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My voyage of discovery with hierarchical tagging. All comments/advice appreciated

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For some, this may be "TL;DR"   I hope I've organized this usefully for easier reading.

Desire:  I would like to resume using tags again in a "more better" way.

Maybe we can all learn if you will share your candid thoughts about my Personal Shackleton Tagging Expedition.

"Men wanted
for challenging journey.

Low, close, intimate contact, long hours of complete darkness.
Stamina critical. Safe return doubtful.
Honor and recognition in event of success."

Current Tag Status:  I abandoned organized tagging years ago. I am still hiding in my safe space after my failed voyage
Evernote Database:  Large collection of about 50,000 notes. Estimated 3,000 tags. (NOTE: Evernote allows up to 10,000 tags.)

Tagging Purpose:  To support research, writing, collating information. 
Vision:  Support my writing process by using Evernote to roughly approximate the Zettlekasten concept by which notes may be tagged and/or linked.
NOTE: I am not trying to recreate the full Zettlekasten system, merely copy some of its functionality using tagging and note linking.

I've not researched recent Discussion threads about tagging yet am generally aware of the various "schools of thought."

Brief history:  I originally started with individual tags.
                     They grew too numerous to assign quickly.
                      Figuring that hierarchical tags might help, I spent much time creating a tag hierarchy. 

I abandoned creating a tag hierarchy because of the cumulative effects of the following:

  1. I had to locate about 2,000 tags hierarchically and later edit and simplify them.
  2. I decided NOT to discard existing tags until all were relocated, else it might defeat the purpose by destroying potentially useful metadata. 
  3. I discovered that dragging tags was very slow
  4. I discovered that I continually need an overview of the entire hierarchy, but at that time the app wasn't conducive for toggling between fine details and the big picture and back.
  5. As the hierarchy grew, scrolling to reposition tags got even slower.
  6. I tried creating tag "metacategories" using punctuation marks at the start of some tag headings, but this had unexpected effects on alphabetical ranking and I could not figure out the alphabetization order for punctuation.
  7. I realized I couldn't rationalize and simplify the hierarchy, because I could not see the entire tag list on screen or in a print out.
  8. Unable to see the entire tag list, I concluded hierarchical tagging was unmanageable at least at this scale.
  9. I checked a few third party apps but concluded they were immature and of no use.
  10. I immediately knew that New Zealand evenote visual mapping company would be "a-goner" when they hired a documentation person whose material was useless.

Good old "Al Bell" --- Remember him?  Alexander Graham Bell.
He invented the telephone a while back.

At some point in the process, he apparently said,
"What hath God wrought?" Maybe that was Horace Greeley?


even comments which suggest I should have known beforehand that such a Voyage of Discovery would lead to disaster.


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  • Level 5*

Despite your lengthy description of the issue it isn't exactly clear what you want from a tagging system.  If you're clipping random full articles and want an easy way to collate all that relate to a specific subject,  I'd have thought that a series of searches on (for example) "moon landing" and "space" would quickly get you a lot of information without any tagging at all.  I tend to use tagging as an adjunct to searches.

Searching my system for 'space' gets me 1000+ hits (I'm a geek) - but many of those are sci-fi books rather than factual articles.  If I add some qualifiers like

  • -amazon
  • -spacex

...the hits drop to 800 or so,  and I can still see more sub-categories like 3d printing that would reduce the number further. 

Once I have the hits reduced to what seems like a usable minimum I'd then add a tag to all my hits so I don't have to use an unwieldy search string again (although I might also save the search...) and can get back to this list with one click.  A tag will show me where & when I did my research for a specific task - <Forum-20220620> forinstance.

There are many ways to use tags - Evernote has some help pages here: Tags Overview - and there are endless Youtube videos by various people on the topic.  The only tips to remember are:  keep your system simple so you can apply it consistently,  and don't change horses once you start without an overpoweringly good reason - for better or worse your system is your system,  and the more you use it,  the more helpful it can be.

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Any tagging sytem is a very personal choice based on the users workflow and use case. You've already had some good suggestions. 

I'll just add one other suggestion. Tags are great for metadata that is not really searchable in any other way. For example I classify notes on one particulat topic based on the type of content. Each is prefixed with a + so I can find all of them together if I need to. So for example +tutorial, +mynotes, +blogpost , +reference, +readinglist etc.

I have another set of tags based on their importance ($critical, $pinned etc) and another set based on action .toread, .learnthis etc

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