Take this screen shot of the first page of tags on Stack Overflow:
Take, for example, the database tag there. The excerpt simply states:
[A database is] an organized collection of data.
Or even the linux tag, which states:
[Linux is] a Free (libre), Open Source, Unix-like operating system.
How exactly are these excerpts helpful? Anyone can think that up. It doesn't at all explain what that tag should be used for. The problem seems to expand through all tags. Excerpts have become a short summary of what the tag is, not what the tag is about. Oftentimes, excerpts are made to be just the first couple of sentences from the tag wiki itself.
According to the blog Improved Tagging:
- The excerpt is the elevator pitch for the tag. You only have ~500 plain text characters for the excerpt, so don’t feel obligated to cover everything in it! Save that for the 30,000+ character Markdown tag wiki. The excerpt should define the shared quality of questions containing this tag — boiled down to a few short sentences.
- Avoid generically defining the concept behind a tag, unless it is highly specialized. The “email” tag, for example, does not need to explain what email is. I think we can safely assume most internet users know what email is; there’s no value in a boilerplate explanation of email to anyone.
- Concentrate on what a tag means to your community. For “email” on Server Fault, mention the server aspects of email including POP3, SMTP, IMAP, and server software. For “email” on Super User, mention desktop email clients and explicitly exclude webmail, as that would be more appropriate for webapps.stackexchange.com.
- Provide basic guidance on when to use the tag. In other words, what kinds of questions should have this tag? Tags only exist as ways of organizing questions, so if we don’t provide proper guidance on which questions need this tag, they won’t get tagged at all, rendering the tag excerpt moot. Think of it as a sales pitch: in a room full of tags screaming “pick me!”, what would convince a question asker to select your tag?
- Some tags are common knowledge. Most tags require a bit of explanation in the excerpt, even if it’s only 3 or 4 words. But if the tag is common knowledge — that is, if you walked up to any random person on the street and said the tag word to them, and they would know what you were talking about — then don’t bother explaining the tag at all. Stick to usage of the tag within your community in the excerpt.
Most excerpts I've seen only describe what the tag is, but doesn't actually give any guidance on when to use it, or how it's relevant to the community. Considering the tiny amount of text that actually gets displayed with the tag when typing it, these should be the first pieces of information present to make sure that our users are tagging these appropriately. While this may not be as big an issue for the larger tags on the first page, it's a consistent problem with smaller tags still starting off.
Robert Cartaino also explains this in not-so-many-words in A Note on Tag Wiki Excerpts.
Can we please work together to improve all these tag wiki excerpts to actually be more useful to users? For example:
The current php wiki excerpt:
PHP is a widely-used, general-purpose server side scripting language that is especially suited for web development.
A better php wiki excerpt:
For questions about syntax, functions, and other constructs of PHP, a server-side scripting language especially suited for web development.
Most notably removing the opinions of "widely used" and unnecessary statement "general-purpose" from the excerpt allows for more characters that can be used for more important and relevant information in the excerpt.