Hierarchical tags

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Hierarchical tags

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Jan 1, 2007, 3:18pm

If hiearchical tags were available one can do a better categorization. Such as fiction:contemporary. Alternatively partial match would be useful. So that for example I can just list all fiction or only contemporary ficiton. Idea similar to the way programs such as Quicken categorize entries. Of course, unlike in Quicken here we want to categorize books a zillion different way!

Jan 1, 2007, 4:14pm

I'd always thought that the whole idea of tags was that they aren't hierarchical. Nothing to stop you using them hierarchically though either with multiple tags 'fiction, contemporary'; 'fiction, historic' or with phrasal tags 'fiction contemporary', fiction historic'. In the second case the * wildcard will let you find all 'fiction . . .' tags with 'fiction*'.

Of course, if you were talking about getting other people to use your hierarchical tag schema then that's a whole other ball game.

Jan 1, 2007, 4:16pm

There is nothing to prevent you building your own hierarchical tagging system. Boekerij and Greyhead have outlined some powerful techniques. using things like tag order and wildcards the FAQ group is a good place to start. Just don't expect any system to become universal.

Jan 1, 2007, 4:35pm

What I am suggesting doesn't prevent you from using any number of tags with any book. But if you use say foo:bar, the system will count books with the foo:bar tag in the foo tag category as well as foo:bar category. As an example in a profile you'd see

Top tags foo(100), foo:bar(10), foo:boo(30), ...

So hierarchy only matters for counts and may be searching (but there you can already use wild cards). What you lose is use of one char that separates subtags (: in the above example).

I see this situation as analogous to flat vs. hierarchical file names. LT may not want to do this any number of reasons but I want to make sure I convey my idea clearly.

Jan 2, 2007, 9:53am

I don't care about having hierarchal tags (i.e., I probably wouldn't use them myself) but, as I've posted before, I would love a way to organize the tags on my tag page by categories of my own choosing, to make it easier for me to find the tags I want to use for a particular book. For example, I might have a heading for "international literature" and then list "French literature," "Russian literature," etc. under it, or a heading for "science" and then list "biology" (with its own subheadings), "geology," etc.

Jan 2, 2007, 7:42pm


If tags can be tagged, would you get what you want? Tagging tags is more flexible than hierarchical tags since now you can attach multiple tags to tags (instead of just one) and what's more, you can reorganize tags by renaming a meta tag.

Jan 2, 2007, 10:01pm

Are they really more flexible, though? If you can tag tags, you could have breadth but not depth, where if they were hierarchical you could have depth but not breadth.

It's a tradeoff that different users will value differently.

Jan 3, 2007, 11:04am

I think, if I understand what #6 and #7 are saying, that you are talking about something more complex than what I am thinking about.

I am not unhappy with the way tags work now; I'm interested in a simpler way to find the tags I want to use. The tag list now is hard to read and organized either alphabetically or by frequency, so I occasionally end up inadvertently creating alternate tags because I don't take the time to check my tag list. Of course, I can always go back and edit, but it would be very handy to be able to organize my tag page in a way that would work for me.

9nichtich First Message
Jan 4, 2007, 3:37am

Jan 4, 2007, 1:55pm

I would also like hierarchical tags to be available, since that is how I want to tag. For instance, instead of "philosophy, philosophy of science", I could say "philosophy:science". "philosophy, science" isn't the same, since I don't want this book to be counted as science. So "A:B:C" implies something like "A, A-B, A-B-C", etc. So maybe it's just a shorthand? Thanks for the paper!

Jan 4, 2007, 4:16pm

There's nothing to stop you using an 'A:B:C' tag structure and using the * wildcard to search it. There are some practical limits as the search field at present is only 30 characters long and search doesn't always like 'special' characters so you'd need to check that using a colon worked.

