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I am not sure the tag deserves to exist:

  • unlike [java] or [c#] or [ruby] it is a bit of a meta-tag, describing the tone of the question rather than the question itself.
  • it's possible to earn a gold or silver tag badge for [subjective] which feels entirely wrong
  • it counts toward the generalist badge which feels entirely wrong
  • it's in the top 40 tag list, which means it is used an awful lot -- perhaps too much
  • I can remove it from some of these calculations by adding code that looks like if != "subjective" but this feels horribly wrong

On the other hand:

  • I agree that it is nice to be able to filter out [subjective] results at times
  • there are questions asked which can legitimately be called [subjective]
  • maybe we should have a class of meta-tags which "don't count", although I can't think of any other examples other than [subjective]

While we have discussed this before and there is a weak FAQ entry on the use of subjective, no conclusion was reached.

I think we should reach a conclusion on this. My vote is to destroy , but I am open to hearing other opinions or ideas.

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closed as off-topic by Undo, ChrisF, ɥʇǝS, Emrakul, mhlester May 9 at 20:50

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If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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±0: -1 for removing the tag, +1 for it counts toward the generalist badge/nice to be able to filter out [subjective] results/if != "subjective". That is horribly wrong! –  The Unhandled Exception May 28 '10 at 19:18
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I think the fact that this question is labelled subjective shows you the answer! (Hmmm... or is it a clever circular reference?) –  slugster May 29 '10 at 2:22
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I support having a class of tags which don't count. I've seen a lot of tags that could be in that class such as communication, terminology, vocabulary, jargon (there's a very popular question on SO with just these tags). Or making all [subjective] etc. questions CW. –  Felix May 29 '10 at 12:59
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@slugster: No, meta uses that tag to discuss subjective questions and the subjective tag. –  Gnome May 29 '10 at 17:24
    
@Jeff: Can you go into more detail about why this is a problem? For example, do you want to eliminate all meta-tags, or are you concerned that majority of [subjective]-tagged questions are off-topic? –  Jon Seigel May 29 '10 at 18:12
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@Jeff, sadly, it does consistently mean something. On stackoverflow, it means 'I believe that I can ignore the FAQ and start a discussion about opinion, rumor, or humor, and defend it as "community".' –  Rosinante May 29 '10 at 18:26
    
How about offtopic? –  BalusC Aug 10 '10 at 22:51

18 Answers 18

If the [subjective] tag were removed, I imagine another equally vague tag would simply rise to take its place as a way to categorize all of the somewhat-out-of-place-on-SO questions that currently wear the [subjective] brand. My guess would be that [discussion] and/or [poll] might be pressed into service more, eventually growing in usage until they too infested the top 40 list.

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well, eventually the synonym enforcement will be here. And I'll blacklist some tags, which already works, but is lightly used. –  Jeff Atwood May 28 '10 at 19:48
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@Jeff, even if you try and catch synonyms people will eventually figure out a way around it. Behaviorally, you'll either have to let it be, or change the nature of the site, so that people will be encouraged to not use it. Telling people you don't want them to do something will just encourage them to figure out another way around your rule....especially with this crowd. –  Kevin May 28 '10 at 20:32
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+1 This is a very good argument for leaving the tag well alone. It does feel a bit wrong that it counts towards generalist but I think it's not a big enough problem to remove it. –  Pëkka May 28 '10 at 21:40
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IMHO, [discussion] and [poll] are at least somewhat useful for describing the question. And we'd have at least a shot at defining what sorts of questions should be so tagged... Plus, if I like discussion and don't like polls, I could then get one without the other, whereas [subjective] runs the gamut from honest questions on controversial topics to idle chatter (but doesn't encompass either set). –  Shog9 May 28 '10 at 21:45
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as @shog9 notes, the deeper problem is that [subjective] is utterly meaningless as a tag. At least [java] consistently means something. –  Jeff Atwood May 29 '10 at 0:20
    
@Jeff Atwood Subjective is only meaningless because people use it in a catch-all way. But I think subjective does mean something, and that is that the solution will depend on opinion rather than correctness. –  Bob May 29 '10 at 10:06
    
@Shog9: I suppose [discussion] or [poll] would be more descriptive replacements, but would even those still be considered too "meta" under the new system? –  gnostradamus Aug 10 '10 at 14:35
    
@gnovice: probably. But more to the point, discussions and polls are both against the rules on SO: IMHO, if we're gonna allow exceptions for questions (and "we" do...), then we should allow exceptions for tags as well. I'm still kinda irritated that my gtky tag was removed; heck of a lot of those "questions" around. –  Shog9 Aug 10 '10 at 14:46

At first my reaction was "NO, don't remove the last line of defense!" But after reading some of Shog9's comments, I think it makes a lot of sense to zap the tag.

