Tuesday Tip: Prepare for tagging

DEVONthink TaggingThe last big feature we need to add for DEVONthink 2.0 is the long-promised tagging. Of course we already receive many questions about how to prepare for tagging, how to enter tags so that they end up correctly when we activate the new feature in one of the forthcoming public betas. So here’s a hint:

In DEVONthink 2.0 groups and tags will be interchangable. So whatever group an item is located in, its group name will be assigned as a ‘tag’ to the item. Replicate an item into two or more groups and all of them will be assigned. BTW: This is just what happens in the Finder when you move a file into a folder — the folder is assigned to the file. Technically tags and folders have always been the same.

So if you want to prepare for tagging in DEVONthink 2.0 next to your already built group structure, create a top-level group e.g. named ‘Tags’. Add groups to it that represent the tags. Then move or replicate the documents into these groups.

24 Responses to “Tuesday Tip: Prepare for tagging”

  1. Simon says:

    Thanks for clarifying.I’m not sure though if there is a benefit of moving from a group structure to a tag structure… In other words, can one group files by topic and tag them by date, for instance, such that files in different groups have identical tags and still be represented only in the group structure?

  2. Eric says:

    @Simon: Yes, you will be able to exclude groups from being used as tags. And you can collect all tag-groups that you don’t want to see in your group structure in top-level group e.g. named ‘Tags’.

  3. Sergio says:

    I can’t believe what I’m reading. 2 years waiting for this.

    The worst nightmare with DEVONthink is its user interface, and one of the worst details is the RED color of the replicates. Red means danger. You mean that users that will rely heavily in tagging, must see all their documents colored in red?

    What you said also means that the only way to add tags is dragging and dropping records into groups? Are you planning some sort of autocomplete input for tagging (as every other software doing tagging in this era)?

    Finally, tagging means a way to create a non-hierarchical structure, a free structure of information. Why to rely on an already created hierarchy of groups? Tagging creates the structure, not the contrary, that’s the point of tagging versus normal grouping.

    I’m really disappointed, I’ve been waiting 2 years for “tagging” and you come with a solution of your own “mental model” that is more of the same (we are already informed by you years before that you thought that grouping and tagging are the same thing, so tags are not necessary).


  4. Eric says:

    @Sergio: The whole tag handling will be done in a new interface focused on it. The red color is not fixed yet and you will not need to use drag-and-drop for tagging. This is, when you read carefully, about *preparing* for our tagging approach — not the tagging approach *itself*.

  5. Paul says:

    Eric, I like it. Similar to what other designers do with tagging. I have been using the comments field for tagging. Additionally, some other programs put their tags into Spotlight comments with prefixes such as “@” or “&”, etc., and DT imports those comments. So, do you think you’ll have a script that will assist us in getting those (prefixed) comments into the tags field once you have implemented tagging? For me, this would also help the transition.

  6. Ryan Briggs says:

    I am actually kind of thinking that this approach might work quite well for me. I understand Sergio’s concerns, but if there is an interface that allows you to ignore the folder structure when you want to then this could be perfect.

  7. Todd says:


    Will you guys be using the openmeta format for tagging so items could be searched by tag outside devonthink or tagged outside devonthink with another program and still show up in devonthink?

  8. Eric says:

    @Paul: We might add these scripts.

    @Todd: Yes, we will support OpenMeta (with all flaws that this approach has!)

  9. Gordon says:

    I’m confused, too. The nice thing about tagging systems that I’m familiar with is that they’re flat, not hierarchical.

    Maybe I misunderstood, but the whole idea with Devonthink (at least for me) is to be able to put your information organized in ONE place but find it many ways. Replication (or any structure that multiplies information locations) seems like the wrong way to go.

  10. pListOff says:

    What do you mean “…OpenMeta (with all flaws that this approach has!)” ?

  11. Christophe says:

    I am also sharing a bit Sergio’s and Gordon’s concern about the way tagging will be implemented in DT and I do hope that Eric’s recommendations are just relevant to a preparation phase for those working with unstructured databases.
    Indeed, in my opinion, tagging is just the opposite of a frozen hierarchical structure and must give the chance to build dynamically an unlimited number of logical views of the database by supporting “many to many” relationships where the hierarchy is limited to “one to many” or “many to one” connections.
    In addition, I hope that this new feature will come with a large set of pre defined meta types (such as those implemented in Spotlight) and with the possibility to maintain free ones.

    Wow! Standard grouping + replication + duplication + AI correspondances + tagging (…+ Web data editing and syncing?), what a terrific set of features which should drive DT far ahead from the competitors.
    Looking forward to getting that soon.

    Note: I also consider the red and blue colored documents a bit intrusive when plentiful.

    Anyway, good luck!

  12. Ben says:

    I’m with you until the last paragraph:

    “… create a top-level group e.g. named ‘Tags’. Add groups to it that represent the tags. Then move or replicate the documents into these groups.”

    What? If I want my files (and folders) to be tagged correctly, I need to replicate them all to a new top-level group? Can a script not do this for me?

    And don’t I need to wait for the next release so that the tags will be applied to files when they’re added to my new top-level group? Are the tags added when files are dropped into a group?

