This might have been asked before, but I want to highlight my specific issue. Feel free to move this question as appropriate.


I see an increasing trend of tag-abuse on Stack Overflow, especially of tags that relate to APIs. One of my favorite APIs, OpenGL, is full of questions that are totally unrelated to the API. It seems that there is a default shared view of users on the site that API-tags are meant to be used, just because the code associated with the issue uses the API for functionality. Even though it has nothing to do with the question. The OpenGL tag is poisoned with questions regarding linker-errors (unresolved symbols because they forgot to link to the OpenGL or GLU libraries) and theory that is related to computer graphics, that does not depend on OpenGL in any shape or form.


Linker problems:

Why does my program fail to link?
Why do I get an undefined reference( to `glColor3f' ,for example) when I compile a program in c?
Linker Error: Undefined reference

Other questions that uses OpenGL as a pure implementation detail, but where the tag is totally unrelated to the question:

Understanding the relationship between glutDisplayFunc and glutPostRedisplay
Finding the angles for the X, Y and Z axis in 3D - OpenGL/C++
Multiplying matrices

My opinion on the matter

I could go on and on. My opinion is that API tags have to exist for questions that are truly about the use of the APIs, and not just tags for questions that happen to use the APIs. If not, what is the point? In OpenGL's example, you get the Qt, Win32, GLUT, linear-algebra, gcc, ld-linker and computer-graphics tags all in one. It's a mess, and it is difficult to find on-topic questions in all the noise. I'm not saying that using more than one tag is bad. I just think that all tags should be relevant to the problem/scenario at hand.

I don't want this to become a rant, so here is my question: What can I do, to make this better? I can retag and edit questions, but it is a lot of work. I don't really mind, but before I go on a retag rampage, I want to know that I haven't lost my mind. Clearly I don't want to end up as a grump tag-nazi that people hate. I'm totally behind the Stack Overflow philosophy. We should be civil and helpful. But in order to be helpful, the tags should make sense.

So, do people here agree that retagging is warranted? And what else can be done to migrate the issue?


It seems that it boils down to how pure we should consider tags to be. Answers have been posted from both camps. One camp thinks that redundant tags is a collateral; something we have to live with in order to please the novice crowd. The other camp thinks tags should be as clean and specific as possible. I really want to retag a lot of questions, but I will wait until more people have voiced their opinions on the matter.

A general consensus and guidelines on tagging and retagging would have been great (and solid arguments to back it up).

  • 1
    See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/61307/… - a question isn't necessarily off-topic for a tag simply because it concerns tangential areas that don't interest you, but all tags should describe the question itself.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 17:22
  • @Shog9 Also, sometimes the question includes $API, but the question itself could be rephrased to not mention $API, without losing any useability or context. Examples above show this. A linker error is a linker error. Which library it is does not matter for the question. So I would say all tags should describe the question itself, after the question is as simplified as possible
    – Mads Elvheim
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 17:47
  • @Mads: while true enough, C/C++ and OpenGL present a bit of a challenge for many users who are used to pulling examples off of the 'Net without worrying about multiple, platform-specific link libraries and associated configuration headaches. While it is possible to point to a general solution to a linker error without knowing anything about the APIs involved, it can be much easier if someone familiar with the specific library is able to respond with specific details.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 18:38
  • @Shog9 So it boils down to how 'pure' we should consider tags. I won't take action until one side gets a majority. My goal is not to piss off users or moderators, but I firmly believe that something has to be done in order to keep tags useful.
    – Mads Elvheim
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 23:04
  • @Mads: You should read this discussion. Regardless of how "pure" some of us might want tags to be, the cold hard truth is that much tagging is done by users who aren't trained taxonomists, don't read Meta, and have very different opinions (and fairly simple decision processes) for how tags should be applied. You have to work within those constraints.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 21:22
  • And often the user doesn't actually know where the problem lies, and the steps to solve it often turn out to be specific to that library...
    – SamB
    Commented Nov 25, 2010 at 17:50

3 Answers 3


These are real problems that opengl programmers have, especially when they just get started. Yes, I don't doubt it many of them are boring questions to an expert. The tag is however functional to getting them connected to an expert that's willing to help them. Who probably worked through these exact same problems years ago and doesn't mind sharing the solution he found.

Tinkering with something that has worked so well is tricky, you're liable to create thousands of little islands where nobody can find each other anymore. Filtering the 'noise' requires a different approach, check this thread for an almost identical question. Also consider the possibility that SO is just getting too noisy for you.

  • > Also consider the possibility that SO is just getting too noisy for you. Yes, I have considered just stopping answering questions alltogether before I get too fed up. But that would be a coup-out. I care about StackOverflow, and I want it to become better.
    – Mads Elvheim
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 20:43
  • @Hans Passant: Not only that, you also haven't read my question properly. I have nothing against several tags. But all tags should have something to do with the question. If the question isn't really about the API but something else, then the API tag should not be used. Or perhaps you really endorse that all C and C++ related API tags should have questions regarding linker errors for example?
    – Mads Elvheim
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 20:55
  • 1
    @Mads: I suspect installation and configuration questions for non-standard libraries will be par for the course. If you can find a really good Q&A on dealing with linker errors somewhere, you could add it to the wiki and make a habit of linking to it from related, lib-specific questions... but some folks just want a fish.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 21:13
  • @Mads - I think I read your question, I was specifically trying to discourage this kind of tag editing. The thousands of little islands outcome. I realize that you probably didn't want to hear that. Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 21:14
  • @Hans Passant: I wanted a discussion, so of course I wanted that. I'd buy your concern if there were compelling arguments for the scenario, or if more people show up here with the same view. Right now, I just happen to disagree.
    – Mads Elvheim
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 22:51
  • @Mads - the arguments are not compelling, not enough people to show up with your view, you still disagree. Where do you want to take this? A discussion requires some common ground to have a point. Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 1:23
  • 1
    @Hans Passant: You have voiced your opinion, and I thank you for that. I don't think that removing these tags will create any "islands" though. They will simply be in the right category. And two posts seem to agree with me, but I don't think that enough people have answered yet. And I think we have a common ground. We both agree that there are people not using th tags properly. how we go around to resolve it doesn't matter, as long as it can be fixed somehow. If you say "this is how it has to be", then fine. Then I hope other people have suggestions.
    – Mads Elvheim
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 1:51

Yes, retagging is warranted where the problem doesn't actually have to do with the tag.

Please be bold and retag. It saves me the work of doing it myself. I'm only one person!

  • But do you agree with the examples I gave? I mean, it's not always black and white. If it was, an algorithm could do it for us.
    – Mads Elvheim
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 16:56
  • 1
    Yes, absolutely, I agree. That's why we have rep and the ability to edit tags. Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 17:03

It's a community job to keep and maintain tags. If there's one tag nazi around, I plead guilty.

Tags are put in to garner attention, and maybe that's legitimate at first. After all, if the person understood what the problem was, very often they wouldn't be asking the question in the first place. So at first comes confusion (understandably), with generous tagging, and as the question is answered and accepted and finally laid to rest, there's a cleanup job to get it tagged right, for posterity.

  • Sure, sometimes the inquisitor have to know the answer in order to know the right tags. Those are of course excused. I refer to the obvious posts where they should have known better. Anyway, you make a good point.
    – Mads Elvheim
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 17:33
  • @Mads, Arguably, to a neophyte, it's only obvious once they've figured it out. I might have done the same mistake in those cases.
    – MPelletier
    Commented Nov 19, 2010 at 17:56