iTunes, Address Book, etc.: Need ‘Find/Replace’ feature!

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Macintosh
August 12th, 2004 • 6:03 am

With Mac OS X, we have an increasing number of database-like applications when a lot of data entry is required. Some of it can be automated, but there’s still a lot of typing involved, and a lot of work cleaning up text, etc. after it’s been entered.

That is why I am finding it more and more problematic that several of these database-like applications do not have a “Find/Replace” type of tool that would let the user further automate some of these data entry and data editing tasks.

iTunes is probably the most obvious examples. It’s very easy to build up a database of several thousands of songs from all kinds of sources: CDs, downloads, etc. Downloads often come with their own tags, and CD titles can be retrieved from the CDDB — but every one knows that there are many errors in the CDDB, and the music file information tag conventions are not strict enough to prevent a lot of inconsistency across music files — when these tags are filled out at all, that is.

As well, as you start building up a database of songs, you also develop your own convention for song titles, artist names, etc. For example, when a song title starts with an article (The, A, etc.), do you type in its place (as in “The Chocolate Invasion“) or after the title (as in “Chocolate Invasion, The“), knowing that the latter is the only way to ensure proper alphabetical sorting?

That means that you might have to go back through data that you entered earlier on and fix it so that it matches your newly developed conventions. But going back through hundreds of tags manually is just too painful. And, having used FileMaker Pro for similar tasks in the past, I know very well that it’s possible to automate a number of things through powerful Find/Replace operations.

Of course, powerful Find/Replace operations can be hard to implement in a user-friendly interface. But we have examples around us that show that it’s possible. One of those examples is the A Better Finder Rename utility. It’s powerful, yet simple enough that renaming thousands of files is just a matter of a few clicks.

It would be great if such a concept could be extended to specialized databases like iTunes or Address Book. The new “Spotlight” feature in Mac OS X 10.4 will make it easier to find stuff — but what about replacing information tags?

It wouldn’t be just for power users. It would be for anyone using tools such as iTunes and Address Book who feels the need to clean up his/her data.

I realize that, if we had a file system that was entirely database-driven, that would be easier to achieve. But we don’t. I don’t know how much closer to that ideal Mac OS X 10.4 will be. But I hope that it will provide further opportunities for third-party developers.

On the other hand, the Address Book data has been accessible to third-parties for a while now, and I have yet to see a third-party tool that does not just access the data, but also lets me edit it (while maintaining full compatibility with Address Book the application, of course). Is there such a thing out there? Isn’t there a market for such a thing? I, for one, would be an enthusiastic customer!

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