The rub, of course, is that it can't just be zapped outright, it has to be replaced with the right tag (or "meta-tag").

We already have tags that are, by definition, subjective. For example:

  • best-practices
  • polls - as much as I hate it, the community consensus seems to be that polls are basically OK, so let's start using the tag.
  • fun - I could see my way to zapping this one too, but not yet.
  • career-development (inherently subjective, as I spoke of the other day)
  • coding-style (again, inherently subjective)
  • productivity (largely subjective)

In fact, if you fire open the 6,222 questions tagged subjective, you'll find that the tags are nearly-useless for almost all of the top questions, and they don't have to be. For example:

  • What is the single most influential book every programmer should read? should definitely be tagged polls - we can remove subjective and the rarely-used fundamentals.

  • What’s your favorite “programmer” cartoon? should also be tagged polls. The fun tag should stay, the humor tag should probably stay, the subjective and pop-culture tags are pointless. The offtopic tag needs to go too, but it's too high-frequency to just zap - we need a proper review for it, same as subjective.

  • What is your best programmer joke? - as above, replace subjective with polls.

  • List of freely available programming books - this question isn't really subjective. It's kind of a poll; I'd actually suggest lists if that didn't already have a different meaning.

  • Strangest language feature - once again, polls.

  • Great programming quotes - polls.

  • How do you clear your mind after 8-10 hours per day of coding? is already tagged polls. The subjective tag adds nothing (neither does the offtopic tag, and best-practices is misleading at best).

  • What are some funny loading statements to keep users amused? - this is like the free books question, it's not really subjective, it's just not really technical either. polls would be OK.

The list goes on and on. The vast majority of questions in the subjective tag are either polls, lists, discussions, career advice, or massively off-topic ("Confessions of your worst WTF Moment").

Seriously, go look at the subjective tag page - it's a veritable buffet of the worst tags on Stack Overflow. Along with subjective you'll see offtopic, discussion, skills, knowledge, life, rant, ideas, fail, and even the dreaded wtf. These help no one - nobody's ever going to search for these tags (and if they are, then they've misunderstood the purpose of the site).

To be clear: I'm not saying we need to zap the questions. That's another debate entirely. But from what I can see, subjective is practically a synonym for improperly-tagged. We not only need to zap subjective and add it to the blacklist, but also have a massive tag reorg on all of the current subjective questions (which the diamond mods will have to participate in, because some of those questions are locked).

So my answer is yes, let's get rid of the subjective tag and replace it with something useful. Let's also decide on what types of subjective questions should be allowed, seed the tags for them, and make sure that people are using them properly.


And just for the record, here's my hidden agenda (well, not so hidden anymore):

I'm hoping that one day, if these questions are tagged properly (especially polls), we can add functionality to these meta-tags. For example, we could make them ineligible for rep gain and badges, which would eliminate the "farming" incentive for creating these questions without being "deletionist/exclusionist." Maybe it could work like the "reserved" tags on Meta to avoid tag wars - only the author and and privileged users (or mods) can add it, and it can't be removed willy-nilly.

Anyway, I'm not expecting that to happen right away; I somehow doubt that it would ever happen. But still, getting rid of the subjective tag and replacing it with something meaningful is at least a step in the right direction.

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<Reductio ad absurdum>

I think you should call a spade a spade.

If subjective questions are allowed on the site, there should be a tag for them, so that people can filter them out.

If subjective questions are not allowed, you should remove the tag, and sweep the site of all subjective questions, so that we don't have to look at them anymore.

It is disingenuous to say that subjective questions are not allowed, but then allow certain ones because you like them.

