Tags come in (essentially) three colors... and these three colors are limited to meta sites only.

  • Mod tags - red/maroon.
  • Required tags - grey.
  • General tags - white or nearly white depending on the site.

As far as I know, all tags on a main site are the same color with the exception of the custom sponsored tags that some sites have, which have fun icons of the brand on them, like the Android tag on SO.

Some sites (not many, but some) have very specific types of tags. For example, on Movies & TV, we have tags for film titles, Sci-Fi and Fantasy has tags for titles, authors, etc… Anime & Manga is similar.

Occasionally, on M&TV, we get users (usually 1 rep) who use generic-looking tags like to ask questions about… well… aliens in films… but the Aliens tag, as the tag wiki notes, is for questions about the film Aliens. Sometimes, if these tags are for less-well-known films or were recently added, they don't have excerpts at all… this, obviously, is a separate issue.

To add to the title specific uses above, this request was recently made here on Meta.SE:

Should we make country tags visually distinct?

Some SE sites have questions that apply only to certain countries, or where answers should at least take laws or customs in the country in question into account. Example SE sites would be Workplace, Academia, Expats, Travel, Money or Law. These sites use country tags for this purpose.

Changing the color of the group of tags would be a less intrusive solution to the request to add tiny flags to identify country tags (and it would be less work). The tags already have the country name on them, so all that is needed to set them apart visibly is a different color of tag (one color for all country tags, not one color per country). This would make all of the country tags on a site more visible while not interfering or watering down Stack Exchange's ability to sell the icons to interested parties.

What I would like to propose is a specialized type of tag denoted with a different color that allows sites to do a couple of things:

  • Makes it obvious that the tag is not for general use, particularly when the tag looks like it's generic (see the aliens example above).
  • Makes the tag stand out on a question as a form of classification.
  • As on Meta, these tags would have precedence over other tags and be listed first to make them more obvious.
  • As with the tags on meta, they would not be exempt from the five tag limit.
  • Potentially, this could allow a site to have more than one tag with the same name but that's not completely necessary. This could have its own set of problems but it might be something that could be worked around and help out a lot when you have issues where a book or film title or a brand is the same as a common subject matter. This is something I think can be discussed separately rather than being a part of the initial implementation.

There are certainly other benefits that I'm missing above.

To help implement these tags correctly, I recommend that the creation/reclassification of new tags should be initially limited to either mods or sufficiently high-rep users (10K+). For established sites, this will be quite an endeavor at the outset as there are likely hundreds of tags that will need to be classified.

As one would expect, this is something that should be implemented on a per-site basis and be something that the site has to show a particular need for and community support of before it is allowed.

As a note, on M&TV we have recommended a plan to set film and TV tags apart by including the year of first release in the tag but this plan is on hold due to the issue with film/show title length often conflicting with the 25-character limit for tags.

Note, I am not asking to Allow custom colorization of tags, which relates to a user-setting to mark favorite tags.

  • 1
    Oh look @Nathan actual elipses! :D
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 23:38
  • Is it cheating if I have that character in my clipboard ring's sticky section? :P Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 23:39

3 Answers 3


When the subject came up on Workplace one proposal was to use the styling that, on meta, is used for mandatory tags (choose at least one of these four). I objected to that proposal because we don't want the UI to suggest to users that they must use one of these tags; some questions don't require it.

However, the red moderator tags that you brought up are a good example. There is no requirement that a (meta) post have one from that set, and users are used to seeing different tag colors.

So I think having a single styling that is neither the color of meta mandatory tags nor the color of moderator-only tags would be valuable. This styling might be color (I don't know how hard that is to implement) or perhaps a bold outline or even just bold text. SE would need to enable the functionality; it would then be up to individual sites to populate the set of tags to get this treatment.

One way to implement this would be to add a new (moderator) tool on the mod -> links list:

tool list

This would lead to an editor -- like for posts, tag wikis, and mod messages -- like this, where tags could be typed in the usual markdown:


Anything typed here that is not a tag either would be ignored or would cause an error message on save, whichever is determined to be better. (Imagine there's a "save" button there that I forgot to include.)

There are at least two advantages of using markdown instead of just typing a list in plain text:

  • While editing, mods can easily inspect a tag (good if you need to verify that you've got the correct one among several similarly-named ones).

  • The community can develop the list in a meta post and then moderators can just cut/paste the body from there (distributed development but moderators handle the final deployment).

(Stretch goal: maybe this textbox could have the same validation that the "tags" list on a question does.)

I think we want moderators to designate which are the special tags, because tag categorization affects the whole site. (This logic has been given for why moderators alone control community events and editable help-center pages, and I suspect it applies to custom close reasons as well.) But moderators shouldn't have to do all the work; the community should decide, and once there's consensus we should make it easy for moderators to push the "go" button. This approach does that.

You might imagine, instead of using a collection, setting a flag on each individual tag (perhaps in its "edit wiki" interface) to designate its special status. I don't think we should do that; it's hard to keep tags in sync with each other one at a time, and it's important that the set be cohesive and consistent. People are more likely to notice errors if they're all listed in one place.

