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There are quite a few threads asking about tags that tend to lead to off-topic questions:



In some of these, people suggest the idea that I came here to ask about: intentionally adding tags for off-topic topics. (Not being the focus of the thread, they've gone unanswered or gotten sidelined, so here's a thread just for the idea.)

Rationale: The current workflow for a newcomer asking an off-topic question is this:

  1. Write their off-topic question
  2. (Optional) Look for appropriate tags and find none
  3. Click Post and be told they must have at least one tag
  4. Search unsuccessfully for a relevant tag and pick a vaguely related or random one
  5. Post

Step 4 here is unproductive for everyone. In my experience at French SE, there are at least two undesirable outcomes:

  • The tag they chose is obviously irrelevant and diminishes the accuracy of the search; an edit is required to remove it
  • The tag they chose is not obviously irrelevant and diminishes the accuracy of the tag

In the first case all that's needed is an edit to remove it, but the second case is worse. Not all tags are black and white on all sites; some are subject to interpretation, particularly if they include words that exist in both lay speech and technical jargon. Each off-topic question admitted to these tags not only delays closure but generates discussion that tends to add to the "case law" and muddies the water. This discussion typically involves people talking past each other since the newcomer has yet to learn the nuances of SE interpretation.

I suggest curtailing the process at step 2 by adding off-topic tags to bait and catch such questions. The newcomer finds that a tag exists; they choose it; their question is easily identified as OT, the reasons expressed, and the question closed.

One variant suggested in the existing threads on this idea is that such tags could carry a flag marking them as off-topic. This could help users and mods identify them and/or even come with UI additions to alert the user to its nature. (However, I suspect that the latter would not be a good solution for newcomers and that they would assume they'd chosen the wrong tag and proceed to step 4 as before. A/B testing could evaluate this option.)

One objection raised seems to be that adding such tags grants them unwanted legitimacy. I believe that a clear enough explanation of what they're there for, and perhaps the flagging variant above, could negate this to some degree — and that it's still better than muddying the intended use of the tags.

Thoughts invited!

10
  • 7
    tags only exist because questions using them exist. If a question is off-topic it will be closed and if not deleted manually, likely roombad into deletion. The tag will then cease to exist too. Jan 31, 2021 at 15:53
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    Related (not a dupe): What tags for a totally off-topic question?. Jan 31, 2021 at 16:48
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    Wow, -10 for a researched & considered question asking for feedback. May be a bad idea but that doesn't make a bad question. Aight, mods can delete if it's not worth folks' time. Jan 31, 2021 at 18:12
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    @LukeSawczak On Meta sites votes are used to indicate agreement/disagreement with what is presented in the post. On such sites votes also are used to indicate what people feel about the quality of the post, but agreement/disagreement tends to be primary. In the case of this question, I expect that the downvotes are entirely indicating disagreement with this feature request, rather than a reflection of what people feel about the quality of this question and effort which went into it.
    – Makyen
    Jan 31, 2021 at 18:45
  • I'd also note that you've tagged this as a feature-request, which means that you're looking for support for the requested feature. That tends to make it even more likely that people will be using their votes to indicate agreement/disagreement with adding the requested feature. If it was tagged discussion, then it would be a bit more likely that votes would reflect quality, rather than only agreement/disagreement. (continued)
    – Makyen
    Jan 31, 2021 at 18:51
  • (continued) However, agreement/disagreement would still be a major part of the voting, but some people would also vote just on if they felt the post/discussion was good, particularly if there were already answers which they could vote on to indicate agreement/disagreement with a particular position/point of view.
    – Makyen
    Jan 31, 2021 at 18:51
  • @Makyen Good call on the tags; I'll edit that. I don't spend enough time on Meta to know the voting culture. Jan 31, 2021 at 18:51
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    I guess I can imagine having 'identification-request' tag on Anime.SE, just to get the questions closed and deleted... (but we don't want to give a false promise to the asker in the first place though...) Jan 31, 2021 at 19:05
  • @MetaAndrewT. Yes, that's the idea and that's a good caveat (possibly covered by the variant mentioned above) Jan 31, 2021 at 20:08
  • I must say, it's a minor annoyance that you can't delete or close your question as a non-mod, accepting that it's viewed as a bad idea and stopping the slow bleed of rep points as others breeze by to downvote it. Oh well. Feb 2, 2021 at 23:15

3 Answers 3

7

Tags are not for the asker. Tags are for the experts to find questions they want to answer.

No one is going to subscribe to . Heck, I even expect the experts to add that bait their Ignore list. And that has the adverse effect you're hoping for: Less eyes on new questions, crap linger longer on the site, new users are confused why no one responds, no one explains what the rules are.

I give you that on-boarding new users is a weak point on SE sites and the many, many similar looking textboxes on the internet make it difficult to explain why our textboxes and submit button require higher quality content / a different posting approach then all other non SE sites.

Making tags and their wiki's better accessible is a feature I can support. Leveraging our somewhat ineffective tag system to make it even more ineffective or even valueless is not on my wish list.

The curators in their respective tags are capable enough of handling new questions. That doesn't need a masquerade to hide the actual problem.

4

Interesting idea, but at least two major flaws.

  1. As pointed out in a comment, in order to have a tag, at least one question with that tag must exist.
  2. As pointed out in other comment, having such tags will encourage people to post the off topic questions in the wrong place, as they won't read the tag description and think having the tag means the site accepts such questions.
2

If you have tags for off topic questions - you've already wasted everyone's time.

The very moment someone has written their off-topic question - they have wasted their time. The question gets reviewed, closed, and the user is frustrated. Facilitating said waste of OP's signs via antipatterns like off topic tags on main sites is counter productive. On metas such tags may be useful for discussing scope - but the questions themselves would be on topic.

If such an off topic tag leads to an inability to post - we've done even worse and entrapped a user into posting an off topic question.

A good solution stops step 1 (and as a meta mod, I deal with enough of those I use a userscript to manage them!). Its difficult, but that means we don't need to worry about the rest of it.

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  • It's not an antipattern; it's just the equivalent of issuing quality codes to assembly line products: the products can self-code as bad or good rather than all self-coding as good and leaving others to sort it out. But I understand your point that you don't want to think of tags as quality codes, and that it would be better to fix the assembly line process to only yield good-quality products. Which of course everyone wants, and which is not incompatible with better coding at the same time. Feb 1, 2021 at 1:50

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