The FAQ says that subjective questions are not allowed. If you can't get people to follow this rule, you should flag subjective questions for moderator intervention so that they can be removed from the system.

</Reductio ad absurdum>

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If you follow this argument, you should also remove the voting system. Voting is a subjective weighing system –  Andomar May 29 '10 at 0:03
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@Andomar: Voting is not controversial. Subjective content is. –  Robert Harvey May 29 '10 at 0:05

I'm going to be honest here: I think alot of programmers don't appreciate how much subjectiveness there is in development. "Best practices", what syntax is best, whether certain keywords or styles or designs should be used. In the old days you probably had one language and the most optimized for speed was the better code, but nowadays it's all up in the air really.

Talking subjective is good for programming as long as it's not a holy/flame war. My instinct is to leave the tag be. It's edifying to see why people prefer their own styles or designs, or the problems they have with certain syntaxes or what have you. I don't always agree with Crockford about his hard-lined approach with JavaScript, but it still helps me.

Edit:The tag categorizes a certain class of questions, a category which I believe to be a large part of programming. Removing this categorization data would probably be a bad thing. How is it not useful to know which question and how many have a subjective tone?

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Talking subjective is okay, but tagging subjective on Stack Overflow is less good. I don't get the impression they're talking about removing the actual questions, and just giving Stack Overflow over to subjective questions would be death for the site. –  Joel Coehoorn May 28 '10 at 21:15
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That's why defining which questions need a "subjective" tag is so subjective... I think a lot of the questions slammed as "subjective" early on are really more what we'd call "discussion questions" today - no real desire for a definitive answer of any sort, just people looking to start up a conversation on a topic. "What do you think of Go?" "Why isn't LOGO more popular?" "What's the worst language & why?" etc. –  Shog9 May 28 '10 at 21:32

I think the tag is useless at best and actively harmful at worst.

Useless, because for all the talk about filtering by or filtering out subjective questions using that tag, it's a poor tool for the job simply because the criteria for its use are, well, subjective. I can tell you what a poll is, or a FAQ, or a list, or a GTKY question... But where the border lies for subjective I cannot say.

And harmful, because there are some users who actually believe that, like CW, it's some sort of magic that allows you to ignore the normal posting standards.

So it's been used pejoratively and defensively, without any real consistency, for a long long time now... Time to go.

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

This is now done, and made policy:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/08/the-death-of-meta-tag

From this point on, meta-tagging is explicitly discouraged.

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would all the dupe asp.net versions be considered meta too? ;) –  Question-Failed Aug 9 '10 at 4:06

My vote is to destroy [subjective], but I am open to hearing other opinions or ideas.

If you're at all interested in building and maintaining a community, then please don't. People hate feeling censored, and I guarantee its going to cause a riot on the site. Part of a social site, even in Q&A, is having wiggle room for discussion and creating a feel and culture for the site.

So with that said, the best reason to keep the subjective tag, since you can always filter out a whole class of questions which you might otherwise not want to see.

Don't go down the road where you think you can micromanage content and thought -- its exactly that sort of heavy-handed moderation that makes other tech sites a schvitzpile.

maybe we should have a class of meta-tags which "don't count", although I can't think of any other examples other than [subjective]

Instead of making tags arbitrarily more complicated, why not embrace the community.

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+1, good answer. –  slugster May 29 '10 at 2:12
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-1 if you are trying to build a community around asking and answering questions, then all polite measure should be deployed to clarify the distinction between that and chat/discussion. This line of reasoning leads to community without content. The goal is content with community, and that requires some relatively clear distinctions to be drawn and maintained. –  Rosinante May 29 '10 at 18:23
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I think some of your rhetoric is a bit strong: "riot", "censored", and "micromanage" for example. However, I agree with the general point. The problems caused by [subjective] don't justify the added complexity of tweaking the badge algorithms, or the possible community friction of banning the tag outright. Of course, that's just my subjective opinion. –  Don Kirkby May 31 '10 at 17:24

I would be in favour of getting rid of "subjective" if we at the same time rename CW (a term almost no-one understands) as something like "poll" (lots of on-line communities have this concept) and then place an outright ban on subjective questions which are not polls, and get the diamond mods to get of their butts and enforce this.