  • 2
    I think you make some good points. I don't think we should go overboard with dozens of colors but I think the option for up to 2 or maybe 3 would be nice... perhaps start with one color per site and, if it works without causing craziness, expand it to two... but anything even different button shape/weight would be better than nothing. :)
    – Catija
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 20:36
  • 1
    I think I'm confused about something... can you please explain what you mean by the ability being restricted to mods. Because you equate them to being more like status tags, it implies that you're saying only mods should be able to apply the tags to questions... which would be a huge chunk of work. Also, I'm not sure why, even if it's only the creation of these tags, that should be mod-only work. Most of the tags on M&TV are title tags... if we use this for that, it would take the two active mods a serious effort to categorize them. Why could 10K users not be trusted with this?
    – Catija
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 3:18
  • @Catija no, I meant that designating the tags that get this special treatment should be a mod action. Not creating them, not applying them to questions, just deciding which ones get to be the special color or bold or whatever. Does this edit help? Commented May 13, 2016 at 3:51
  • I would still expect the community to work it out on meta, same as with custom close reasons or editable help-center pages and the like. Mods should pull the trigger, not have to do all the work. Commented May 13, 2016 at 3:57
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    When we're talking about a few dozen country tags, deciding how to implement is the work... but when you're talking about hundreds of film and TV titles... or book, TV, and movie titles... or anime and manga titles... designating them is the work. Yes, once they're all designated, there's probably fewer than one or two set up in a day... but getting over the hump of designating them all at the outset is a huge task... particularly when it may be unclear whether the tag is about the media in the first place. That's a lot to ask of 2-3 people.
    – Catija
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 15:47
  • @Catija in that case the community should use meta to prepare a list that, once there's consensus, a moderator can cut/paste into whatever form is used to do this. I'm not asking the moderators to compile the list. This is like when the community edits pages in the help center; only moderators can pull the trigger, but the community does most of the work (at least on my sites). Ditto custom off-topic close reasons; the community works those out first and then a moderator takes that and implements it. Commented May 13, 2016 at 16:23
  • 2
    Clearly you know more about the mod access system than I do, since I'm not a mod... my mental image is the mods having to manually designate each individual tag... If there's a bulk way to do this, that'd definitely make things easier on the mods... but my mental image was of something that would likely require the tags to be edited individually, the way you'd edit a tag wiki or create a synonym... and that would take hours of work when you have hundreds of tags.
    – Catija
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 16:40
  • @Catija the system doesn't exist yet, but I'm imagining a bulk edit, not individual-tag edits. I've added a mockup of how this could work to this answer. Commented May 13, 2016 at 18:05

Could allowing the tag to be capitalized on display be a simpler option? That is, still case insensitively match tags when they are typed in, but display the capitalized Aliens.

  • 4
    If SE hasn't seen that it's valuable to add capitalization to tags so that they match case correctly like "iOS"... and have specific anti-capitalization feelings like here... I don't think it would be "simpler"... no.
    – Catija
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 15:45

This was actually suggested on MSO. Like you, we have a generic sounding tag (Processing) that actually refers to a specific thing. The proposal was that the color symbolize the difference between generic and specific tags.

Like I said then, it's a good idea, but it will be a huge amount of work, depending on which sites this is implemented on. For SO, and any of the other large sites, this is impractical to implement.

Not only are there an enormous amount of tags, there are an enormous number of tags that are very poorly defined. There is already plenty of arguments when retags are proposed, but that's usually only a handful of tags.

What you suggest will likely involve dozens, if not hundreds of changes to tag wikis on each site. Not to mention that there are plenty of umbrella tags that are used in both contexts. Many tags have no wiki whatsoever.

There's also a lot of work that this would mean for the developers. I expect that we all realized that someone will need to design and program this feature.

The design is an important thing to think about. Not only is color highly cultural, there is no real color tied to ideas. Many sites cater to a diverse audience, so it's an important thing to consider. Also, how will you pick a color without upsetting all the people who paid for tag icons? Changing the color of the non-generic tags runs the risk of clashing with icons like that.

Currently, the Processing tag isn't abused at all on SO. A single user (the OP of that question I linked) single handedly keeps the tag clean. And SO has the most users of any site here, with plenty of users that just throw tags around.

The easiest solution is to just retag the questions yourself, and maintain it. Do the experienced members at least realize how to use the tag?

I would not get your hopes up and expect the new users to realize what tags mean, regardless of what color they may be.

I realize that this probably isn't what you want to hear, but I'm just trying to describe the reality of the situation, as I see it.

  • 6
    I did specifically say that each site should have to opt in and show need and support for this before it would be implemented.
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 18:46
  • @Catija I'm just giving you some perspective from elsewhere in the network. Do you think that it would be implemented for M&TV alone? I know that some features are rolled out with specific sites in mind, like "citation needed" and sandboxes.
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 18:53
  • 5
    If I thought it would be implemented on M&TV only, I would have asked this on the meta there. I mostly felt that your answer, while useful, didn't show that you'd actually read the request.
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 19:46
  • @Catija I have read your question several times, and I wrote my answer accordingly. I already thought a lot about this when it was brought up on MSO; you should consider reading the post I linked to. What type of answer were you looking for?
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 20:03

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