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By "primary tag" for a question I mean:

Currently, the primary tag is the tag with the highest question count as a byproduct of the fact tags are sorted by question count. While this works most of the time, it often doesn't and leads to all kinds of issues on some sites (cough).

My proposal is based on the assertion that the tag you write in first when asking a question is what occurrs naturally to you, the asker, as the one tag that best describes a question. It would then be natural to acknowledge this and use that one tag as primary, and sort the rest by popularity.

For example, if you're asking about how to use Python libraries from inside Haskell (silly example, I know), your primary tag would be Python by virtue of view count. Logically, however, the question is about Haskell extensibility, not Python. You could solve this by not tagging Python, but that'd be silly: the question is also about Python.

Doing this also opens the door for some interesting analysis for say, better detection of broken windows in a site. If anything was to happen to the tag you marked as primary, your question would probably need to be looked at!

If that tag vanished as a matter of policy change, it would probably mean your question has just became a broken window that needs closing and/or deleting with the optional polite message. If it happened because the topic you're asking about is so obscure you only got one question for it in the last six months (it happens!), your question risks losing an essential tag without becoming : an hidden broken window.

So that's why I believe the primary tag for a question should not be the most popular tag, but the first (non-required) tag you write in first in the "tags" section.

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I think this could work if there is some clear visual feedback that shows that the tag order matters when posting a question. It probably would be very problematic to retroactively enable this, though. – Mad Scientist Jun 11 '12 at 9:58
@MadScientist For retroactivity we can just 'grandfather' the way things are right now and make the top tag the primary tag. Nothing really changes there but things can improve going forward. – badp Jun 11 '12 at 10:00
The three things it's used for, how important would you say they are? For me only the second is at all important, and even that isn't particularly so - how much traffic comes from those tweets? – AakashM Jun 11 '12 at 10:15
This seems like a reasonable proposal, but I don't know how it'd work out. I would really like to see some statistics as to what tag people type first. Unfortunately, these aren't available, at least publicly (SEDE doesn't show tags in the order they were entered, does it?). – Gilles Jun 11 '12 at 12:11
Not all the people write tags by hierarchy, at least personally I don't... I almost always tag javascript at the end, I have around two posts to prove this, where I completely forgot to tag with a language tag. I prefer to focus on choosing the correct tags first, I know this is not desirable and could lead to important errors, but it's how my brain works and I can't do anything about it – ajax333221 Jun 11 '12 at 19:47

One potential problem with your proposal is that newcomers who ask questions may not be familiar with what tags are available, which tags are most appropriate, or even with the concept of tagging questions altogether.

I can't speak for all forums, but, where I've been active, there are a few tags with overlapping contexts. Also, I believe it's normal for tags to evolve over time; sometimes one will get phased out in favor of an improved one.

All that said, I like the idea of having a way to designate a primary tag with human intervention. Perhaps this could be initially set by the O.P., but I'd hope there'd be a way for more experienced users to redesignate it.

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+1 for but I'd hope there'd be a way for more experienced users to redesignate it. – LessPop_MoreFizz Jun 11 '12 at 14:25
@LessPop_MoreFizz You'd simply take a tag from the middle and put it at the start of the Tag textbox. – badp Jun 11 '12 at 14:46

I have a few issues with this idea, the biggest being that a question may not have a single "primary" tag.

In addition, if the OP doesn't know the primary tag, it could have an incorrect or misleading primary tag for some time. Tag editing becomes more complicated/error-prone.

The current solution might not be ideal, but I'm not sure making it an ordered list would be feasible.

The other idea that comes to mind, allowing posters/editors/etc. the opportunity to "tick" which tags are "most relevant", would probably introduce too much overhead on the back end.

Edit Although ordering could be viewed as implicit ticking, I guess :/

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I think it's actually the most natural way of going around with tagging. "My question is about Python and strings!" "I want to mix Haskell and Python!" "I want to identify this movie!" etc. When's the last time you didn't know what you were asking about? :) – badp Jun 11 '12 at 11:42
@badp I almost always know what I'm asking about. For a beginner, however, which is a large percentage of SO traffic, it is far less clear, particularly on the initial asking. If it's a single-tag question, even a beginner may get it right... otherwise not so much. In addition, many people over-tag questions, including tags just because it's part of what they're using, even when it's completely unrelated. – Dave Newton Jun 11 '12 at 11:45
This proposal reduces the effect of overtagging by making sure the 'right' tag isn't drowned by another unrelated tag that's got more questions :) – badp Jun 11 '12 at 14:47

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