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Apparently I inadvertently irked a moderator by creating a tag. The moderator told me that my tag was "meta" and therefore not appropriate. Having been a SO user for a long time (and a lurker on MetaSO), it was not clear to me what makes my tag "meta" and why meta tags would be inappropriate.

Many of the questions I see on SO aren't really about the topics in the title or the existing tag list. For example, "C++ SetWindowText not working", isn't really about C++ or SetWindowText (or the Windows API as tagged). It's simply somebody who had a bug, couldn't find it, and tried to outsource the debugging. This seems to be a common category of question on SO. So I started tagged questions like this with the label "findmybug".

Lots of frequent SO contributors regularly answer questions in this category rather than voting to close them as "Too Localized". I took that as a cue that I should also try to answer rather than voting to close. But leaving these questions open and tagged with "c++" and "winapi" even though the question isn't really about C++ or the Windows API seemed misleading. Someone searching for answers on using SetWindowText from C++ probably isn't making exactly the same mistake and won't find that entry useful. (In the end, the sample question was closed as "Too Localized", but this doesn't seem common for these types of questions.)

The Tags page says:

A tag is a keyword or label that categorizes your question with other, similar questions. Using the right tags makes it easier for others to find and answer your question.

It seems to me that the "findmybug" tag does group these similar questions together. So from that perspective, it seems to fit. Lots of users seem to enjoy answering these types of questions, so it makes sense they'd want a way to find them.

If you want to suggest that all the questions I would tag as "findmybug" should be closed as "Too Localized", that's fine. But I'm trying to ask the more general question: What makes a tag meta, and are meta tags inappropriate?

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You mean the 'fixmybug' and 'findmybug' tags? Yeah, don't do that. Please. They're basically indicators of questions that should generally be closed and/or deleted and therefore add no value. Cast a downvote, a close vote, or flag for moderator intention instead. –  casperOne Jan 2 '13 at 20:47
@JollyOldSaintNicholas: Fine, I will vote to close them from now on. But there seems to be quite a large subcommunity of users with high-rep who routinely answer these questions. I took that as a cue that it was not appropriate to close them as "Too Localized." –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 21:00
To be frank, there are many high rep users that put their reputation way above the health of the site and answer questions that shouldn't be answered instead of voting to close. We'd prefer the user that votes to keep the site clean over answering a bad question any day. That said, the site rules are usually set because of very long meta discussions that occur all the time with many members of the community. They're not just handed down from on high by a select few. Don't feel uncomfortable with casting a vote to close or a moderator flag because you see a high rep user behind it. –  casperOne Jan 2 '13 at 21:04
@Jolly: to be a bit charitable here ('tis the season, etc), you might also assume that some folks are here to help others and don't particularly care whether or not their answers are useful to anyone else beyond the person asking the question. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 2 '13 at 23:23
Btw, it wasn't really irksome behavior, just someone had noticed you did it a lot and I was trying to get you to stop, for many if the reasons outlined here. If I was irked, I would have done something much more stupid than leaving you a comment strongly suggesting you should stop =) –  casperOne Jan 3 '13 at 2:02
The first bit of feedback I got about the problem was rather abruptly worded and included a threat of "further moderator action." That gave the distinct impression that the moderator was irked. There doesn't appear to be a feedback mechanism to tell someone that the tag they created was deleted by a moderator, so there's no way for them to know that they should continue to tag questions with it. I believe I tagged about half-dozen questions over a period of a few weeks before this was brought to my attention. –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 3 '13 at 17:12
@casperOne: "They're basically indicators of questions that should generally be closed and/or deleted and therefore add no value." That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. With the revamp of the closing rules, these types of questions are explicitly blessed, and the site gives specific guidelines for how to ask them. "Too localized" as a reason for closing these was taken away. So why can't we have some mechanism for categorizing them? –  Adrian McCarthy Nov 21 '13 at 19:29
@AdrianMcCarthy The removal of "too localized" is not an explicit blessing of those types of questions, it just means we close with a custom off topic reason. I've literally closed a question as off topic with a reason of "this question is too localized." –  casperOne Nov 22 '13 at 13:16
@casperOne: It's not just the removal of "too localized". The site now gives explicit guidelines on how to ask these types of questions: "Questions concerning problems with code you've written must describe the specific problem — and include valid code to reproduce it...." –  Adrian McCarthy Nov 23 '13 at 15:39
@AdrianMcCarthy But that doesn't mean too localized goes out the window. The person can describe the problem and how to reproduce it. If it's an off-by-one error or using the wrong variable, these are still the definition of too localized. –  casperOne Nov 23 '13 at 16:06

