This meta post is being made as per David Fullerton's suggestion.

Hey, Jeff, can we talk?

We know you're very busy doing stuff, but I think many of us folks here on Gaming would appreciate some dialog from your end.

The moderators and regular gaming users noticed a couple of changes that you made last week, and we're... less than satisfied with what happened.

As far as I'm aware, this started when we had David Fullerton ask the core team to improve the way Gaming.stackexchange handled tags. This is not something new - we've been struggling with adapting SE's tag system to work with gaming (and requesting features to change it) for quite some time.

In response, it looks like you decided to take things into your own hands.

Last Wednesday (11/16/11) it first came to attention that you were performing some... radical changes to the site.

Some of these changes, like the tag synonymizing and removal of the [tag:murder] tag, was warranted (and probably long overdue). So, thanks for the help!

Except... you continued going, and went beyond what some of us consider helpful. There were a couple of tags in particular that many of us were, frankly, completely surprised to see vanished in the night.

These are things like (which was not even synonymized with like several other of your merges), and even the tag, which was created in response to a meta discussion in the first place!

We can understand a desire for more concise, clearer tags, but the result of this across the board removal left more than a few questions tagged with nothing more than the name of the game itself. (And if the games themselves are the only worthwhile tags, what's the point of using a tag system at all?)

Finally, you changed the way Gaming displays tags in the titles of questions. This action was startling enough to spawn its own meta thread and brings along issues of its own. (And why go out of the way to change one subsystem on Gaming and nowhere else? Isn't that the reason we weren't upgrading tags?)

As a community, we have two major problems with this series of events.

  • All of this was unannounced. Just like the last time you stepped in, the site got altered first, and explanation came later (hopefully, in this very thread!). Some of these were pretty far-reaching changes, and there was a good deal of confusion about what exactly had happened. There is no record of tag deletion (well, not to us mods, anyway), which only exacerbated matters.

  • You did this without consulting with anyone else about it. At the very least, why not open a meta thread to the extent of, "These tags don't deserve to live. Argue their case if you don't want them to die". Gaming bills itself as "free, community driven Q&A" - so why on earth did we leave the community out of major decision making entirely?

We want this community to succeed even more than you do! If you think there's a problem with tags, answer rates, or any other number of things, let us know! We're never going to be able to get the site to a satisfactory position if you won't let us know what you think is wrong.

So pull up a chair. Stay awhile and listen. And then let us know what we need to do better ♪.

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Thanks for putting our concerns in the perfect words –  jmfsg Nov 23 '11 at 1:58
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+1. I think it's a fair question and very good question from a concerned user. I think I need to get involved with Meta more but I struggle with what to say ... This sums up some valid concerns nicely and is great to see community action... In action... :P. –  IttyBrittyGirlGamer Nov 23 '11 at 15:41
    
@IttyBrittyGirlGamer nah it's better to participate on the main site if you have the time, it's all boring and grey here. I'm still not sure what I'm doing here :) –  Oak Nov 23 '11 at 17:59
    
@IttyBrittyGirlGamer Please don't feel obligated to take part in meta discussion. We need people asking and answering questions more than we need people discussing tags and spoilers and stuff - meta means murder, after all :) –  badp Nov 24 '11 at 4:43
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@badp I don't feel obligated. I just enjoy the site and so I'd like to contribute. I just find it a bit overwhelming, I guess! –  IttyBrittyGirlGamer Nov 26 '11 at 9:04
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1 Answer

up vote 33 down vote accepted

First, I should apologize for not announcing the changes before I made them. You're right about that. But I felt the tagging issues had gone on for 6+ months with no significant action at all, and even worse, a technical programmer code "fix" to the entire Stack Exchange engine was being promoted as a solution to what was, and is, fundamentally an issue of community tagging norms on a specific site.

Adding a CSS !important element to our tagging engine is not the right way to solve anything. That's a band-aid, a nasty hack, treating the symptoms rather than the disease. This, I could not abide -- even though I am technically on Rumspringa right now.

And what is the disease?