Having said this, more extreme measures may be needed to get rid of nonsense like this: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2932407/what-superhero-would-your-language-of-choice-be unless you really do want your site to turn into a reddit clone.

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My first thought was "no", at least not yet. It was mainly motivated by this remark:

it's in the top 40 tag list, which means it is used an awful lot -- perhaps too much

That indicates that there are an awful lot of questions that need... cleaned up first. As you noted, removing the tag also removes an easy way to help find these questions, and so I thought a clean up effort should be organized first.

And then I realized the information on these questions is preserved in old versions of the data dump; there's really no point to this objection. The corollary to this reasoning is of course that you should time the removal to take place just after the June data export.

You also missed one big reason to get rid of it: new users sometimes use it as a crutch to mean that subjective questions must be allowed because, "hey, look - there's a tag for it!"

So I say fire away!

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"the information on these questions is preserved in old versions of the data dump" -- That's a terrible slippery-slope. You can make that argument for virtually any category of content on the website. Unless you provide a way to easily read the data dump, perhaps an archive site, this suggestion has little merit. There's no way I'm going to write a program, and download gigabytes of data, just so that I have a way to access content that others find objectionable; it is simply not a good use of my time. –  Robert Harvey May 28 '10 at 21:12
    
@Robert - they are actually working on the archive site. The trick is whether you'll be able to query old versions of the data. –  Joel Coehoorn May 28 '10 at 21:14
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You know, all you'd really have to do is add a filter to StackOverflow, and provide a checkbox in user preferences (default off) that is labelled "Show Archive Content." Then you wouldn't even have to make another site. –  Robert Harvey May 28 '10 at 21:18

For much of the same reasons I speak of here, I agree that removing it from calculations feels horribly wrong. So action against or for the tag itself, or the questions which it applies, is definitely the course of action to take.

On the one hand, [subjective] is an adjective tag. It isn't a context-dependent one, though, because it has a special meaning in Stack Overflow to basically always be attached to the question itself. Which in itself, I have concerns about tags that describe the question and answers ([elegant] is an example of a tag that tends to be used in reference to the desired answer) rather than the content of the question body.

But if we look at the purpose of the tags, they actually provide more usefulness than dependent-adjective tags. When you see [subjective], you actually know what the tag is referring to without needing to investigate that much deeper. And to that end, it helps a lot with people who do search for those things, and do filter them out. Furthermore, [subjective] doesn't cause as many problems with tag limits. The majority of subjective questions are vague enough that we aren't losing valuable tagging room by having [subjective] there. And probably the most important point is the second point on your second list.

•there are questions asked which can legitimately be called [subjective]

But this point is only valid if there really is significant value to those questions that would reason keeping them. Following the argument from my linked post, as long as those questions exist, the subjective tag applies. So it's a matter of those questions. The primary reason to keep the subjective tag is that there are things which it applies to. But we won't need the tag if there is no material for people to filter/search it with. I think after all this, I did finally decide "It helps better to get rid of it".

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Easier fix for tag badges and generalist, exclude any tags with a close rate that is larger than 2 standard deviations (or something along those lines)

Here is a wonderful list of problem tags for example, programming-languages and learning will also quite often result in wiki or closed questions and are in my opinion problem tags, heck we are all learning aren't we?

I think anything with a closed rate of 5% or above or a wiki rate of 5% or above should be excluded from the generalist and tag badges.

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Interesting list; I'd almost say that no badges whatsoever should be awarded for participation in those. In order for a badge to be awarded, there would have to be some other tag with at least 100 uses that's not in the "problem tag" list. Only problem is, of course, that tags can be changed, and this could encourage deliberately poor initial tagging... –  Aarobot May 29 '10 at 13:24
    
The growth of complexity eventually becomes self-limiting, and leads to a wide spread "general systems collapse" –  Andomar May 29 '10 at 14:36

My feeling is that it is useless. As has been said before, most questions are subjective to some extent. The criteria for closing is that they are either argumentative or offtopic, so I see no reason to worry about whether or not they're subjective. (And if it's so open-ended as to never have a "correct" answer, then it's Not A Real Question.)

The only possible redeeming value that I can see for [subjective] is for people to filter, but I have no ignored tags so I can't speak for the value of that approach.