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

From The Death of Meta Tags

The reason meta-tags are a problem is that they do not describe the content of the question. They describe some other aspect of the question, like the author’s skill level, or the author’s motivation for asking it, or generally what “kind” of question it is (poll, how-to, etc.).

How can you tell you’re using a meta-tag? It’s easier than you might think.

  1. If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question, it’s probably a meta-tag.

  2. If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it’s probably a meta-tag.

(read the article for more)

There's another, rather more serious issue with your tag though. It's a pejorative tag. No one's going to use this tag to find questions that they want to answer, or questions that contain answers to their questions. They'll use it to find questions to close or abuse in some way. If you want a question to answer, you use tags that describe the subject, so that you can find a subject that matches your own.

This is how subjective ended up being used, and other tags like it.

See also: How do I correctly tag my questions?

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Thanks for the links. Now I think I have a sense of what a meta tag is, but I don't see why "findmybug" would be considered a meta tag. –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 20:48
Does [findmybug], by itself, tell you anything about the subject of the question? It may describe the author's motivation for asking it, but beyond that it's not very descriptive. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 2 '13 at 20:53
"Does [findmybug], by itself, tell you anything about the subject of the question?" Absolutely it does. Typically the title and the original tags give no hint that this is a debugging problem, and they misleadingly suggest that the question is about calling some API from some language. The only way to figure out that these questions are not about a specific technology is to read the entire question. The tag provides a way to find these types of questions (for those who often answer them) and a way for people looking for actual questions on the tagged topics to filter them out. –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 21:07
Exactly - that's meta-information, hence the term "meta tag". Debugging isn't the subject of the question, it's an expectation for what would be needed from answerers. Similar tags are/were [homework], [poll], [gtky] and [code-golf]. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 2 '13 at 21:15
Debugging is the subject these questions (though the person posing the question doesn't always realize that). The question I referenced above is not about C++ or Windows API. Should those tags be removed? –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 21:27
I now understand what makes "homework", "poll", and "subjective" meta tags, but those seem very different than what I proposed with "findmybug". –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 21:31
It's not about debugging, although that's what's needed. It's about a bit of code that doesn't work because of namespacing issues. Proper tags might be something like "[c++] [winapi] [domwtfs-code]" - of course, that's silly, but it does kinda illustrate why that particular question is Too Localized. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 2 '13 at 21:31
Proper tags might include "c++" because the solution has to do with the scoping rules of that language, but the tag list certainly should not include "winapi"--the fact that the user was trying to use SetWindowText is incidental. It is about debugging: most of the comments and answers on these questions are instructive about ways to debug the problem. Anyway, obviously I'm an idiot since this concept of meta is very fuzzy to me but crystal clear to everyone else. –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 23:12
@Adrian: it can be a somewhat subtle distinction; even [c++] is a meta tag some of the time! Generally, you shouldn't get too hung up on it, but if the tag is potentially problematic in other ways then it offers a useful tool for identifying why. Which is why I mentioned the pejorative aspect: this isn't a tag anyone would use on their own question, because it throws them into a sort of ghetto on the site. This is often (though not always) a problem with meta tags, which is why it can be helpful to identify them, but regardless it's important to avoid tags for "bad" questions. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 2 '13 at 23:22
The perjorative aspect isn't obvious to me either. There are clearly people in the community who do seek out these types of questions to answer them (even if their motivation is simply reputation). –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 4 '13 at 19:25
@Adrian: there are certainly people who answer them; do you actively seek them out (that is, do you express a preference for these over other types of questions?) –  Shogging through the snow Jan 4 '13 at 19:38
Sometimes, I do. I look for ways to help someone when I have a few minutes. Other times, I'd like a way to specifically filter these types of questions out. –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 7 '13 at 17:23
@Adrian: that sort of ghettoing is not a good use for tags - you're effectively saying, "if you have this tag on your question, people will ignore you". Inapplicable tags should be removed; bad questions should be removed or fixed. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 7 '13 at 21:07
I'm not sure why you refer to this as "ghettoing" -- that has a pejorative connotation that I don't believe fits. I'm not saying "if you have this tag ... people will ignore you." Some people will ignore you sometimes (as with any tag), and others will sometimes seek out these questions (as with any tag). I seek out c++ tags and ignore java tags; would you say people are ghettoing questions by tagging them as java? –  Adrian McCarthy Mar 1 '13 at 16:47
@Adrian: that's intentional - the biggest problem with some of these tags is that they are pejorative. Tagging a question about Java java isn't a knock against it; tagging a question [findmybug] / [plzsendtehcodez] usually is. The argument that "some folks like answering these" doesn't hold much water if the folks using the tag are doing so explicitly to hide the questions. –  Shogging through the snow Mar 2 '13 at 19:50

The principle test of a tag is that it should be able to stand on its own. In regards to "findmybug", a question tagged this alone...

  • ...isn't worth a question in its own right on SO (may be more subjective to CodeReview.SE, if it's really exemplary)
  • ...would mislead and misguide users looking to ask questions, thinking that questions of that form alone are okay
  • ...wouldn't overall benefit the site, at least from my perspective.

You can also read up on what a meta tag is more formally defined as over here.

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Thanks for the link. I'd never seen that blog post. But, having read it, it's not clear to me that "findmybug" would be a meta tag. It does accurately describe the content of these questions (far better than all the other tags on them). I've been told that these questions do not belong on Code Review, because Code Review expects only working code. –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 20:46

Tags that don't really add anything to the questions and are going to be overly applicable to many different, unrelated questions are meta tags.

A tag needs to be able to stand on its own - if it needs to be accompanied by other tags, it is meta.

is an example of such a tag.

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"an example of such a tag" - An example of a good tag, or a bad one? –  AakashM Jan 3 '13 at 9:06
@AakashM - I'd think from context you'd understand it is a bad tag. –  Oded Jan 3 '13 at 10:06

Meta questions are those which the majority, or at least a substantial part, of questions on the entire site would be considered in that category.

This is somewhat easier to see on other sites. Science Fiction and Fantasy, for instance, forbids sci-fi or fantasy as tags. The whole site is about those topics. Some major sub-genres have been allowed.

As for Stack Overflow, the majority of questions are finding some sort of a bug, or trying to figure out how to do something. Not every question is like that, but most are. Thus, I would agree with banning this tag.

There has been a blog post on this, see this post.

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I intended "findmybug" as something much more specific. And, from the feedback I'm getting, most of the questions I would have tagged with "findmybug" don't actually belong on SO at all, so I don't think it's fair to say that it's too general and describes most of the questions on SO. –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 20:51

It seems from your question that you understand well what a Meta tag is.

I certainly think they are appropriate and needed, but there is no consensus on that.

Personally, I think instead of you should just use .

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No, I really don't understand what makes "findmybug" a meta tag. I've I've given the impression that I do, then I've failed to communicate effectively. –  Adrian McCarthy Jan 2 '13 at 20:41
It seemed like you gave a great example of a meta tag. It's a tag that categorizes the type of question, instead of categorizing the specific content. –  Lance Roberts Jan 2 '13 at 20:56

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