  1. Rampant meta-tags. Hundreds of them. , , , ... is it a bug? what's a bug? are you sure it's not a glitch or feature? how do we tell the difference? See http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/08/the-death-of-meta-tags/

  2. Over-tagging. In general users tend to over-tag, which is why we almost immediately had to move from "unlimited tags!" in early versions of Stack Overflow to "um, yeah, apparently that was a bad idea, so 5 tags max please." Generally speaking, being more strict about

    do you really need this tag on the question? is anyone truly going to follow this tag, for reals?

    ... is a better choice than being super-permissive and having a more-the-merrier attitude on tagging.

    The brutal truth is that for most games, you don't ever need more than one tag on a question. Who is following the tag? What does even mean? Is it used consistently? Yes, once you have hundreds of questions on a particular game, then you could make a reasonable argument that having some sub-areas within the game is rational. And two tags should cover 99% of any possible topics about a game, I guess until you have thousands of questions about that game.

    Consider this question, as originally tagged --

    Is it possible to "import" a Saints Row 2 character into SR3?

    Is someone truly going to browse all questions? Or subscribe to the tag? The correct solution here is not to add a CSS !important hack to the tag, but ask -- why the heck does this question need a superfluous tag? Either you are interested in the game, or you aren't. There are 24 questions on the site; why do we need to disambiguate with these extra tags? Read the title, and click through if it strikes your fancy!

The current tagging system is intentionally simple: the more popular the tag is, the more prominent it is on the question. To avoid conflict with generic tags, the key is not to add more arbitrary complexity to our tagging system across the entire network -- but to use as few generic tags as possible, because, well, see above. Omit Needless Words (and Tags), man.

So let's treat the disease together (overtagging, meta-tags), not the symptoms (gosh, there are four tags on this question, which one is most important?!).

What needs to happen is a strong cleanup of the zillions of meta-tags on gaming to make sure that the game tags aren't "fighting" with other tags. I've done a lot of work in this area removing the really obviously inappropriate meta-tags, I've merged and synonymized a bunch like and into and I'll continue to do so. I agree that this is really work the moderators should be doing, and it is our failing as a company that we were not naggingeducating the community more about the peculiarities of the gaming site subject and how to make it work on our engine.

And if the games themselves are the only worthwhile tags, what's the point of using a tag system at all?

Why not just Keep It Simple and use the absolute minimum number of tags that are necessary -- typically, just the game title? When has "hey, let's do the simplest thing that works" ever been the wrong answer?

Finally, you changed the way Gaming displays tags in the titles of questions.

An integer value was changed from 1 to 2 to accommodate the fact that the game title might be the second tag on a question due to the peculiarities of this particular site, where every game ever created on any platform for the history of recorded time can possibly have its own top-level tag. (Compare with Stack Overflow, for example, where there are a considerably more finite number of active top-level programming languages).

All that said, I completely agree that I should have opened a meta thread about it first, and I apologize for not doing so.

In my defense, in the spirit of Wikipedia's Be Bold, we also like to encourage direct action to improve the site -- not next month, not next year, but hey how about.. right now?

Gaming Stack Exchange -- Deeds, Not Words

Although I continue to have reservations about gaming as a topic, you can plainly see by my activity history that I participate here in good faith here along with everyone else. Everything I do is intended to make Stack Exchange better, simpler, and ... more awesome.

