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There is an automatic job that deletes single-use tags after 6 months. No attempt is made at determining whether the tags are good and should remain, or whether the tags are a variant name of another tag and should be renamed or made synonyms. No attempt is made to retain tags that have proved their worth, for example with a tag wiki. There is no way to explicitly declare a tag as good. Even beta sites, where it is expected that the tag system is still evolving, are not exempt.. This job is not subject to any review, not even after the fact: one day the tags are there, the next day they're gone.

This has been shown to cause harm on Unix & Linux. Both our current untagged are incoming migrations, but I remember finding untagged questions in the past, that had were about a relatively obscure application and had obviously been tagged with the name of that application, which was exactly right and had to be redone. Untagged questions are only the tip of the iceberg: there is no way to know that a question had a tag deleted if it still has a non-deleted tag.

Please either:

  • turn off the job that deletes single-use tag, and provide a log of past deleted tags so that we can add them back where appropriate; or
  • provide evidence that the deletions were beneficial to the site (I don't know what form the evidence could take other than a log of past deleted tags so that we can ascertain that the tags were indeed useless in a vast majority of cases).

badp has created a data explorer query that shows at-risk tags: tags that are used on a single question and have been around for at least 3 months. I reviewed the first 25:

So that's 18 strongly against, 6 weakly against and 2 in favor of the tag killer. Kill the tag killer!

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    +1 especially when a tag wiki exists. – mattdm Nov 25 '12 at 23:50
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Frankly, none of those tags seem particularly critical to the questions they're attached to. If you only have one question on the site about Netscape, it's pretty easy to find, with or without the tag.

Unlike sites such as Arqade, SciFi, or Movies & TV, the primary tags here on Unix & Linux tend to fall into classes that can be applied to numerous questions. This is good - it's what the tagging system was designed for - and so it's considerably less likely that only one tag can possibly be applied to a question.

The dirty truth is that sites like Gaming and Patents are... kinda abusing the tag system for something it wasn't really designed to do, at least not well: structured categorization of questions. The nature of the topics - and their audiences - make this a necessity: there's simply not a lot of cross-domain knowledge available or desired. Thankfully, that's not really the case here, as demonstrated by both the multitude of tags on questions and the existence of people with Generalist badges.


Update: still declining this (and considerably more likely to decline it elsewhere as well), but this is now implemented. So if you want to make sure an obscure tag doesn't go away if it's only used by a single question, just write up a good excerpt for it.

  • Could you expand on what you mean by "the primary tags here on Unix & Linux tend to fall into classes that can be applied to numerous questions"? On Gaming, there was nothing preventing [okami] from being used on multiple questions except that there was only one question about the game until I asked another. (And I had to go and re-apply the tag to the other question when I asked.) – Jon Ericson Dec 11 '12 at 23:52
  • One of the things you got wrong is that some of these tags should actually be applied to other questions. However, the second question came more than 6 months after the first, so the tag had already disappeared. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 11 '12 at 23:58
  • @Jon: Look at the top tags here: platforms, interfaces, etc. When something akin to this was tried on Gaming, it caused more problems than it solved, so it was abandoned. For most questions, the only even moderately useful tag is the name of the game itself... Which then leads straight to the problem of obscure games and single-use tags. Think of it this way: if you were designing the site from scratch, you'd just offer two fixed choices: series and title. Tags are used to approximate that. – Shog9 Dec 11 '12 at 23:59
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    Right, because it's so much better to have this question tagged configuration than sawfish. There was (until a few minutes ago) a single question about sawfish, but many posts mentioning sawfish. That's why we have tags in addition to plain text searches. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 28 '12 at 23:52
  • That question could use a lot more help than just a tag, @Gilles. Unless you seriously expect folks to search for "[sawfish] beautiful". – Shog9 Dec 29 '12 at 0:12
  • @Shog9 I expect a search like [sawfish] theme. Sure, it's a pretty poor question, but how does removing its useful tag make it better? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 29 '12 at 0:18
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    "sawfish theme" works just as well for that. The tag is completely irrelevant; there's only one question with that tag on the site, no one's following it, and given the extremely low volume of questions I doubt anyone's subscribed to it in any other fashion (even manually). It adds exactly zero context to the post. Does it hurt? No; but it doesn't really help anything either. Adding it, manually removing it, or wasting even a moment's thought on it amounts to re-arranging deck chairs on a large, sinking ship. – Shog9 Dec 29 '12 at 0:19

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