On SO I've noticed a couple of "can't do's" recently, where I was prevented from doing something without a clear reason being given, and without a pointer to an explanation or a preferred "what to do instead".

One was tagging a question as "homework". Another was using the word "problem" in a question title. In both cases, I was shown a little red popup that told me that what I was trying to do was not allowed (and the prohibition was enforced). But there was no link or hint as to the reason.

Now I see that when you use "problem" in a question title, you actually do get a link to an article about the reason for the prohibition. So that feature request is already implemented. Great! (I do think there are cases where working around this broad rule results in a worse question title, but I see the value in avoiding redundancy for the majority of questions with this word in them. And I'm not inclined to join a big argument over the rule, now that I understand the rationale.)

Similarly, if you try to create a tag that's too similar to an existing tag, you get a red pop-up with an explanation, as well as being prevented from creating the new tag. That's helpful!

I found the reason for the removal of the "homework" tag on meta; and the "what to do" is apparently that you may mention that your question is related to homework, just don't tag it that way, because it invites comments that beat a dead horse and contribute nothing. That's a legitimate reason. But in the absence of that explanation, the prohibition is bewildering to someone who had some passing acquaintance with the old homework tag, and who knows about the FAQ but doesn't know to search meta. The FAQ doesn't say anything about homework, that I could find.

I'm not looking to reopen the big debate about what to do with the homework tag. I'm only making a feature request that prohibitions should give a link to some sort of explanation and a suggestion of what to do instead (e.g. what mental model to use that's more compatible with the community's direction). That would make the difference between a user experience of "I can't do what I think I'm supposed to do, and I don't know why" and "I can't do what I thought I was supposed to do, but now I see that I'm supposed to do Y instead."

  • The purpose of not using the homework tag isn't to avoid bias against your question, it's that meta tags are bad. Feel free to mention it's homework.
    – Wooble
    Jun 20, 2013 at 14:49
  • It says in the tag wiki summary for [homework] NOT TO USE THIS TAG (in bold and all caps). That summary should appear in the list of tag suggestions, however if you're editing the tags pretty quickly it may just not have the opportunity to display at all. Jun 20, 2013 at 14:49
  • @Wooble, thanks for the clarification. I read some of the explanation but not all of it. (The point stands: a link to a clear explanation makes a big difference.)
    – LarsH
    Jun 20, 2013 at 14:50
  • @BoltClock'saUnicorn: When I type home and look at suggestions, I don't see homework listed at all. If I type homework and submit the edit, it says The 'homework' tag is not allowed. But even if it said NOT TO USE THIS TAG, that wouldn't help me know why, or what else to do instead, or whether that means I can't ask questions about homework at all. For that I need a link to the explanation.
    – LarsH
    Jun 20, 2013 at 14:53
  • 1
    @BoltClock'saUnicorn The homework tag was finally burned with fire a while ago, and when that happened the tag wiki was destroyed with it, so that window into the meta question the OP found is no longer there (unfortunately).
    – Servy
    Jun 20, 2013 at 15:54
  • @Servy: Oh, thanks, I wasn't aware of that. Now I see why it made it into the tag blacklist... Jun 20, 2013 at 15:55
  • We had a big list of don'ts once. It was a disaster; no one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. So codifying those rules in the form of additional Stack Exchange programming seems like a non-starter.
    – user102937
    Jun 20, 2013 at 16:08
  • @RobertHarvey: not sure what you're referring to by codifying rules. The no-homework-tag rule is already codified (and enforced), but not explained. The no-"problem"-in-title is codified, enforced, and explained. I don't see a need for additional "programming," other than adding a link for one prohibition just like the link for the other.
    – LarsH
    Jun 20, 2013 at 18:26
  • @RobertHarvey: I could be wrong, of course, about requiring additional programming. Would it?
    – LarsH
    Jun 20, 2013 at 18:39
  • Your example of "Please don't use Problem in titles" is baked into the software.
    – user102937
    Jun 20, 2013 at 18:42
  • @RobertHarvey: It's hard to imagine how adding detection logic, popping up a message, letting the user dismiss the message, and preventing certain actions based on condition detection, is all a "starter" (i.e. got approved and implemented), but adding a link to the pop-up message is a non-starter because it requires additional programming.
    – LarsH
    Jul 1, 2013 at 15:40
  • @LarsH: I never liked the whole pr0blem thing. Banning words in titles is the programming equivalent of "whack a mole."
    – user102937
    Jul 1, 2013 at 16:16
  • @RobertHarvey: I don't disagree with that. However, given that the ban is in place, it seems better to help people know what model we want them to follow (a detour sign in front of the barrier) rather than merely preventing a particular action (just a barrier).
    – LarsH
    Jul 1, 2013 at 19:54

1 Answer 1


Quite simply, most people seem not to care. For those handful, like yourself, who do care, it's not terribly hard to find the reasoning on meta, as you showed you were capable of doing. If someone is unable to find the resource on their own they would be able to ask about it in their own meta question if that were needed. If such support requests become particularly common it can be a sign that the information isn't discoverable enough. Unless we're demonstrably in that position it just doesn't seem to be necessary.

  • 1
    How do you know most people seem not to care? What easily-discoverable avenue is there for expressing that they care? I don't think meta is easily discoverable for casual users. Insiders usually aren't aware of how outsiders experience the site, unless they make rigorous efforts to observe them in person. The link from the "problem is not allowed" popup to an explanation page is a good example of UX design. I guess one quantitative metric for how people care would be a percentage of those people (not occurrences) who see the prohibition pop-up that actually click on the link.
    – LarsH
    Jun 20, 2013 at 18:35

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