Nested Tags in Mac OS Finder

From DEVONthink 3.8 Documentation, p.16 NESTED TAGS. Quote:

“Sometimes referred to as “hierarchical tags”, nested tags are a series of related ordinary tags, combined under a parent tag. When you add a child tag, the item automatically inherits the parent tags … A special mechanism in DEVONthink allows you to create nested tags automatically: enter the tags separated by a forward slash. For example, type a tag of software/ productivity to create a parent tag of software with a child tag of productivity.”

This works very well. My question, perhaps strangely, is how to do something like this (if at all possible) inside Mac OS Finder for files not in DT database. I have a lot of materials in DT, but plenty I just prefer to keep conventionally. But I haven’t found a way to apply hierarchical or nested tags in Finder. I’m guessing it’s not possible in the absence of some third-party software initiative?

Apologies that this question takes us beyond DT. I wish DT’s tagging power was reflected in what Finder can do.

Thx, Daryl

As far as I know it’s not possible, the tags of the Finder are just an unorganized, flat list. Or do you want to add tags in the Finder which are only nested ones in DEVONthink?

Thx for your response.

Yes, that flat tag list in Finder is very limiting. I have heaps of ‘ordinary’ tags and realise (rather too late) that I can’t consolidate them within a nested, hierarchical structure. Outside of Finder, it’s possible to get a tag cloud view of OS tags via Ammonite or Yep. But that’s an aerial view of a flat structure. How is it that Apple has not understood that tags are RELATIONAL? They need to co-exist in family settings - parent and child.

I’m currently going through my Devonthink databases and consolidating my tags into a nested structure (finally starting to feel organised!) but frustrated that this can’t be replicated on Mac OS. Perhaps I need to put everything into Devonthink? I’m only half-joking. I started out using DT for academic research, but perhaps I need to integrate it into everything I do?

Appreciate your response.

Cheers, Daryl

You could use indexed items and apply tags only in DEVONthink. The tags would be at least visible in the Finder but a flat list. However, a high number of different tags (e.g. several thousands) in the Finder isn’t recommended, this can slow down the system (especially open/save dialogs in every app).

Actually, this is just one philosophical viewpoint, not axiomatic. Many people believe tags should never be nested. Perhaps Apple just espouses that view.

That’s a great recommendation! I just experimented in DT. The surprising - and brilliant - thing for me is that I was even able to tag items that are “online only” in Dropbox. So, I can see a thumbnail preview in DT and, should I want to see the full doc, just click on it. I really appreciate your guidance!

The argument in favour of flat tags is weak. Collating data is not a flat exercise. It involves categorisations that are hierarchical and relational. As in classic scientific taxonomies. Even qualitative research involves coding with hierarchical nodes, such as NVivo. Yet inside the Apple file platform there is a flat tagging environment. It’s out of step with the way in which information needs to be configured for complex purposes. Outdated.

What Apple should be doing - and what DT has already done - is to provide users with options. If people prefer flat tags, they can follow that pathway. But there needs to be an opportunity to go further than that. Thus, I firmly appreciate what DT has done by way of providing users with tag options. Bravo.

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My process is to reflect hierarchy in the tag name
For example; Budget, Budget-Housing, Budget-HousingUtilities

You might like to read this post by Brett Terpstra, a long-time proponent of tagging:

There are lots of posts on his site regarding tagging. I find it is always worth checking what Brett is writing about – even if I can’t understand some of the geekery.

There is now a free third-party solution to Mac Finder’s limitation with respect to nested tags. It is simple, elegant, and functional. Tagception - A nesting tag viewer for macOS


Interesting find. Thanks for passing it along :wink: