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Upon seeing this question, I took a look at the [user] tag, and it currently has 1366 unanswered questions, and 4326 total questions. Seeing as that's quite a lot, I thought I'd help with the burnination (am I correct in thinking the burnination is done by users?). However, I can't really tell when the burnination should start or when it's "approved"? I found this question, but there are no answers.

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migrated from meta.stackoverflow.com Sep 10 at 23:58

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Just a passing observation: the community's threshold for burning what they consider bad tags is much lower than it should be. That's one of the reasons SE requires us to burn these tags one question at a time: to introduce some friction. –  Robert Harvey Aug 8 at 22:06
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As to the burnination of [user] one question at a time, I think your time could be better spent. I also think most of the upvotes on that question are tongue-in-cheek swipes at users of computer software (a thinly veiled nod towards PEBKAC). –  Robert Harvey Aug 8 at 22:08
    
@RobertHarvey I was under the impression that was how it was done...? –  CDspace Aug 8 at 22:09

1 Answer 1

up vote 55 down vote accepted

Before you start doing anything, put a little bit of thought into the request:

Does this tag even need to be burninated?

There are a lot of s posted to various meta sites that are... To put it gently... A complete and utter waste of everyone's time. Some folks will seemingly post a request for any tag they come across that isn't interesting to them personally - and then try to justify it with some hand-waving about a lack of experts.

Here are the criteria I try to use when deciding whether or not to completely eliminate a tag from the system:

  1. Does it describe the contents of the questions to which it is applied? and is it unambiguous?

    Tags which fail these tests - commonly referred to as "meta tags" - are effectively meaningless, and can be actively harmful. You may have to do some research here: I've seen folks call tags "meta" when they were perfectly relevant and unambiguous, simply because the name-caller had no idea what the tag meant. Don't forget to update the tag wiki if you find it lacking...

  2. Is the concept described even on-topic for the site?

    This is kinda self-explanatory; Stack Overflow doesn't need a tag, at least not until someone releases a hot new framework and names it "Kittens". All that a blatantly off-topic tag is gonna do is encourage blatantly off-topic questions, so removing it is good for everyone. Just be sure and do your homework: the last thing you want is to start removing tags only to be attacked by a bunch of angry kitten.js users.

  3. Does the tag add any meaningful information to the post?

    This covers a pretty big range of issues, from folks typing complete sentences into the tag entryfield causing useless tags to be applied, to folks just going overboard and applying once-reasonable tags to questions where it is only tangentially-relevant, to folks just finding two different terms for the same concept and using both of them. I'll usually start by looking at the "related tags" sidebar: there should be a few tags listed, but if any of them are synonyms then they should be merged; if that's not the case, then I'll start looking through questions to see how many of them are actually about the concept represented by the tag (which I should have a basic understanding of after step #1). If the tag is superfluous on the vast majority of questions where it is used, then it should go.

    Note that it's also worth checking the number of followers at this stage, mostly as a sanity-check: if a bunch of people are using a given tag to find questions they're interested in, then just maybe you missed something important when evaluating its value in context... Which brings me to:

  4. Does it mean the same thing in all common contexts? This is related to #1, but can be a bit harder to identify because such tags will have very well-defined meanings but can be interpreted differently when different tags are applied. For instance, a tree can be a data-structure or a visualization. You may have to look through quite a few questions to identify this situation, and again the related tags sidebar is your friend. Be aware though, this need only be a death sentence when one meaning is not far and away more common than all others - if a tag is used correctly most of the time, then just fix the instances where it isn't.

If you're thinking that these criteria are gonna be pretty tedious to evaluate on a tag with thousands of questions in it, then you're absolutely right - which is why I'm pretty skeptical toward a lot of these requests on those rare occasions I take time to do it. If you're thinking that it's not worth the effort for tags that generally don't seem to be causing any problems, then you're sharper than half the folks throwing up these requests. If it looks like pointless busywork, it probably is pointless busywork...

But sometimes, it's not. Sometimes, tags get in the way, add confusion, start fights, take the place of better tags...

If you think this is the case, then raise the matter for discussion on meta. Share your research, as outlined above, making your case for burnination. Use the tags , - and include the tag name in the title. DO NOT try for a two-fer - one tag per discussion.

If, after discussion, there is widespread agreement that a tag really does need to be burned, then...

Start by cleaning up the edges

Bad tags are often harbingers of bad questions. So if you're about to remove a bad tag, start by removing the bad questions it collected: find closed questions and delete them, find downvoted questions and close them (if they warrant it), find poorly-written questions and re-write them (if they deserve it). You get the idea.

When a tag is merely ambiguous, sometimes it makes more sense to just replace it with another tag, or one of a number of other tags. This can be a quick way of turning a bad tag into a good one, or at least accomplishing something other than raw destruction when removing it.

This cleanup is easily the hardest, most time-consuming part of the process. Document your progress here on meta, so that others can see what you're up to and get involved - many hands make light work! And again, if you don't think it's worth doing then just drop it and move on to something else.

Once you're done closing / deleting / editing and retagging, you can finally start...

Burninating

Now you're ready to actually remove the tag wholesale from a whole bunch of questions. Caveat: don't bother with this unless you have full editing rights. Seriously - it's just a waste of everyone's time, because at this stage all that's left is mindless retagging - and for every question you mindlessly retag, at least three other people with full editing rights will have to approve your edit. So if you haven't yet gotten full editing rights, consider your job done - go answer some questions & come back when you can edit without approval.

Now, even if you can edit without approval... You probably shouldn't bother if there are more than a few dozen questions. Even if you have a few other people involved, 50-100 is probably the most you should bother with unless you're down-right masochistic. For tags that involve large numbers of questions, just flag the burninate-request and leave a note for the mods that the cleanup is done. They'll pass this along to someone like me, I'll verify that you didn't lie about the sanity-checking and cleanup, click a button, and it'll be like the tag never existed...

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Your caveat about full editing rights is what's holding me off for now. So I went and answered a question. :) –  CDspace Aug 9 at 0:30
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It truly is an utter waste of time @CDspace, even with full editing rights. Answering questions is far more useful anyday. Do it only if it is justified and number of posts are less. –  Infinite Happiness Aug 9 at 4:31
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That's a very good answer — MSO does have a tendency to host burnination requests for just about any tag that isn't the name of a programming language (and even some that are). Your answer misses one step: discuss it on meta! Except in obvious cases (typo for an existing tag), all burninations should be discussed, and nobody should act until there is a consensus (not just one person saying it, but wait at least a week or so with no motivated opposition). –  Gilles Aug 9 at 9:31
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Regarding edits without full editing rights: so it's perfectly fine, if you're doing more than removing one tag but also fixing other tags, correcting spelling and formatting, improving the title, etc. –  Gilles Aug 9 at 9:33
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Correct on both counts, @gilles –  Shogging through the snow Aug 9 at 14:53
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github.com/ben-ng/kitten-js –  bjb568 Aug 9 at 16:48
    
Of course. There would be. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 9 at 16:50
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"...find closed questions and delete them..." and what if you can't VtD yet? –  Sam Aug 9 at 20:31
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Then earn that privilege, @Sam. –  Shogging through the snow Aug 11 at 2:15
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@Sam you can help those who have VtD by down voting the bad closed questions and poor answers, which may trigger a roomba deletion, or lower the number of delete votes needed. Poor answers showing up with an autoVLQ flag can also draw 20ks with more delete votes to clean up the crap. –  MichaelT Sep 11 at 6:51

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