Jan 4, 2007, 5:57pm

I agree that being able to organize tags would be very useful. I appreciate that I can look at them alphabetically or by frequency, but that doesn't necessarily help me stay organized. My father recently joined LT and I got to talking to him about tags. The first thing he said was, "Wouldn't it be nice if you could organize your tags into categories? Then you wouldn't need to search so hard for the ones you're already using." Of course, he's never used tags before so it was interesting to see what a novice to the device was interested in.

Anyway, it got me to thinking. I'm not interested in heirarchy for tagging. I try to keep my tagging pretty clean and I use conventions I will remember. But it would be nice, say on the tags page, to pool the tags into categories. It wouldn't change the structure of tags, but instead would give me some flexibility for their use. I could make one category for genres, another for book awards, and a third for locations (where I keep them). Then when I go to my Tags page I can quickly find the tag I want and go to it. I definitely think this idea, which was given above, would give members a lot more flexibility and reliability with their tags.

Also, has there been any discussion on a drop down feature for tags? Sometimes I'd like to see what tags are available to me and a drop down menu would be very useful. I'm sure that would be difficult for some users with thousands of tags to use, but it might be a nice option you could turn on and off. Anyway, them's my two cents.

Edited: Jan 6, 2007, 4:59pm

#12: I believe tagging tags would give you what you want. For example, "Biology" and "Physics" tags can be tagged "Science". Now on the tags page you can view them as

Science (100)
-- Biology (54), Physics (21), ...

Seaching on Science will get you all Biology and Physics books as well as any other books that are tagged directly or indirectly as Science. And Biology tag in turn can be used to tag other tags if you want to differentiate subcategories of Biology. And of course, you can categorize tags mulitple ways. The system has to track how tags are related and provide some display options but can allow users to tag anything they want.

Jan 6, 2007, 5:13pm

bvs, I like it!

Jan 6, 2007, 6:51pm

SimonW11 has the right idea, from what I can see here.

To BVS & rebeccanyc:

Simply use a controlled vocabulary when deciding what tags to apply, and then make them hierarchical. A hierarchy can be built into a controlled vocabulary, even with tags.



There are broad categories as well as specific categories for this title. A few possible hierarchies are immediately apparent from the tags applied.

'leabharlann leictreonach' places items within a very broad category identifying all texts that I have in various electronic formats. It is a first tier tag in this hierarchy since most of my library is in electronic form. That makes the entire example idiosyncratic since e-texts appear to be the exception rather than the rule here at LT, but idiosyncratic organisation is part of tagging.

'academic journal' makes these entries part of a broad category within the first category, or it can be a first tier category in itself. Since 99% of my academic journal subscriptions are for the electronic forms of those journals, for this example 'academic journal' is a second tier tag in this hierarchy.

'non-fiction' and 'reference' are also in the second tier (logically they would be first tier, but not in this particular example), but allow for overlap in the categories of 'leabharlann leictreonach' --> 'non-fiction' and 'leabharlann leictreonach' --> 'reference' which may exclude academic journals in my collection.

'folkloristics' identifies the a shared scientific discipline in this example for all three second tier category specialisations, making it a third tier category, and the only one within this data set.

Finally, there are the tags that identify which specific subject areas are dealt with in each issue. 'folklore (proverbs)', 'folklore (Russian)', 'folklore (British)', and 'folklore (medicine)' are some examples. These are fourth tier categories.

All of the other tags are tangential from this hierarchy; they are useful, but outside of the main purpose of the tags identified here.

The beauty in tagging, at least for me, is that a nearly infinite number of these hierarchies can be implemented without much thought, and they can be tailored to individual use (like my own) rather than having to learn, say, the entire set of rules used by the Library of Congress when they make their monolithic hierarchies. It is just a matter of working with really broad tag categories at the beginning, then adding increasingly specialised tags as one's collection in LT develops shared traits.

For more information on controlled vocabularies, particularly within information science, the following are decent-to-good basic explanations along with some further reading. Remember to read Wikipedia articles with mild skepticism, due to the nature of wikis.


