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I ask this question because I believe it has ramifications on the effectiveness of search on stack overflow, and also will serve as a guide on my future editing activities on SO (generally geared towards improving the ability to search and view questions).

There seems to be a recent shift (to some extent) in what is considered proper tags on stack overflow.

For example, consider the tag and the tag. These are now marked as "DO NOT USE", in favor of using more technology specific tags (such as wpf-positioning, wpf-styles, css-styles). This seems to be in direct contrast to an earlier (as I understand) desired practice of pairing the technology with more generic tags, as referred to in this post, for example:

wpf-tags-need-cleanup-do-they-not

I find 90% of the value of the stack overflow site to be the marvelous library of existing questions and answers, and that is where I usually go first when I have questions. I use search by tags a lot. In my opinion, having tags as generic as possible, and technology specific when necessary gives a great deal more search flexibility. You can pair tags and add other conditions as necessary (it sure would be nice to be able to save these as favorite searches). For example, if I want to do a general search relating to styles, I'll search use , if it's specific to wpf, then .

So, what is the current practice on use of technology specific tags vs. more generic tags? And, if there has been a shift in this practice, what are the plans for cleaning up existing questions (so that searching via tags will still yield decent results)?

  • Bear in mind, some of those WPF tags didn't need to be more generic - they needed to not exist. You can ask about a WPF control without also using a tag for that specific control. – doppelgreener Nov 1 '13 at 3:40
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    @Jonathan, correct most of those tags should have gone away. But take for example the wpf-styles tag, which was removed. The recent description on the styles tag is suggesting that the wpf-styles tag needs to come back. If we end up having several hundred new questions with the wpf-styles tag and a couple thousand wpf questions with the styles tag, that lowers the value of search, does it not? – Dave Clemmer Nov 2 '13 at 21:02
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I believe that the tags should be technology specific and not generic, or rather, there should not be too many generic tags.

The problem with generic tags is that are too wide to the point of being meaningless. Let's take as an example. Let's say I know a lot about WPF and nothing about CSS. Those 2 technologies do not overlap - they do not have similar features, you use them in a different way and, specifically, positioning is achieved in a different ways.

If I used for my search, I would be wasting time on making sure that each question is about WPF and not CSS each time I open it. That would be most likely annoying and would lead some users to abandon this method of searching.

Another example is . SQL is kind of similar for different RDBMS's and there may be valid questions that relate to all possible SQL variants. But in practice it doesn't work this way. I know much about SQL Server but little about MySQL. This means that my general answer may not be valid for all SQL variants - I simply lack the knowledge to check that. Therefore I don't really want to answer questions before I know which RDBMS the question relates to. In practice what usually happens in case of is that it gets added to questions together with more specific tags, e.g. , making it quite redundant.


There is also one more problem with generic tags. They might work paired with technology specific tags (e.g. + on one question) but it's hard to enforce. On meta, you have to chose one of the main tags but it's easy to enforce as there's only 5. On SO, this is not possible (or at least very hard).

  • Szymon, that is the flip side of the generic tag argument, they are of little value unless paired with other tags or criteria (in the favorite search link above, I argue that it would be of great value to be able to save favorites that can include more than one tag and other conditions to enhance searching). If the prevailing wind is to move more to technology specific tags, my main concern is how we manage the explosion in the number of tags and remapping existing questions linked to generic tags. – Dave Clemmer Nov 12 '13 at 20:39
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    Mapping generic tags to more specific ones is easy; just pick a specific tag to synonymize the generic tag to (or do away with the generic tag entirely). The number of technology-specific tags is not really an issue, so long as each technology-specific tag describes something meaningful. – Robert Harvey Nov 12 '13 at 20:50
  • @DaveClemmer I personally don't like tags like wpf-positioning too. Do we really need to go into that level of details? Isn't something like wpf-layout enough to cover positioning and other layout issues? Or even just wpf? – Szymon Nov 12 '13 at 20:52

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