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Stack Overflow is a huge site. It gets about 3.4k questions a day. As such, people need to filter out questions by tags. Otherwise, they won't be able to find questions they can answer, or at the very least will waste a lot of time trying to find them. The traffic is just too great. For this reason, a solid taxonomy of tags is of a crucial importance.

Tags fall into one of two categories:

  • Category tags: Tags people follow, the ones they use to find questions they can answer as expert. Examples: PHP, Java, C#, C++, JavaScript, Python, etc.

  • Supplementary tags: They're useful but only occasionally so, and usually only for search purposes.
    Examples: asynchronous, textbox, dynamic, etc.

The scope of Skeptics.SE is huge; we cover nearly all pop science questions.

Like Stack Overflow, Skeptics.SE will need a strong taxonomy of category tags to increase the chance users find questions they can answer. Our category tags will have to be specific enough to be useful, to identify an interest, but broad enough so that one doesn't have to follow twenty tags to follow all the questions he's interested in.

Unlike Stack Overflow, that will be hard to achieve. Most of the category tags on SO are programming languages. Tagging a question about C# with [C#] is pretty intuitive. What do you tag a question about creationism with? Biology, creationism, evolution, religion and intelligent design all seem like good potential tags, but at which point does the tagging become redundant or overly broad? Let's not forget there's also a maximum of five tags we have to work with.

So, what should our category tags be?

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For category tags to be useful, we need to be consistent in applying them. At the point where we have a few thousand questions it will be too late if they are used inconsistently.

I think the sciences, as Borror0 suggested, are a good start for tagging categories, but I think we need to expand on them.

Many subject will come up regularly and deserve their own tag like or , those should be applied additionally to the category tag.

The following is an inital try to compose a list of categories for our existing questions. If there are subtags, the question should be tagged with the parent tag and the child tag.

Natural sciences

Social sciences

Pseudosciences

Medical/Health

Other

  • Health is redundant with medicine and nutrition. I should be killed and replaced by the proper field of science. – Borror0 Mar 8 '11 at 13:17
  • @Borror I was also thinking along those lines, I opened a meta topic about that in the beginning. We should probably merge health into medicine, but I think nutrition may be useful as a seperate tag. – Mad Scientist Mar 8 '11 at 13:29
  • You should break science and pseudoscience into two groups. The list is pretty big as it is. – Borror0 Mar 8 '11 at 13:42
  • @Borror those groups are essentially meaningless, and for now there is only astrology for the pseudoscience group. I'll think about how to order them more sensibly. – Mad Scientist Mar 8 '11 at 13:48
  • @Borror I've changed the categories and merged health into medicine. – Mad Scientist Mar 8 '11 at 14:40
  • Should climate-change questions be also tagged with climatology? – Borror0 Mar 8 '11 at 15:03
  • Environment should be the tag for environmental science. – Borror0 Mar 8 '11 at 15:04
  • @Borror I don't think we will get any questions about climatology except related to climate change, but to be consistent we could certainly do that. – Mad Scientist Mar 8 '11 at 15:05
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I suggest that all questions should be tagged with the field of science it belongs to: psychology questions get the psychology tag, questions which require knowledge of chemistry get the chemistry tag, etc.

I think we should make an exception for biology, though, since it's such a vast topic. A zoologist has very little in common with a microbiologist. Using each subfield (zoology, microbiology, abiogenesis, etc.) instead would be a better choice. Biology is too broad, in my opinion. Also, the tag doesn't need to be the field. Using [evolution] over [evolutionary-biology] might be advisable, for example.

Needless to say, some of the more established pseudosciences will get their own category tag. We shouldn't force astrology question onto people who follow the astronomy tags.

  • Biology is a broad field, but I think the subfields, except for evolution, are too specific to be very useful as tags. – Mad Scientist Mar 8 '11 at 9:16
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While it is good to put some thought into this, I would resist the temptation to over-engineer the whole thing. You'll inevitably spend a ton of time creating lots of tags that nobody will ever use. Keep in mind that this site, even if successful, is unlikely to reach the traffic levels seen on Stack Overflow.

Create a basic structure to cover the cases you know will be needed, and some rules of thumb for creating new ones. Beyond that, let the tag system grow organically and clean up periodically as needed.

  • Oh, I agree. I just took issue with the current chaos and lack of convention in how to tag questions. A bit of consistency can't hurt. – Borror0 Mar 8 '11 at 20:34

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