Jan 6, 2007, 7:27pm

Gee, but that seems very complicated..., whereas bvs' system seems so simple...

Jan 6, 2007, 7:46pm

Agreed. I simply wanted to illustrate how one could build hierarchies by just using tags, and add a few points about the advantages of doing this with tags rather than rigid subject hierarchy lists.

Jan 6, 2007, 8:25pm

I agree that the tagging system currently in place can be used in a hierarchical manner without much trouble. I guess what I see as being suggested on this thread is the ability to distinguish groups of tags on the tags page as opposed to having them in one large uncategorized block. I could very well tag every 'biology' and 'physics' books as 'science' and it would be easy to implement with the tools available. But that doesn't change the fact that you have to find each of those three tags in a huge block of other unrelated tags if that was your want. Instead of that implementation it would make more sense to give users the ability to categorize tags (ie tagging or grouping tags) into separate blocks on the 'tags' page. That would make a particular group of tags easier to find, especially if like some users you tend to use hundreds or thousands of tags. And personally, I kind of want this thread to move away from considering this implementation as a hierarchy, which goes against the philosophy for which tags were created, and move towards the idea of grouping large numbers of tags for easy access.

Jan 6, 2007, 8:59pm

It seems to me that hierarchical structures are the domain of he information scientist. They are designed to make it easy for people who are not nessecarily experts in a field to find or place works in a collection that they might not be familiar with. There are surely few such collections on here. People tend to know both the subjects covered by their libraries and what information they are likely want from it. why then bury and retreive the information when tagging will let you store it at eye level.
What do you gain from such herarchies as

that you dont get from taging with these indiividually.

Jan 7, 2007, 2:07am

Here's a better way to describe my post above. Instead of two groups that categorize alphabetically and by frequency the users should be able to make their own groups. Then instead of tags like this:

location1 (x), genre1 (x), type1(x), location2 (x), genre2 (x), type2 (x), etc ...

You'd get these user defined groups on your tag page:

Location Group:
location1 (x), location2 (x), etc...

Genre Group:
genre1 (x), genre2 (x), etc...

Type Group:
type1 (x), type2 (x), etc...

Also, to make this point clear, the Groups are NOT tags. They just help organize your tags into convenient groups. This can significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to find tags in your page and can reduce confusion that you can get with having only the alphabetical and frequency groups. What you get is another level of flexibility that the users can have to organize their library.

Edited: Jan 7, 2007, 10:43am

An_Fear_Glass #15, I understand and to some extent am using a hierarchical tagging system. I really shouldn't have made my original comment in this thread at all because it deals with a wishlist item related to the ease of finding tags, not the method of organizing them. Thanks, though.

What I would like is something like what natantus #20 says -- a way to organize my own tag page for ease of use.

Jan 8, 2007, 11:02pm

#15: your tags are impressive! You are right in that the current tag system can be used to achieve the same effect. But for me, with so many tags per book it is not easy to see if two books differ in one tag only or if some tag is misspelled. I would want to suppress some of the redundant details. A more specific tag can imply a particular hierarchy. Thus for example attaching just one tag "botany" to a book implies biology and science and this book will be found when searching for biology or science books. Another example (see #19): I'd just tag a book with "biochemistry" but it will be found on a search of chemistry or biology.

Note that tags are *not* predefined. You, the user, define your own tags and how they relate.

#20 talks about grouping on the tag page. If I understand it right, the idea seems to be that each group defines a set of a particular type of tags and that one is not likely to search on a group (such as give me *all* books with some genre tag) as the result is not particularly illuminating. I agree that such groups are different from tags. This is a perfectly useful thing to want, but that is not what I was asking for originally!

Jan 9, 2007, 12:18pm

I guess if you made the groups searchable (ie like tags) then it would fulfill your initial request. I certainly see the utility of what you're trying to get at. I guess I'm afraid this whole thread will get ignored as it smells too much like the heirarchy which LT is trying to avoid. And I desperately want at least some subset of the features we discussed.

