I'll start by saying that the tagging system on StackOverflow is generally very good, especially when compared with other sites. But at the same time there is some obvious room for improvement and I am very much in favor of making it easier for users to tag things correctly and harder for them to tag badly. For example, I think tags like 'and' should be banned, warnings shown if you use a tag with less than 10 other instances, tag synonyms checked at the time of a question is asked or edited rather than hourly, and a method created to propose tags for elimination or merging.

But does bad tagging really cost the site much? Obviously it costs the question asker, since bad tags can doom a question to oblivion, but that's not really what I'm getting at.

In the past I've thought that a lot of the site really depends on good tagging, but lately I'm not so sure. Google, for example, won't use the tags for indexing. And I've rarely used the tag search option on the site itself when I didn't have a pretty good idea exactly what I was looking for. This could be improved by allowing a tag wildcard search to match the interesting tags code. We lose some metrics data, but is that really important?

I think the biggest potential impact is when a question does not get answered because of how a new user tagged their question, and as a result we lose that user. Will this happen often enough to be worth fighting for?


One of the only problems with tagging is that new users won't understand the relationship between tags and how they affect the viewing audience for their question.

I often see new users posting questions with a single tag, and often it's not even related to the problem.

What about implementing some kind of warning to the user before posting a question if they only use one tag? In the warning you could re-iterate that using broader tags will widen the viewing audience for their question, and give them a "submit anyway" button to make it fairly unobtrusive.

  • Good point. If new users got the relationship between tags and audience, they'd probably be a lot more careful about getting it right in the first place without a need for any technical solution at all. – Joel Coehoorn Jul 6 '09 at 21:39

I believe tagging is a never ending job for the community to constantly improve. The tagging on SO.com is one of the best I have ever seen.

The arguments and such that have resulted from editing and other things are a good and healthy part of the community.

I think one of the biggest assets the team could give us would be to help us 'power editors' out by giving us a mechanism to bypass the captcha. My editing/retagging is greatly slowed and hindered by the captcha. If it were removed, I wouldn't mind taking on even more editing.


I don't think that bad tagging has much of a negative impact on the site thanks to the number of people who spend a lot of time combing through questions and retagging them to something more appropriate. This cuts down on a lot of the cruft. My previous suggestion for a "standard" tag to alert other users that a question needs help got mixed results.

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    I see an awful lot of bad tagging that gets past us, much more than I'd ever have time to even start correcting by hand. – Joel Coehoorn Jun 29 '09 at 17:28

I think it holds SO back more than it negatively impacts things. If I had a lot of faith in tagging, I would use it more.

It seems be bad etiquette (according to the sofaq) to clean up questions, tagging and retagging them and tweaking tag names; but I think that's a poor choice. Giving people a blessing to go forth and surreptiously and unobtrusively change all duplicate and synonymous tags would greatly improve the system, in my opinion. And some tags don't make much sense - "hackernews" and "jquery-solves-everything"

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    Some of us in the community tend to find a bad tag setup here and there and will make that a personal project for a short period of time and will work maybe an hour or two and clean it all up for that particular set of tags. – TheTXI Jun 29 '09 at 17:34
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    We already have that blessing and we do it quite a bit. – GEOCHET Jun 29 '09 at 17:35
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    I was under the impression that retagging for organizational sake was not the best use of an edit, as Tom says. Perhaps the faq should be updated? – womp Jul 6 '09 at 19:06

Personally I only occasionally use the tagging feature to find/filter anything on SO.

Where tagging is sometimes useful is in questions where a specific version of a product or tool isn't mentioned in the body text, but is specified in the tags. For example SQL Server or C# versions.

I did used to try and highlight/ignore questions by tag but found that I missed out on good stuff I'd never really had an interest in before, or the question highlighting would be distracting.

SO's tagging is OK, it's no worse/better than many other tagging implementations driven by their own communities, and personally I've never really found tagging systems that effective or ideal anyway.

  • Do you just read all new questions on SO then? If not then how do you restrict the number of questions you read? – Jim McKeeth Jun 29 '09 at 18:11
  • Believe it or not I read them all (well the summaries on the home page). – Kev Jun 29 '09 at 20:01

Posts can be re-tagged by people with sufficient rep and many people do tidy up tags. An example of this is SQL Server, which generates many redundant tags. The user community does a fairly good job of keeping the tags tidy.

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