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High five for not using ignored tags! –  Grace Note May 28 '10 at 19:33

The Wisdom of Crowds

Before removing [subjective], it might be useful to figure out why it is so commonly used. If you delete the tag without doing so, then whatever factors cause [subjective] to be popular will manifest itself with some new morally equivalent behavior.

"Programming is a human activity. Forget that and all is lost."

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I think partly it's because we set a bad standard early on by allowing that kind of meta-tagging behavior –  Jeff Atwood May 29 '10 at 22:54

I think the subjective tag should stay. This way on the rare occasion that a subjective question would actually add (good) content to the site, it can still be filtered out by the ignored tags bit.

I do propose a slight change though. A rule that subjective questions should be community wiki(like, officially supported by meta and the moderators). Now I know what you're thinking "community wiki isn't a free pass for... "

I propose an "extension" of the community wiki concept. No badges awarded for community wiki answers or questions. This way subjective questions are truly for by the community for the community. There is no badge-whoring element and because of the little rule noted above, the subjective tag will informally not count towards the generalist badge.

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if the rule is that [subjective] means community-wiki then we should just enforce community-wiki because the tag is redundant. –  Jeff Atwood May 28 '10 at 19:52
    
subjective questions should be CW but CW should not automatically mean subjective questions @Jeff –  Earlz May 28 '10 at 19:54
    
@Jeff Atwood: on the other hand, you could remove community wiki and enforce the subjective tag as the norm. –  Juliet May 28 '10 at 20:53
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CW and [subjective] are not mutually inclusive. –  Corey May 28 '10 at 21:06

The subjective tag is the single most appreciated tag, as weighed by votes:

TagName       NrOfQuestions   AvgRepGain
subjective             5947   901
language-agnostic      2795   527
programming-languages  1274   376
learning               1432   305
books                  1241   284
best-practices         8441   205
tools                  1352   184

People might be slightly more hesitant to close questions tagged subjective. This allows for the occasional great discussion to sneak through the relentlessly serious close voting crowd.

My three favorite SO questions are all subjective:

  1. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1711/what-is-the-single-most-influential-book-every-programmer-should-read
  2. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/84556/whats-your-favorite-programmer-cartoon
  3. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/234075/what-is-your-best-programmer-joke
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those were also all created at the very beginning of the site, and thus grandfathered; they wouldn't last a second if asked "new" today –  Jeff Atwood May 29 '10 at 0:09
    
@Jeff Atwood: The "Typical Apple Product" cartoon taught me more about development than any other question. So I think some subjective questions are great. Imho the close-vote system should be changed to allow questions with many fans to get through-- it should not allow five opponents to win in all cases –  Andomar May 29 '10 at 0:25
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You're mistaking correlation with causation. I don't think the majority finds any value in the [subjective] tag, but I believe the type of questions likely to have that tag applied are those which people get emotional about---thus voting/answering more and submitting to other places (e.g. reddit). –  Gnome May 29 '10 at 11:38
    
@The Cat: There's good evidence linking subjective questions to page views, votes, and links from external sites. I find it hard to believe that there is some other aspect of these questions that is attracting all that attention –  Andomar May 29 '10 at 14:05
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@Jeff Atwood: I'm not so sure. See: stackoverflow.com/questions/2875533/… as a recent question that was identified as a duplicate and should have been closed and stayed closed, if not for the 'If you don't want to see subjective questions, just ignore them' crowd. This is a real problem. –  George Stocker May 29 '10 at 15:26
    
@George Stocket: That question hit a spark with people, perhaps by being asked at the right time. This lively trade of information was killed by marking it as duplicate of an ancient dead question. To quote from a comment: "It is sad this question is closed. This has been the most interesting page I've read on SO in many weeks." What a waste –  Andomar May 29 '10 at 16:22
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@Andomar It's a duplicate. Put the thoughts for that question into the master question. That's really what Stack Overflow is for. –  George Stocker May 29 '10 at 16:23
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@Andomar: Yes, that's correlation. Some attribute causes people to tag as [subjective] and vote, but tagging [subjective] is not itself causing people to vote. If this model is true (and I believe it is), then permanently removing the [subjective] tag won't affect those votes. To put it another way, programming questions on SO get a ton more votes than non-programming questions, but there's no value in tagging them [programming]. –  Gnome May 29 '10 at 17:15

my opinions are these:

  1. Meta-tags don't count anymore towards any badge - Aarobot has commented on those elsewhere here.

  2. Actively rehash and rehack the community wiki idea. As a wiki, it's failed. Badly. Collaborative editing is just not that common beyond grammar tweaking. People with edit powers edit anyway.

