Tags - what are they good for?

I’m watched/skimmed most of the paperless field guide and I’m trying to figure why I would use tags?

I already have an ok(ish) folder system, with at the least the top 2-3 levels everywhere being tidy and well thought out. What I can’t figure out is what I would use tags for.

What do you use tags for that file folders and search don’t already do?

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I never used them frankly, it is so easy to find things with DEVONthink 3 and Houdah Spot, I use Trickster too. I don’t even use the tag like option in DEVONthink 3, I forget what they call it now. Really I found tags just complicate matters. When you couldn’t look inside a document with searches I suppose it made a lot of sense. It doesn’t for me now.


There’s certainly no obligation to use them. For me, the uses are:

  • Filing something in multiple locations without duplicating the file. E.g., if I have folders neatly organized by client, I can tag every SoW document as such and see all my scopes at once without giving up the per-client organization.
  • Adding additional search terms to a document. In DEVONThink, I quickly tag some items with what I think they’re about; this increases the chance they’ll show up in search later if they don’t have those terms or related terms in them.
  • The buildup of tags creates a source of emerging insights and new ideas when I occasionally review them. It can be delightful to notice a pattern in them. (This can also happen with folders and search results, of course.)

I don’t yet use DevonThink, I have questions around that tomorrow.

I was just trying to find the good in something I had previously ignored.

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Thanks - I appreciate the value filing things in multiple places. I just hadn’t thought until a second ago what I might use one for. In my cases Each client asks for different kinds of courses. I might tag those.

Do you automate your tagging?

I don’t automate those, but I do have opportunities. I automate several kinds of docs’ folder locations in DevonThink.

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:notes: TAGS! HUHHH! Good god ya’ll… what are they good for?? Absolutely nothin! Say it again! :notes:


Just kidding, I have Hazel tag files and move them into a folder hierarchy. The tags are mostly effective when I have something that should go in a medical folder but I also want it associated with one of my kids. For example anyway.

It’s a very good question. I was baffled myself.

I have four primary tags in my Sidebar menu to mark files or folders at the Finder level.

due - a marking outside of my array of project/task management apps on something that has a deadline

active - top few projects that are on my active to do list

post - mark files as they are being saved so that I can find them directly to post by email or on a Website

course - mark the location of folders that are active for my teaching duties

These four tags are dynamic, going on or off a file or folder as needed. They improve my ability to find specific classes of documentation in a direct manner.

I also have a tag called archive that I use to remind me that I can for example remove the documentation to an external hard drive and delete it.



For my personal use tags are very useful in DEVONThink. As referred to in other posts here I import from Day One my journal entries. Those are named individually in the format “Wednesday 25 August 2021.md”. I use a custom metadata date field to record the date of the entry so that I can sort entries in date order (because obvisouly sorting by name won’t do that). Entries are grouped by year.

That means I can find dates and years easily. However, use of tags enables me to find (or, better, group in smart folders) entries tagged with things like “holidays”, “significant” and “coronavirus” (<sigh> as to the latter). In other words, tags for me merely represent another level of organisation below individual records and groups.



Much like any proprietary system, I don’t use tags as part of my long term filing. What would happen if I switched to Windows or Linux?

Where I use them is related to Hazel.

  • OCRed – Incoming PDFs that are not OCRed get OCRed and then this tag is applied. This basically prevents a PDF from being OCRed repeatedly.
  • To Process – Incoming statements and invoices get tagged so I know I need to go over them by hand. They get sorted into many different folders, but I can surface them all with Spotlight.
  • Sticky – Anything on my Desktop that I want to remain there I tag as Sticky. Hazel moves anything that is more than a few days old and not Sticky to a “Clean Desktop” folder.
  • Important – actually Hazel does nothing with these. It’s my way of making a boldface file or folder name.
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Folders are a hard coded hierarchy that enforces an order of precedence among the attributes, but fail when there are multiple dimensions to consider. For example, if you have cat, dog and human medical bills to file over the years, do you do animal / person first then year month date, or year month date first then cat, dog, person? This is obviously a simple example, but more dimensions exist in real world data.
It’s not just that your method may not work for other people. Your method that seemed great in the past may not work for you in the future.
Tags allow you to file and more importantly access information via multiple dimensions simultaneously.


Excellent answer! Wish I could “heart” it twice.

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see Tags or folders? Depends on the file. | Academic workflows on a Mac - I think this model works fairly well.

Love it, I nearly used that for the headline when I started the thread.

Frankie has been on heavy listening rotation lately.

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Diane - I understand on that level. My struggle has been to imagine a use for them, I was hoping people would inspire by discussing their own use of tags. Several have already.

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Well here’s one back :slight_smile:

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This is hilarious. I guess in my native version of English, “what are they good for?” means “they’re rubbish aren’t they?” whereas the post was simply asking for use cases.

I tried using tags on my Mac and it hasn’t taken hold yet. The fact that they appeared initially as colors that you could rename didn’t inspire confidence. However I use tags at work in various apps that support tags. I discovered from experience that it’s helpful if the set of tags for some dimension of interest start with the same word, cover the space and partition the space.

Let’s say for example you are designing a robot with a head, body and limbs, and there’s an issues database that stores taggable records related to the robot. If you tag them “head”, “body” and “limbs” then the three tags are not next to each other in the tag cloud. It would be better for the tags to all start with something like “component_” so that they are adjacent in the tag cloud.

Covering the space: if the robot also has a dorsal fin and a tail, you want to have tags for those as well, even if there are no issues for those components yet, otherwise there’s a potential for issues related to robot components to not all be found in the same location in the tag cloud. Or, maybe you and your coworkers think the tail is a type of limb along with arms and legs, in which case its issues are tagged “component_limbs”

Partitioning the space: only one tag in a set of tags should apply to a given record. So if the dorsal fin extends over the head, issues with it should not be tagged with both “component_head” and “component_dorsal_fin”, because those will be double counted if you try to add up how many robot component issues there are altogether.

It’s also important to have a tag shepherd (or occasionally devote time to being your own tag shepherd) who identifies and merges synonymous tags, applies naming conventions and keeps the system tidy and reliable over time.

Outlook Categories are similar- I give meetings colored tags for each project.

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Oh joy! Now I can ask whether you have a favorite breed of tag shepherd? I favor border collie / beagle mixes if you should ask.

And no, I will not start tagging her with component_ears, component_nose, …