Ben Summers presents
Spotlight, the way you've always wanted it!

What is Metadata?

Metadata is "data about data". Think of it as the information that you'd write on the label of a paper document. If you're writing a document in a word processor, information such as the author, the length of time spent working on it, the number of words and the date it was completed doesn't actually appear on the printed page, but is stored with the document.

It's often quite useful to be able to search on this data. Being able to search on number of words, for example, allows you to find long documents, which is not something you can do by searching the content alone.

Spotlight and SpotMeta

Spotlight is more than just a simple text search of file names and content. It carefully analyses the information it indexes and stores many separate items of metadata, called keys, such as the author of the document or the subject of an email message. If you use the advanced interface (Command-F in the Finder) instead of the Spotlight icon in the menu bar, you can search on any key independently, as well as searching the text of files.

Unfortunately, Spotlight only indexes keys it knows about. For each kind of file, an "importer" must be installed to extract the metadata keys from the file and give them to SpotMeta. For example, the importer for an image will extract the size of the image, while the importer for a Word document will extract the document title and author.

This means the keys Spotlight indexes for each type of file are defined by the software that deals with that file type. You can't add your own.

On the other hand, the Tiger file system allows you to attach whatever metadata you like to a file, without disturbing the file's contents. Yet Spotlight ignores all this, and there is no easy-to-use way of modifying the "extended attributes".

SpotMeta adds the missing features. An easy to use extension to the Finder lets you store your own metadata keys in the extended attributes of any file type you want, while a special extension to the importer system merges your custom metadata with that provided by the existing importer for the file type.

Why would you want to?

The computer may be able to extract the title of a Word document automatically with the importer, but with SpotMeta custom metadata keys, you can tell the computer things about the document it can't extract automatically - which project the document is part of, when the document needs to be finished, and the list of people you need to show it to when it's complete.

For example, you could create a "due date" key, and use SpotMeta to mark when a file must be finished. You can then create a Smart Folder in the Finder to show you all files due this week.

Adding your own metadata, and creating Smart Folders, allows you to organize your files in the way which makes the most sense for your working style.

Using SpotMeta

There are three parts to SpotMeta.

SpotMeta application.
This is the application you install and run. After it has installed the rest of the SpotMeta system, it allows you to set up your library of metadata keys.

Here is where you define that the "due date" key is a date. You can add simple text fields, predefined choices, checkbox flags, dates and numbers. What you call them and how you use them is up to you.

SpotMeta Agent
This runs all the time you're using the computer. It works with other applications to display allow you to edit the metadata on your files.

You can edit metadata from the control-click menu in the Finder, or using the Ctrl-Alt-Command-M keyboard shortcut from the Finder or a document you have open in an application. You see all your metadata keys in the pop up window which appears. When you close this window, the metadata is stored.

SpotMeta Bridging Importer
This works in the background to bring your metadata into the Spotlight index. It appears as a standard mdimporter, but adds extra code to Spotlight to read the extra metadata.




How SpotMeta helps you organise your files

Using SpotMeta

Information for Advanced Users


Contact the author

Project status


SpotMeta is an Open Source project, licensed under the GPL.

See note about development status on the contact page.