Naming Digital Files, or, The Need for Metadata

David Sparks has a book out called _Paperless_. At some point I would like to buy it, if only to see how he used _iBooks Author_ to his advantage. In the mean time, I read an [excerpt][] that was published in Macworld last month, entitled “How I Name Files on My Mac.” He starts much the same way that I do, with the date, entered as `YYYY-MM-DD`. I sometimes use dashes and sometimes do not, but he makes a good case for using dashes and spaces for the sake of readability:

> After the date, I place a space followed by a hyphen followed by another space. You could skip this and simply use a space, but I prefer the extra space for readability. Next, I try to describe the document. For example, 2012-05-15 – property insurance declarations page or 2012-05 water bill.

> For correspondence, I put the name of the sender and recipient after the date separated by an arrow (->), followed by re- (for regarding) and a brief explanation. So, for example, a letter from Brett Terpstra to me on May 16 about a new iPhone gets named 2012-05-16 – terpstra->sparks re-iphone 7.pdf.

> You can add more. If you are in the service business for example, you could add the client name after the date: The February 7 service agreement for a company named Area 51, Ltd. would be named 2012-02-07 – area51 – service agreement.pdf. You could code documents as proposals, offers, contracts, marketing, or any other sort of document you routinely bump into. This serves, in essence, as a rudimentary tagging system in addition to a naming convention.

It reminds me of a dialogue that I often have with my colleague Leslie Schilling, who is digitizing a large number of image files. She keeps wanting to pack a lot of information into the name, and so she wants to discuss naming schemes. I always demur, noting that she should just use some unique file identifier and then let a database handle all the work of associating metadata with the data. In both this instance and that of Sparks, and my, naming conventions, the file names are acting as a kind of metadata. Next time I see Leslie, I am going to have to admit that, deep down, I agree with her. I like having the file names to be descriptive, in effect to contain metadata.