  3. Define meta-tag questions to be "repless", ie, what CW has been redefined to mean. Rebrand CW answers to be "repless" answers. (whatever, pick a name, you get the idea)

  4. Slice subjective into "fluffy subjective", and "design subjective". Fluffy stuff can be trimmed out without an issue - design subjective is much more relevant to the community.

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FYI, it was never meant to be a pure wiki, just to encourage mild edits for quality and freshness. We're thinking of introducing a pure wiki PostTypeId = 3 at some point. –  Jeff Atwood May 29 '10 at 0:17
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ok, so if I decide I don't like the cut of your jib, all I need to do is retag your questions and instantly remove all your reputation from them? Excellent.. :) –  Jeff Atwood May 29 '10 at 0:18
    
@Jeff: (1) Gotcha. Still doesn't seem like it's meeting that goal. CW=subjective seems to be the operating paradigm. (2)Good point. I must not be evil enough to think of those things. But, that can be managed with technology - "for the duration of subjective's application, no rep will be applied". But that might be a pain to refit into the DB schema if you don't already track tag application date-times. –  Paul Nathan May 29 '10 at 0:59
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@Jeff: If certain tags are determined not to count toward rep or badges then they should be restricted from retags; only the original author or a diamond mod can add them. Getting the tag added would be a matter of flagging the post for a moderator, as we do now to get posts wikified. Ultimately I think this would be a more reliable tool for what people have tried to shoehorn CW into - allowing soft topics of sufficient value to exist while still clearly indicating and to some extent enforcing the technical focus of the site. –  Aarobot May 29 '10 at 22:02

Regarding the generalist badge (and potentially touching on some of the other issues), I feel this is an 'issue' with tagging in general, rather than the 'subjective' tag specifically. The 'top 40 tags' concept is all well and good, but it encompasses a broad spectrum of tags. Some of them - for example 'multithreading' in SO's top 40 - are pretty unique, and seem wholly appropriate for contribution towards a 'generalist' badge. But others (iphone and iphone-sdk, visual-studio and visual-studio-2008) are very likely to occur together. This makes those tags' influence on the badge about as 'icky' as the 'subjective' tag, IMO.

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iphone and iphone-sdk might be merged, this was already under discussion for a while –  Jeff Atwood Aug 12 '10 at 0:30
    
Ah, good to hear. I guess my general point is: "Are each of the top 40 tags 'equal enough' to ensure the generalist badge is meaningful", after all, that was one of the 5 arguments against the subjective tag. Personally, I'd be very much in favour of the 'top 40' rule being completely changed to 'set of chosen tags that represent a broad set of knowledge'. And I'd be happy for you, Jeff, to choose that set of tags :) –  Bobby Jack Aug 12 '10 at 15:04
    
Just to add a concrete example: if you're a windows .net programmer, it's much, MUCH easier to gain the generalist badge. If you're a UNIX programmer, or a web developer, or a database admin, it's nigh-on impossible. –  Bobby Jack Aug 12 '10 at 15:07

While [subjective] is often used by lamers with lame questions, it can be as difficult to get rep for the answers as it is for technical questions. Getting a reasonable amount of up votes with a [subjective] answer means you have phrased your answer well and the (sometimes fickle) community agrees.

Equally, it is easy to lose rep when answering something with that tag. Personally i think twice before making any sort of effort to answer one of those, frequently i won't bother because the tag has been used to justify a lame question. In fact the [subjective] tag makes it more likely that i will cast a vote to close.

So while it may be a highly debatable and sometimes annoying tag, the rep lost or gained through it should not be ignored. It can be policed better though - don't be tempted to leave a question opened simply because it is tagged [subjective], the question should stand or fall on its merit like any other irrespective of the tag.

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