Jan 25, 2007, 4:52am

#22: What bvs describes, where botany implies biology which implies science, is a hiearchical system.

Jan 25, 2007, 11:16am

natantus -
I agree I think some way to 'group' the tags in catagories would be great. The Hierarchy part I would use if available but I do just fine without it. Finding tags I have already used and trying to be consistant, can be difficult.

also designing WHAT the groups are should be user definable

An example :


Dragon Riders of Pern
Harry Potter


12th Century
14th Century
20th Century

Jan 25, 2007, 11:29am

I have posted about this before, so I'm not saying anything new here, but I love the idea of being able to organize my tag page by groups that I define -- that is, ones that are useful to me. This would make it easier for me to find the tags I want when I am tagging.

The reason I strongly believe groups -- indeed the whole tag page -- should be user-definable is because we each have different ideas of what groups and tags would be useful for our books, our ways of organizing books, and our views of what's important to us. Thus, although I'm thinking along the lines of readafew, above, my groups would be different.

Edited: Jan 25, 2007, 12:08pm

It's probably because I'm "a dinosaur" but it seems to me that demanding a service like LibraryThing be completely customizable to one's particular "categorizational" whims is unreasonable!

What is SO difficult about creating at text file (you know, that thing that Notepad opens) where you've put in lists of all the tags you typically use, organized in whatever way floats your boat, and cut-and-paste into L.T. as needed?

I have 3-4 such text files sitting on my Windows desktop, with everything from frequently used bits of HTML (you never know when you're going to want to talk about the   BEARS  ) to review notes of stuff I'm currently reading (or listening to).

Having a 6k .txt file running isn't going to cramp up anybody's computer, and it's every bit as handy as having it being maintained by L.T.!

Jan 25, 2007, 12:22pm

By the same token I also have my entire book collection in a program I wrote myself on my home computer. One reason of many I use LibraryThing is I don't NEED to be at MY computer to use it and look things up.

The point of a database is to collect data and make it useful to those using it.

Jan 25, 2007, 2:21pm

Well, as I said, I'm "a dinosaur", so am not conversant on these new-fangled ways of using one's computer without being AT one's computer.

Jan 25, 2007, 2:25pm

I think the emphasis was on MY computer. He wants to access his catalogue from any internet connection.

Jan 25, 2007, 2:27pm

Oh ... but that would require leaving one's apartment ... I've worked from home for so long that I forget that people GO places!

Jan 25, 2007, 2:50pm

HaHa!! Lucky bastard, I want to work from HOME! Save me an hour+ of driving everyday.

Jan 26, 2007, 12:00pm

I think it would make sense for LT to implement a way to group tags as it becomes a service to its members. It would help them save time when searching through tags. You can do almost anything with computers these days in ways to make the user experience even more satisfying. Adding groups for tags isn't that hard and I'd code it myself if I had the access. Also, tags were created in the spirit of giving users flexibility in their data storage. I see this feature as adding a level of flexibility which is seriously needed.

Also, who goes outside? Aren't there bears outside? (see Penny Arcade)

Jan 26, 2007, 12:51pm

Well, around here we do have   BEARS  , but any day now they'll be heading down to Miami!

Edited: Jan 26, 2007, 1:02pm

Outside? ;-)

Mar 10, 2007, 12:33pm

I'd just like to chime in (late) here and say that the tags system really should be hierarchical for those users who want it to be (can't we assign > a value, like the "subjects" areas?).

I'd like to be able to see horizontal levels at a glance; so I have a ton of Classics books; I'd like to be able to see at a glance my translations, which are currently split into Translations (Latin) and Translations (Greek). Because if I just tag them Translations, Latin then I get something else.

Mar 10, 2007, 1:32pm

Message 15: An_Fear_Glas -- Wow! I am rendered speechless by your tags. I wish I were half that organized.