My sympathies are more with Konrad on this one. On this issue, I think that we're closer to the MO model than the SO model.
That said, if Jeff had said "let's get rid of useless tags and ambiguous tags" then I wouldn't have had any argument with him; of course, there'd've been a discussion about which tags were useless or ambiguous, but that's at a lower level than simply decreeing all "meta-tags" (what they?) as "to be discouraged".
I think that Konrad makes a very good point in his comment on Jeff's blog: that tags are not "one thing" but serve several purposes. Here's where I think that we'll be closer to MO than SO. On SO (I imagine), almost every question should get a "language" tag. Indeed, the few times that I've been to SO, I've almost immediately gone to the
latex tag. I do that because only there do I have a hope of contributing, so why would I look anywhere else? (Of course, if I have a question then it might be about, say, PHP and then I'll search within the PHP tag to see if that question has already been asked.) On MO, we have certain "top level" tags which correspond (almost exactly) to the classifications on the arXiv. However, I don't use that to filter the questions. I will scan through all the questions on the main page, and often click through to questions that aren't tagged 'at.algebraic-topology' because there are often questions in other areas where I may be able to contribute.
So what's the difference between MO and SO, and why are we more like MO? In short, the boundaries are not so well-defined and that's MO behaviour, not SO. It's hard to think of any tags that we could have that would match the "language" tags on SO. They would have to fulfil the following criteria:
- A questioner should know from their question which of the major tags to use.
- An answerer should know from their expertise which of the major tags they can contribute in.
- A browser should know from their interests which tags to browse through for interesting questions.
I can't think of any here that match those.
One oft-cited use of tags is as a way of filtering out the stuff you don't want to see. That's certainly true of my use of tags, but because of the lack of definition in the boundaries, tags are simply suggestions and can be freely ignored. Thus I can't trust the RSS feed for a given set of tags simply because I'll miss so much: both opportunities to help and chances to learn. If I ignored all questions tagged "luatex" (since I don't, at present, use it) then I'd miss out on the opportunity to learn about it and learn why I should use it.
So thinking about Jeff's criteria for "what is a meta-tag":
If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question, it’s probably a meta-tag.
Frankly, that's ambiguous. What does that mean? I could tag a question
latex and that would "work" because the question is about latex, but it doesn't help anyone so it's a useless tag. On the other hand, in conjunction with other tags,
latex could help a lot: it says "much as I would like to learn how to do this in ConTeXt, I really only want a LaTeX solution". Why should tags stand alone? Why can't they build on each other and modify each other?
If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it’s probably a meta-tag.
No, that's just a bad choice and so is already discouraged.
I'd rather say: each tag should slice out an area of the "designated field" of this website. An ambiguous tag is one that slices out an area with a fuzzier-than-usual boundary, and a useless tag is one that doesn't do any actual slicing. But note that both depend a bit on other tags. Clearly, both
latex on a question is redundant, but both could stand alone and be useful in the right context. To be even shorter:
A good tag is one that helps a potential answerer come to the right conclusion as to whether or not they should look at the question
In conclusion, I would rather the discussion be about:
Identifying useless tags and dealing with them. If it's a tag that is sometimes used incorrectly, then we (the higher rep users) simply need to be vigilant about them. If it's a tag that is used incorrectly much more often than not, then there's a case for actively discouraging it.
Identifying ways to make the tagging system clear (particularly to newcomers): it's purposes (note the plural) and tips for how best to use it. In particular, if a tag is getting abused, but is still felt as potentially useful, we can consider how to discourage people from using it (perhaps as simple as renaming it).
Figuring out exactly what those purposes are. As I've tried to argue (perhaps a bit rambling), here's one area where importing stuff as-is from SO ain't gonna fit, and we should think a bit more carefully about what would make this site the best for the target audience.