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I think we've been kind of dancing around this question a lot, lately, and I'm not seeing a definitive answer in the FAQ. If I click on Tags at the top, I get "A tag is a keyword or label that categorizes your question with other, similar questions. Using the right tags makes it easier for others to find and answer your question." However, in response to Is the “system-agnostic” tag really necessary?, digitaljoel was accused of "essentially (re)defining the entire purpose of tags." Clearly, someone knows what the right and wrong way to use tags is well enough to say that digitaljoel wasn't using them right, even though he was definitely using them to "find...question[s]."

I see them being used for five purposes:

  1. Limit the scope of answers - this can be handled explicitly in the text of the question.
  2. Search for questions which already answer a particular question.
  3. Search for interesting questions about a topic.
  4. Avoid questions which are not interesting because they pertain to a particular topic.
  5. Try to attract attention to a question (presupposes that people are already doing #3).

Am I missing something? Is use #1 illegitimate? If I want to know about designing scenarios with orcs, but I'm only interested in answers appropriate for MERP, is tagging the post [merp] enough, or do I need to put MERP in the Title or the Question? Is it even appropriate to tag it [merp], since it's not really about MERP, it's just that I happen to be playing MERP, so I need to let people know that if they're thinking Shadowrun, they're not going to be much use to me.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure of how I'd answer, but I think you've definitely asked the important question here. Answering this will help us with lots of other problems. \$\endgroup\$ – Numenetics Sep 9 '10 at 21:31
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Tags are metadata that describe (not proscribe) a question. They are for all the reasons you list in your question.

A person answering a question may look at the question's tags to determine the questioner's intent. For example, "What does a Troglodyte actually smell like?" was tagged [adnd1.0] by the questioner. That signals answerers to give answers that make sense to players of Advanced D&D (1st Edition) and not, say, D&D 4E.

If you're asking a question and need answers appropriate to MERP, tag your question [merp]. For additional clarity, also mention MERP in your question.

In other words, the metadata is information that can be used however people want. Since people will likely use it when answering a question, add tags that limit answers in a useful way. Since people will likely use it when searching for questions and answers, add tags that help people find the right material.

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Tags are for describing the content of a question. This facilitates searching, filtering, and various other organizational purposes.

Tags should:

  • describe the content of a question
  • be general enough that they are not used only a couple times
  • stand alone (adequately describe a question if they are the only tag on it)

Besides that, they are a folksonomy, which means their use should be emergent and what the community in general finds useful.

Illuminating links - The Death of Meta Tags

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't speak for the community, but I find "being able to predict and understand how tags should be used" useful, which is why I asked the question. Telling me that I won't know how they're used until after they've been used makes them explicitly less useful to me. \$\endgroup\$ – kodi Sep 10 '10 at 2:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you just want someone to tell you as opposed to being involved in determining it, then yes, tag it [merp]. Putting MERP in the body as well would also be useful for those who aren't paying attention or don't know what that is based on the tag, but that's a personal quality control issue. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 10 '10 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find your responses quite frustrating. I'm not sure if they're intended to be argumentative and dismissive. Let me just rephrase my main point, in case we're talking at angles, here: I would find tags more useful if we came to an explicit agreement about what tags should be used for. Telling me without any explanation, that further discussion of what tags are useful for is impossible and pointless, frustrates me. \$\endgroup\$ – kodi Sep 10 '10 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am also finding your responses frustrating, because I am genuinely trying to answer your question. Tags are used to describe the content of a question - which if you think about it, is different from many of the uses to which you could put tags. Those tags are then used for a variety of purposes, but if the nature of the tag is "describes the content domain of the question," it will be successfully and appropriately used for those purposes. What the specific tags will be will emerge as a folksonomy. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Sep 10 '10 at 23:15
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Tags are most frequently metadata that describe a question, but may also be used for other purposes (most frequently to signal special treatment to the meta-site, but also for other purposes). They are for all the reasons you list in your question, and any other uses the community as a whole deems useful.

An example of a tag used for metadata purposes is rules-as-written

An example of a tag used for special treatment purposes is discussion

An example of a tag used for some other purpose may be rules , which may be designed to protect the tagging system from the ignorant and may be synonymed to do-not-use-this-tag.

This answer is inspired by commentary on Seven Sided Dice's answer to this question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ #2 is only valid on meta. #3 is not IMO an appropriate use of the tagging system. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 12 '14 at 23:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ #3 describes a proposal that hasn't received much community support, so it's not currently an accurate thing to say about what tags are for, and may never be. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 13 '14 at 1:10

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