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I'm doing some background research on the utility (or lack thereof) of stactic "sections" in Q&A sites, and more specifically, on Stack Overflow.

What I mean by that are sections like a "Python section", or a "MySQL section", where you need to put all your MySQL questions. Is there any information about testing or data that Stack Exchange used to decide that they shouldn't use this type of taxonomy?

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Heya Massimo -- we figured out what you were asking! Thanks for editing and making your post clearer! :) – Aarthi Oct 15 '12 at 21:18
This makes more sense! But these sections exist in the form of tags, don't they? – Pëkka Oct 15 '12 at 21:19
@Pekka Yup! I believe the OP is asking why we use tags and not subforums, like traditional sites do. – Aarthi Oct 15 '12 at 21:19
Are you talking about something like facebook.SO? It just doesn't work. – user7116 Oct 15 '12 at 21:20
@six but is that the concept's fault? Hardly. See the discussion below. – Pëkka Oct 15 '12 at 21:33
@Pekka: at this point the concept is less useful than simply {tagname} – user7116 Oct 15 '12 at 21:48
up vote 7 down vote accepted

If I understand what you're getting at, you mean something like a sub-forum. They did a private beta as well as internal tests before the site launched for UI issues, and presumably tagging vs. sub-fora came up then, or during design. Of course, 4 years of activity is its own test, demonstrating on the concept works reasonably well.

However, I don't recall anything other than that initial user testing, like in the form of studies or anything like that. Joel Spolsky put it best as to why they used it in his launch blog post:

We have tags. Every question is tagged so, for example, if you’re a Ruby guru, you can ignore everything but Ruby and just treat Stack Overflow as a great Ruby Q&A site. A single question can have multiple tags, so you don’t have to figure out which single category it fits

That aside, Stack Exchange does have a form of static categorization with tags. For example, if you go to , you'll get:

And of course, there's the Facebook Stack Overflow example, which is even closer to the idea of "static thematic sections", but turned out to be somewhat of a failure. The difference is that the categorization isn't determined from the top-down, but by the users themselves in, as Jeff Atwood put it, a "folksonomy".

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"Facebook Stack Overflow." Currently a source of many off-topic FB support questions. – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 15 '12 at 21:24
@Null but that's arguably not as much the concept's fault than it is the audience's. – Pëkka Oct 15 '12 at 21:27
@pek - not all blame can be placed on the users. Facebook's (lack of) support is also at play. At one stage Facebook was even misleading people. – Lix Oct 15 '12 at 21:32

A big thing about Stack Overflow is that it's Language Agnostic and, due to the tag system, there's no limit to the amount of topics.

The "sub-forum" concept breaks apart quickly as you add more sub-fora than you can count on one hand (let alone two), and also creates massive divides that tags don't, which harms the "language agnostic" sense of it all.

Tags just make a lot more sense here, and "sections" just plain wouldn't work; SO would have as many sections (or more) than the Stack Exchange Network has sites (and SE has a lot of sites).

Tags are also easily editable in a way that "topic" isn't. You can be in multiple tags and change tags easily, being in multiple topics and changing topics (and this locations of the question) gets...weird, really fast.

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+1 I abhor the concept of classifying items with a single category (folders, subforums, etc.). It's one of the reasons why I switched from Yahoo Mail to Gmail many moons ago. The 1GB vs 6MB at the time helped too. – NullUserException อ_อ Oct 15 '12 at 22:22

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