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As some of you may have noticed, we've got some truly awful tags littering the parent site. I'm not talking about the little one-off tags where somebody pastes their question title into the tag box, either; these are tags that have been used a lot. For example:

  • and could apply to more than 50% of questions on the site, which makes them practically useless. We might as well just tag them [cooking].

  • and were good tags in theory, but the terminology is too vague and ambiguous for them to be used consistently. [ingredients] was originally supposed to be about choosing ingredients (checking for ripeness, bruises, etc.) and [preparation] - was meant to be about the preparation phase of a recipe (chopping, rolling, stuffing, what have you). Take a look at the questions in those tags and see how many of them are actually about those things.

Now I'd like to be clear - this isn't a knock against the people who've used those tags. In fact, one of the most important things I've learned about tagging here is that mis-tagged questions usually aren't the fault of their authors. If you put confusing terminology out there, people are going to get confused.

The problem is, as much as some of us would like to, we can't just go on a big retagging spree because it'll bump a hundred old questions and push everything new off the front page. Somebody even asked about that yesterday. Even we moderators can only rename entire tags without bumping; we can't remove them, and we can't do anything selectively.

So here's what I'm thinking: If there's a tag we don't want people to use anymore, we (moderators) could rename that tag to [please-remove-this-tag], and add a tag wiki for it which says that yes, we really do want people to remove the tag, but only from a few questions at a time, don't go crazy with it.

We'd only do this with high-use tags that have no value, like [technique] and [cooking-techniques]. For less clear-cut tags like [ingredients], we'd first have to hand-sort the ones that are more accurately classified as [ingredient-selection], and only afterward perform such a rename on the leftovers.

I know it looks and sounds a little on the silly side, but I think it would work. Most of those tags only exist on old questions (since we remove them from new ones), so the rate of bumping would be pretty low; retags would only happen when somebody happens to stumble on one of them. But in the meantime, the original tag is gone and newbies won't get lulled into using it.

I felt that this was the type of thing I should take up with the meta community first before acting. So, does anyone have any objections? Caveats? Comments? Questions?

I welcome any input as to alternatives, but - fair warning - don't intend to give much weight to any comments or answers saying "don't remove them, we like these tags", since there's been ample discussion about it on various fora and almost all of us agree that they need to go.

Oh, and if people agree, then suggestions for what to put in the tag wiki are also welcome.

  • 1
    While it's a lot more work (for one person), what if a mod took a snapshot of the first two pages of questions, removed the offending tags (bumping those to the front page), and then did a ghost edit of the original first page or two, bumping those back to the top (you could even maintain the order). That way, you'd get rid of all the old stuff without putting it all on the front page (at least for long). Just an idea. – yossarian Jan 18 '11 at 19:21
  • Although, your proposal would work with a larger number of tags better than mine (i.e. on SOFU vs Cooking). – yossarian Jan 18 '11 at 19:24
  • Also, I have no idea what the tag wiki is. Will other people? – yossarian Jan 18 '11 at 19:24
  • Interesting idea, @yossarian, but I'm not too crazy about it personally. First of all, editing has consequences that retagging doesn't (such as gradually pushing the question toward Community Wiki status). Second, this would change the last activity and obscure all the information about who actually contributed last and when. Third, if there are any new questions posted during this process, they're liable to get lost in the shuffle very quickly. I don't think it's as effective a strategy as having everybody work together on the issue, bit by bit. – Aaronut Jan 18 '11 at 19:26
  • @yossarian: Hover your mouse over the [discussion] tag on this question. That's the tag wiki excerpt. The wikis used to be useless but now with the bubble they're pretty highly-visible. – Aaronut Jan 18 '11 at 19:27
  • Interesting. I hadn't seen those before. – yossarian Jan 18 '11 at 19:57
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Well, I've already spoken with you elsewhere on my support for this endeavor. I'll toss in my hand to try and assist.

Here's a suggestion for how to populate the tag wiki, based primarily on your post here but also a bit on the discussions we had before. I figure, at the point one sees this tag the problem tag is no longer present, so there's no immediate need to call out what tags are being replaced in the tag wiki.

I'm leaving this as Community Wiki in case people like it but want to make a couple minor fixes.

Excerpt

This tag is a marker of a question which formerly had high risk problem tags. Please remove this tag if doing so wouldn't interfere with the site's daily question activity.

Alternatively, if it feels unclear as to what "daily question activity" means and no one can come up with something clearer, you could just supply a more explicit direction to the full wiki.

This tag is a marker of a question which formerly had high risk problem tags. Please review the full wiki entry for instructions on the removal of this tag.

