There's an approach to organising information that says that hierarchy is a tool of the devil, or at least is overrated. I've embraced this understanding for a data-driven site I'm working on which has a fixed set of admins who create and tag data and a slightly less fixed group of data consumers. It uses tagging and search to inform the data consumers when a piece of information is related to what they're reading or searching for (as opposed to expecting non-1337 admins to maintain an object-style hierarchy).

I now face the situation of needing some items of information to relate to "all" others in one respect. I cannot expect content creators to tag their "all" entries with every subject in the domain, and if they did the sheer weight of tags in that domain would drown out the information implied by the other tags on the entry. The options I can think of thus far (all unappealing) are:

  • Create an "all" checkbox, which can assign an arbitrarily higher score to an entry when considering relevance
  • Make different categories of tags, i.e. one tag field per clearly delineated group of subjects
  • Replace tagging with a more traditional hierarchy
  • Create magic "all" tags that get handled differently by my code (I can't believe I'm even thinking that out loud)

Are there any other approaches that could work? Is one of these a clear winner?

4 Answers 4


The answer would be to have an inheritance hierachy in your tags (i.e. not the information you are tagging but the tags *themselves*) such that if all of your items require a tag then you would use the parent tag. For example animal is abstract parent of dog, cat, fish, whale.

  • That would require my code to process the abstract parent tags differently from normal tags. I need to think about this some more. Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 15:17
  • Drupal can handle such tag hierarchies. Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 14:08

What about an "untagged" tag that you automatically add if the user doesn't define any tags?

  • 1
    Unfortunately they'll still have to put tags in about other aspects of the info, so there would never be a completely untagged entry. It would have to be "untagged-with-relation-to-X" tag, pretty similar to an "all-X" with special properties... Commented May 28, 2011 at 20:08

In your question you imply that the choice is to have either a hierarchy or tagging - yet your own suggestions and the nature of the problem suggest that the requirement may be for both a hierarchy and tagging?


Also look at Drupal and its taxonomy features, it includes parent abstract tags functionality and even managing multiple taxonomies and vocabularies. Other interesting features are synonym collapse where similar terms can be purged into one term, e.g. NY and New York.

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