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I genuinely don't think anyone here doubts your aims, Jeff. Yet some questions remain open. Some of these ugly, horrendous tags were only remaining on the site because we were waiting for the touch of a dev to cleanly nuke them without requiring over nine thousand manual edits - while for some tags a merge was enough, the most heinous tags such as strategy needed nuking from orbit. Clearly, it was our fault for not nagging you enough about that. That said, I've always been iffy on having less non-game tags that have as a result more questions each, shadowing more game tags... tradeoffs. –  badp Nov 23 '11 at 7:10
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Take for example the subject of some recent meta discussion - the weapons tag. Who would subscribe to a tag about "all" questions about all weapons in all games? Still it can be useful when used in combination with other tags. Then if we need subtags why not have proper subtags: tf2-weapons skyrim-weapons etc.? Because if we did that now our page titles would now read "skyrim skyrim weapons - How do I..." "team fortress 2 tf2 spy - Should I..." and that really does sound spammy. Again: tradeoffs. We saw "important tags" idea as a way to avoid doing tradeoffs and kind of stuck there. :/ –  badp Nov 23 '11 at 7:15
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@Jeff Firstly, I want to thank you for apologizing for not notifying the community. I know it didn't sit quite right with me and several others, and we appreciate hearing from you. However, in regards to point #2, I'm a little confused at your decision to use Saints Row 3 for your example question. I fully agree that 24 questions isn't really an issue. The Skyrim promotion was incredibly successful though (yay!) and we have 625 questions now, likely with more to come. StarCraft 2 and Minecraft have 800+. What do you suggest in these cases? –  FAE Nov 23 '11 at 13:01
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"When has "hey, let's do the simplest thing that works" ever been the wrong answer?" When has it ever been the right answer? The simplest thing that works in terms of Q&A is Yahoo! Answers, which pre-dates Stack Exchange by three years. Obviously the simplest answer is hardly ever the best. –  user56 Nov 23 '11 at 13:08
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My biggest problem with the 2 tag in title solution is that it adds clutter in front of the title, it makes us more look like SEO spammers than a serious site. We're wasting precious space in the title, making a worse impression on users seeing our content in Google. I still think that a blacklist is the most promising approach, especially after the tags are cleaned up. –  Mad Scientist Nov 23 '11 at 13:11
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@fabian remember that tag words which are already organically in the title are not mirrored. –  Jeff Atwood Nov 23 '11 at 15:52
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@fallen I don't see a problem there; if the game is popular, it can support a second tag further categorizing the questions. However, the tag still must be meaningful and specific, and I would argue that tags like [weapons] and [character-build] and [equipment] are neither of those. –  Jeff Atwood Nov 23 '11 at 15:56
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@arda yahoo answers does not work, so I'm a little confused what point you are trying to make, if any –  Jeff Atwood Nov 23 '11 at 16:00
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@Jeff We were talking about trying to divide these subcategories and our goal was to try to create tags that could accommodate multiple games, hence the broadness of [weapons], [equipment] and [crafting], rather than [spellcasting], [dual-wield], and [alchemy]/[enchanting]/[smithing]. So is the preference actually to create more granular tags that are game-specific? Won't this create more tags? –  FAE Nov 23 '11 at 16:06
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@IttyBritty You can search with more than just one tag. For example, putting both [skyrim] and [pc] in the search field will bring up all posts tagged with both. The intention here is to use this method to allow further filtering of games that have a lot of questions. So no, no one will likely be looking for all [weapons], but our reasoning was that [skyrim]+[weapons] would be a helpful categorization for people who were interested in questions about weapons in the game Skyrim. –  FAE Nov 23 '11 at 16:24
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@oak caveat to that old meta answer, I can support these kinds of tags but only for extremely popular games where the number of questions is 500+. In general they are not a good idea, but as a game grows to 1k questions, there probably should be some game-specific segmentation in the tags, and those tags are better off being more specific and less generic, so they won't be misused and so they can better aid the "information scent" in the question. –  Jeff Atwood Nov 23 '11 at 17:53
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@FallenAngelEyes The problem then comes with the fact we have only a limit of 25 characters - Skyrim fares well enough at only 6 letters, but more popular games could make it very complex to support this methodology of subdivision properly. –  Grace Note Nov 23 '11 at 18:07
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So then when a game reachs 500 question, we'll have to go back and retag them all? –  Ullallulloo Nov 23 '11 at 18:09
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@JeffAtwood The point I was making is that usually, the simple solution (Yahoo! Answers) does not work. –  user56 Nov 23 '11 at 19:42
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If subscriptions are a good way to measure the usefulness of a tag, then I'm with Jeff on this. I'm only subscribed to two types of tags: game titles and platforms. Game title tags because when I'm into a game I want to be aware of every question being posted about that game. Even if the game has 500+ questions for it, I will at least read the titles of every one, and the whole question for many of them. Platform tags because I like to see questions relevant to the platforms I own, though they are much more useful for less-popular platforms, such as PSP, and for hardware-issue questions. –  YellowMegaMan Nov 24 '11 at 2:20
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