to use

I’ll be playing around with Quick Tag over the next couple of days and report back.

In the meantime, if you’d like to see tags added to iTunes, take a moment to let Apple know. I suspect the Lifehacker link has been passed around the iTunes development team, but it never hurts to add more voices to the discussion.

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