Body

I considered simply quoting your analysis of statistics, but I then decided that the it would be better to focus on the instructions for removal, not the reasons for the given rates.

is used to help in the cleanup of high risk problem tags.

High risk problem tags need to be removed as early as possible to avoid further propagation, but sometimes there are far too many instances to retag in one sitting without completely overwhelming all other daily site activity. These problem tags can be silently merged by a moderator into this tag, in order to group them for future cleanup while preventing the continued usage of the problem tags.

For the extended clean up of this tag, please remove this tag if doing so would not interfere with the site's daily flow of questions, by considering the following basic guidelines.

  • Try to avoid removing too many of these per day - on an average day of site activity, no more than 10.
  • Be mindful of other users also removing these tags on a given day, and of reduced site activity. Adjust the number of removals you make accordingly.
  • If a question is already on the front page with this tag, then it is often safe to remove without worry.

For more information on this cleanup effort, please read the post Discouraging the proliferation of bad tags: Proposal.
For a deeper analysis into site activity and proper retagging habits, feel free to read this answer to "When should I retag a question?".

  • Finally decided to make a play for Quorum, did you? – Aaronut Jan 18 '11 at 17:47
  • @Aaronut Gotta do it at some point or another. Best to do it with something I know best... which apparently is not spelling. – Grace Note Jan 18 '11 at 17:50
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An alternative would be to request (on MSO?) that the StackOverflow engine be changed so that retags do not bump up the post, or so that admins have the option to mass-delete a tag without bumping up the associated posts. I think that would be a reasonable feature. Has this been asked already?

  • It's been asked frequently. The former is always denied, and there even is some explanation here on Seasoned Advice. The latter is one of the more popular requests among moderators, but it is not top priority. While the site still should push for that, removing the high risk problem tags is probably a greater priority right now. Plus, such a system can be used to clean up the [please-remove-this-tag] leftovers. – Grace Note Jan 18 '11 at 17:36
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    Actually, several bad tags that we have today (though not necessarily the ones mentioned in the question) originated with a single instance of somebody retagging about 100 questions (badly) during the beta. We reverted several of those; were it not for the bumping, it could have been much worse. So non-bumping retags are not an option, unless they're available to moderators only, but that still doesn't scale too well. I'd love to see mass tag removal and many of us keep asking for it; I'm sure it will happen one of these days but I'm not holding my breath. Best to solve the immediate problem. – Aaronut Jan 18 '11 at 17:43
  • In general, retagging should bump. Especially on high volume sites, if a question is mistagged the "right people" simply will not see it. If someone community-minded comes across it and fixes the tags, it should now get a turn in front of "the right people". – Kate Gregory Jul 13 '11 at 15:22
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Just to throw it out there, if the only legit use for the [ingredient] tag is as [ingredient-selection], I'd set up a tag synonym. If someone uses the wrong tag, it'll either fix the problem, or possibly tip them off that their question might be out of scope.

It's also a fire-and-forget mod solution - the only ones that work long-term, IMO. ;)

  • Yes, I think this would be the thing to do after cleaning up the tag. I've done a bunch of synonyms/merges already (cf. the redundant [baking-techniques]) - the rub with tags like [ingredients] is that even though there's probably only one legitimate use for it, that is not necessarily the predominant use today, so I can't do a mass rename and I don't think the system allows us to make one tag a synonym of a less-frequently-used tag. – Aaronut Feb 2 '11 at 3:23
  • My brain could be playing tricks, but I think on SF we did end up making the lesser-used tag the predominant of the synonym pair. It's possible that this call is easier to make with IT, and things may be more subjective with cooking, but I think the system allowed it. Now I need to go check. ;) – Kara Marfia Feb 2 '11 at 15:12
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Because some tags require hand-sorting before merging/removing, I'm starting to add the following wiki information to "problem tags" that aren't ready for mass merge but which we don't want people to continue using:

Excerpt:

Legacy tag which will soon be purged. Please do not use it.

Wiki:

This tag has been identified as a [problem tag][1] for the following reasons and will eventually be eliminated or merged into :

  1. Its literal meaning does not refer to a legitimate area of specialization.
  2. Its scope is unclear and could potentially include most of the questions on this site.
  3. It has a demonstrated historical pattern of arbitrary and inconsistent application.

Tags with these characteristics are not useful because they fail to perform the essential tag functions:

  1. Identify the intended audience for a specific class of questions;
  2. Provide a reliable way to watch an area of personal interest/importance;
  3. Act as a signpost for new members unsure of how to properly tag questions.

Please do not add this tag to any new or existing questions. If you see a question on the front page with this tag, please retag.

I have no idea how effective it will be, but it has to be better than nothing.

Feel free to suggested improvements to this language. It's on the tag wiki right now.

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