    I take your point that Sergio thought it was more than just a setup routine, but I just don’t get this. Surely the upgrade procedure should update databases automatically.

    Also, I’m with the others on the colour scheme. I would rather have control over my files than be forced to see red for my replicants (Sergio is right that red means danger, and this should be changed), and blue bold for duplicates.

  13. Eric says:

    @Christophe: I understand your concerns and I agree that tagging and hierarchical groups serve different purposes — but they are mainly different models of visualization. And we want to make the best use of both models.

  14. Eric says:

    @pListOff: You use OpenMeta and you have assigned a tag to, say, 10.000 documents. Now you change the name of this tag. This changes meta data of 10.000 single files. Adding tags to single files is quick and easy, mass changes are heavy-duty because tags are not stored in a central location (like a group or folder name) but applied to every single file separately.

  15. pListOff says:

    Ahh… I see. But when the central location explodes (!) the individual Tags are still intact. (I know this is a philosophical difference – could I eaily manage a single database and have more of a risk of losing everything at once or have more discrete items to manage but be sheltered from a single catastrophe. Just saying…)

  16. For whatever it’s worth, I think the approach to tagging outlined above is brilliant and just what is needed. It will make adding items to multiple tag-like groups much more rapid than the current drag-and-drop approach–and of course using replicants for this makes perfect sense. I’m very excited for the release of this feature.

  17. JPQ says:

    Will we get a cloud sidebar? This would make drilling down to data extremely easy.

  18. Khalid says:

    Openmeta tags are great, I thought DT will opt for a propriety tagging sytem. However, will DT protect tags applied in cases when openmeta tags can be lost as in the case when retrieving lost documents from Time Machine ? This means that DT should have it independent date base of the tags proper location to rely on . EagleFiler does this and this is why I am wavering between the two, and surprised that DT will support openmeta .

  19. Khalid says:

    I like the new deadline for the “long promised” tagging feature : “one of the forthcoming public betas”!! I said 4 months ago I don’t want to wait another two months !! How about a target date ?

  20. pListOFF says:


    If you recover an unTagged file from Time Machine, why would the software assume Tags would still be applied?
    And if the file was OMTagged when it was backed up, the OMTags will still be on the file after retrieval.

  21. Olivier Spinnler says:

    I’m less technical than most of you seem to be. I’d like to express a concern with OpenMeta tags.
    I’m using DropBox to share files between computers. A whole 40 Gigs of files that I don’t have to synchronize manually / move with a mobile hard drive. Much easier and much more reliable! Among these files, about 10 Gigs of DEVONdatabases.
    Now, I’m sometimes using Leap to see through my folder hierarchy. Leap is using — even promoting — OpenMeta. But I’ve run into a terrible limitation: I’ve discovered the tags are NOT carried along with the files I’m sharing between computers through DropBox. I’ve got the impression that, despite what they say, OpenMeta tags are NOT stored with the files! They must be stored in a database outside the actual folders, somewhere in the ~/Library, like Spotlight’s.
    I most definitely hope DEVON tags will be remembered somewhere *inside* the DEVONbases so they get carried over from computer to computer when you synchronize bases!
    So far, I’ve had no problem with DEVONbases and DropBox, provided I remember to close them properly on one computer, before opening them on another one! 😉

    By the way: does someone have a workaround for the Leap/OpenMeta issue?

    Thanks very much in advance.

  22. Simon says:

    This has been the subject of a few lengthy threads on both the Ironic Software and the Dropbox forums. The short answer is that there is no workaround for this problem, yet. The glimmer of hope is twofold: the Dropbox guys are “working on it”; and (Eric, correct me if I’m wrong) DT maintains labels across synced databases in its current implementation, & the group==tag equivalence should anyway be conserved (which, btw, will be very useful for using Leap inside DT’s databases, i.e. for searching by group as well as by file type/date). There might be problems with user-defined Tags though…

  23. Khalid says:

    @pListOFF : TimeMachine only saves files that changed. Changes in Xtendedattributes are not considered a change in file so it is not backed . So you can loose your amended tags, because they were never stored by TM . OMT api makes a copy of those filies in Library -> Application Support -> OpenMeta ->backups . If DT doesn’t not make backup (like apparently Gravity apps doesn’t (I sent them an email) then restoring data can be easily lost, particularly those files that were tagged using another tagging application(which is legitimate and expected). In any case, a backup is apparently needed because of TM will not backup files that only have changed their tags !

  24. Jon Stovell says:


    OpenMeta does store the tags with the files themselves. To be precise, they are stored in the extended attributes of the file, as are attributes like Finder labels and the info that lets Mac OS X know that this file was downloaded from such-and-such a website. The problem is that DropBox strips off extended attributes, resource forks, etc., and instead only syncs the basic file data. This is why DropBox has had so many problems with package files, etc., up till now. They have implemented a few temporary fixes for the worst effects of this problem, but these only sort of work. “Someday” they plan to properly support extended attributes and resource forks, but until they do DropBox is not quite the perfect solution for Mac users that some people seem to think it is.