Hierarchical Organization of Tags

If you have a large library with hundreds of tags, the alphabetical list of tags becomes a bit unwieldy. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to organize tags the way one organizes folders, ie, in collapsible hierarchies?

Let's say your research involves a comparison of Africa and Asia. So you create the tags "Africa" and "Asia", and then within those you create subtags for various African and Asian countries. Then, you could create further more specific subtags within those country-specific subtags. It starts to look a little like a traditional hierarchical folder system, but the big difference is that you can assign any number of tags to a given item (that, in my view, is the glory of tags). When you want to just focus on Asia, you collapse the parent tag "Africa" so that all of its subtags disappear.

Ideally, there would also be an option such that once an item is tagged "India", it automatically gets the parent tag "Asia" as well. That way, an artical about India would appear whether you click on the "Asia" tag or the "India" tag.

(Of course, users wanting a traditional list of tags would be able to go on using them without problem -- subtags would simply be an additional option.)

In general, there has been a shift over the last several years from folder-based organization to tag-based organization. Now some developers are moving toward hierarchical tagging as the best of both worlds -- a couple examples are Aperture and Things for Mac. (To be clear, hierarchical tagging would not take the place of Zotero's "collections"; rather, tagging and collections would continue to co-exist.)

(I posted a related comment here:)

  • Perhaps a more relevant example of what I'm talking about is the implementation in Evernote. The latest version of Evernote includes hierarchical organization of tags. (It does not appear to include the feature off automatically assigning parent tags to subtags, but it makes up for this by displaying within the tag list the number of items associated with each tag. This helps avoid overlooking anything.)

  • edited September 8, 2008
    I really like the Delicious Firefox plug-in, which has a kind of auto-hierarchy function. So, an item has two tags: let's say "foo" and "bar." Those tags can be accessed as a flat list, but they can also be accessed as folders, where "foo" contains "bar" entries, and vice versa.
  • I had not realized when I posted that items can belong to multiple collections. As such, the collections system offers exactly the sort of functionality I was requesting: for those of us that want hierarchically organized tags, we can use collections instead of tags (or both). The only problem is that there's no easy way (that I can find) to see which collections a given item belongs to. Any thoughts?
  • You can hold down Option on a Mac or Ctrl on a PC to highlight the collections that contain the selected item(s).
  • Fantastic! Thanks very much.
  • Dear,

    Yes, items can belong to multiple collections, but just a small clarification: collections can't be exported.

    Being parts of notices, tags do.

  • collections are exported both via Zotero RDF and via the API.
  • And via sync?

  • yes, though given the current sync structure I wouldn't call that "export". Sync will switch to the API in version 4.1, so for future purposes those two are synonymous.
  • Also, of course, even if we had hierarchical tags, there would be no way to export those in any standard format, since none of those supports hierarchical tags (maybe MODS does? But Zotero is afaik the only major bib manager who imports that anyway).
  • Ok. Great and elegant!

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