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Improve display of tag synonyms

I have been using Stack Exchange for around a year. To this very day, I do not know what (s) means next to a tag. Just today, I asked a question on and was presented with two choices when adding the "saute" tag.


Since I had no idea what (s) meant, I chose the one without (s). Does it mean super? plural? It could also mean new/unused, but the these words don't start with the letter s.

I've got a CS degree. I'm a frontend programmer and UI designer for the web and mobile, so I'm not computer illiterate. I'm generally good at judging bad designs and figuring out what the designer meant, but in this case, I have no idea. Good UI design should be understood by the stupidest of people. I don't care what (s) means, but someone needs to fix this design flaw.


After reading @bemace's response, I now realize that it is a tag synonym. Firstly, (s) is just too far of a stretch for "synonym". Secondly, a large portion of the population won't know what synonym means. According to website usability expert Jacob Nielsen, you should use simple words because 43% of the population has low-literacy.

Let me propose the following solution. It removes the need to connect abbrreviations and understand hard words. It also limits the number of choices.

| oil saut|             |
| sauteing / saute (18) |

Edit 2

Suggested by jbreckmckye:

enter image description here

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marked as duplicate by Cody Gray, Pops, Jon Seigel, waiwai933, Mark Trapp Jul 13 '11 at 6:56

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

If "synonym" is a hard word I think people are going to have trouble functioning on this site. We can always change the (s) that appears in the tag auto-complete, but the concept of "tag synonyms" is all over the place – Michael Mrozek Jul 9 '11 at 18:50
When you get into UI design, you'll learn that designing for the lowest common denominator benefits everyone. – JoJo Jul 9 '11 at 18:54
@jojo - that's coming off as a bit condescending. Let's not forget that the StackExchange folks have created a whole line of successful websites, and many of the users also have substantial professional experience. – Brad Mace Jul 9 '11 at 19:13
Why show the synonyms at all? They'll get replaced anyway. Maybe not listing them would the most simple? – fretje Jul 9 '11 at 20:13
@fretje: In many synonym pairs, both tags are as valid, but one was chosen as the main tag. It makes sense to allow the user to guess either when tagging his question. – user157130 Jul 9 '11 at 21:12
Stack Exchange is for experts (who are all smart and literate enough to know what "synonym" means) and inquisitive people (who are perfectly willing to grab a dictionary if they are confused). We're not here to conform for the lowest common denominator, we are building something a lot better than that. – HedgeMage Jul 9 '11 at 21:18
@HedgeMage: Please show me a dictionary which contains the right definition for s. – Paŭlo Ebermann Jul 10 '11 at 18:44
@Paŭlo, I believe HedgeMage was suggesting that using the specific word "Synonym" is acceptable: we shouldn't allow the 43% of the population that is low-literate prevent us from using the exact word that is needed. (Heck, I love finding words I don't know when reading German web pages -- it's something new to look up and learn.) (s) is pretty poor regardless of what is done to replace it. – sarnold Jul 13 '11 at 2:14

Let's see what happens if I don't know what the (s) means (which is the case of many users) and I just ignore it. Then I'll use the tag I want whether or not it has an (s) next to it. If it has an (s) then the tag will be rewritten to the synonym when I post. Since the point of synonyms is that everyone ends up using the same tag when there are several with the same meaning, everything is happening as desired.

Putting the synonyms on the same line as the parent won't work in the general case. You picked a special case where they're grammatical variants. But when you have toolsequipment, it wouldn't make sense to offer equipment / tools (or worse equipment / accessories / appliances / gadgets / kitchen-tools / tools) when you start typing tool.

What could make sense, though I'm unconvinced that it's worth the trouble, is to write the master name after the synonym.

tools (= equipment)

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I spent a long time on SO before I realised that it's an s and not a 5. – user157130 Jul 9 '11 at 21:13
I was going to say, instead of an "s" why not just put the master tag there? – Troyen Jul 9 '11 at 21:19
If a user doesn't know about tag synonyms, then he will just notice that sometimes the tags he uses are replaced from other tags; he could also notice that the replaced tags has a "(s)" close to it. I don't think he would understand the tag is a synonym of another one, if not when he reads about tag synonyms; he probably understands he should not use those tags, and be confused from the fact those tags are shown from the autocomplete. he is not his fault; he doesn't know how SE sites work. – kiamlaluno Jul 9 '11 at 22:56
+1 for the tools (=equipment) proposal. – Paŭlo Ebermann Jul 10 '11 at 18:48

It indicates that it's a tag synonym rather than a standalone tag.

Expanding it to (syn) might give more of a clue, or maybe just showing them in italics, with no count at all would be clearer:

sauteing (18)

Update - Your proposed solution to put the synonym on the same line as the parent tag won't scale well and some tags may have many synonyms, not just one.

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Using "(syn)" would probably be a better help than showing the tag synonym in italics. In the first case, it should be clearer why the tag synonym is replaced with another one; in the latter case, the OP should understand the difference between a tag shown in italics and a tag that is not shown in italics. – kiamlaluno Jul 9 '11 at 19:44

If the word "synonym" is too "difficult" for "a large portion of the population", as you mentioned, we should probably use a better word to replace it. Maybe "alternative" or "(alt)". Or even better, no special marking at all.

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