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Is the tag system broken? Can it be fixed? Can it be removed? Should it be removed?

In two of the questions I answered recently, I noticed the concurrence of two things I'll categorize thusly:

  1. The tag chosen by the OP was incorrect (I would say objectively incorrect in these cases)

  2. Someone with much more rep than I edited the question and did not change the tag

I'm not interested in investigating these occurrences individually, it just made me wonder if there might be some part of this I am not seeing. Is it simply not that important that questions be tagged correctly?

To be clear, I'm asking this as someone who does not use the tags for anything, ever. I don't subscribe to any, don't edit their descriptions, don't browse them, or anything else. I still feel compelled to correct them, even if that's the only thing I'd edit in a post. It seems that there are at least some who feel tags are important, but perhaps they and others have simply grown complacent since March 7, when this call to arms was posted by WendiKidd. Has anything changed since then?


Relatedly, according to this answer, I'm on the verge of being able to edit tags without editing the question. I think it's fairly likely that if there's no risk of sending a question into CW mode, I'll probably be doing more editing of tags (at least in clear-cut cases). Am I correctly understanding that privilege?

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    I made a sincere effort to enter into the spirit of Wendi's call; but since March I have become convinced that the whole tag system is irremediably broken and that editing tags is an exercise in futility. I now leave that to those who discern some use for the tags; I see none, and therefore have no sense of what I should be tagging for. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 8 '13 at 16:29
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    As an aside, I looked at some of your recent answers, and saw that two of the question came from users with rep < 100. One has been a member for 2 months, the other for just 2 days. If a user has less than 100 rep and has been around for no more than a month or so, I'd almost expect the questions to be tagged wrong. The tagging system is especially confusing for newcomers who are unfamiliar with the tags. I think you understand the privilege correctly, and thank you for taking the time to tidy things up. Users with insufficient rep can always flag a question and ask for it to be retagged. – J.R. Oct 8 '13 at 16:52
  • @J.R. I hold the same expectation. In addition to lack of familiarity with the tags, there is the increased likelihood that a user of ELL will not necessarily understand the nuances of the differences between them. Even as a native speaker I have trouble deciphering tag descriptions sometimes. Maybe our efforts would be better spent optimizing tag descriptions? Many tags don't even have one. – Tyler James Young Oct 8 '13 at 17:02
  • @snailboat I meant to refer to the unlocking of moderator tools at 2k rep. Is re-tagging no longer a part of those either? I guess it doesn't matter if re-tagging bumps it anyway. – Tyler James Young Oct 8 '13 at 17:07
  • @TylerJamesYoung Sorry, I was unclear because I talked about two different things without explaining what I meant. Even after you unlock the moderator tools at 2k, you'll still bump questions if you retag them. It'll still be a normal edit. – snailplane Oct 8 '13 at 17:08
  • I'd forgotten about that post! I think I'm sort of in the same boat as Stoney is; I really meant it at the time, and I went out and retagged a lot of questions. I don't think I was so much worried about wrong tags as wanting to make sure that question had more than one (if applicable) so they were easier to search for. Since then I think I've subconsciously noticed two things: 1) As Stoney mentioned, I pretty much never use tags to filter and 2) We've just got so many questions now that it seems a huge task (sort of like the close queue on SO!). As far as actually incorrect (cont'd) – WendiKidd Oct 8 '13 at 17:39
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    tags go, I'll admit that I really don't pay a ton of attention to tags anymore. Sometimes I notice them, and when I do I correct them. But in that case I'm usually just making a tag edit. When I'm editing a post to correct grammar/formatting/etc., I don't even notice the tags. So that's the why answer to your question; the tags just don't pop out at me when I'm editing a post for other reasons. But that isn't to say they shouldn't, so I'll put more thought into remembering to check tags as well when I edit in the future! – WendiKidd Oct 8 '13 at 17:41
  • I guess I would characterize my stance, insofar as I even have one, as "we should either endeavor make tags useful or get rid of them." – Tyler James Young Oct 8 '13 at 17:54
  • Day to day, I have little use for tags. Every once in a while, though, they come in handy, like when I'm searching for a question that I know exists, but I'm having trouble finding it. As the number of total questions inches up from the thousands into the tens of thousands, there may come a day when you find a tag useful. Moreover, even if only a small minority of users subscribe to tags, that's still useful to somebody. And who knows? Maybe some folks enjoy earning a tag badge every now and then. – J.R. Oct 8 '13 at 18:13
  • Are there things happening "under the hood" that make tags useful? I don't know exactly how related questions are determined, for example. – Tyler James Young Oct 8 '13 at 18:17
  • @TylerJamesYoung Yes, at least in theory, since one goal SE has is for most of the traffic on its sites to come from search engines. And out of the 1-5 tags on a question, the most popular is inserted into the page title, which is important for SEO purposes. (You can't choose which. The system does it.) So, each question should have one good tag, possibly more, but no bad tags. – snailplane Oct 8 '13 at 18:47
  • @snailboat: That's a great point, and one that I as a web producer really should have noticed on my own. It would seem, then, that anyone interested in supporting the growth of this site would have some interest in at least checking if one good tag applied to any question they view. – Tyler James Young Oct 8 '13 at 18:55
  • @snailboat But what constitutes a good tag? What tags drive traffic? – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 12 '13 at 18:38
  • @StoneyB I can only come up with vague guidelines: if a tag is inaccurate or irrelevant to the question, it's probably not a good tag; if it could be reasonably applied to most questions on the site, it's probably not a good tag. And once in a while, I retag based on those judgments. But as I said before, I don't think tags are really well-suited to the language sites on SE, so it's hard to come up with good guidelines. I think, though, we can at least make sure tags are tangentially related to the questions they describe so that people aren't led to irrelevant pages from Google searches. – snailplane Oct 14 '13 at 3:29
  • @StoneyB We can't directly tell what searches drive traffic anymore, because Google stopped sharing referrer information. But I think the goal should be to help people find relevant information, not just to drive traffic. And making sure tags are relevant helps that goal, at least in theory. – snailplane Oct 14 '13 at 3:31
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I don't think tags are really well-suited to the language sites on SE, but they do serve a few purposes.

  1. They help people find our questions on search engines. The single most popular tag on a question will be inserted into the page title, which helps people find it when they search for that term. For this reason, each question should have one good tag, possibly more, but no bad tags.
  2. Tags have tag wikis. When a user looks at the tags on a question, a brief explanation of the term pops up. And if someone's written one, then a longer description is available, as well. For example, I wrote a tag wiki for .
  3. Users can follow or ignore tags. For example, someone who's mostly interested in syntax might follow tags like or .

There's one last reason I think we should edit bad tags when we see them. If we put it off, we may never get around to retagging everything. But editing one tag here or there is only a little effort, and it helps! So if we want to have better tags, we should do it as we go, because that once-a-year cleanup project may never come.

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Yes, tags are useful. Ok, so maybe you don't ignore or subscribe to any tags, but others do.

Tags are useful to search questions. This is especially important on a site about the English language, because many important issues are related to stop words which are omitted from searches, or words that are too common for any practical search. You can't easily search for questions about words like the and *to, but and give you a fighting chance.

I edit a lot of posts overall on Stack Exchange, and still sometimes I forget to fix an obviously bad title or obviously bad tags. It happens. Titles and tags are important.

My #1 peeve with tags on ELL would be that is overused — it seems to be the default tag, presumably because it's the most popular. I've seen it used even on questions that are purely about usage. Being popular does not make a tag appropriate — it's all about the tag's meaning. The tag should rarely if ever come alone — is the question about , or about , or about an , etc.?

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