Well, the results of the voting seem pretty conclusive:

  • Leave alone: 43 upvotes (20.38%)
  • Deprecate but don't delete : 12 upvotes (5.69%)
  • Burninate and blacklist : 156 upvotes (73.93%)

So we'll be requesting that the tag be hanged, drawn and quartered burninated and blacklisted. But before we can make this a reality, is there anything we as a community must, or should, do first?

  • 40
    $\begingroup$ Revolution is coming. $\endgroup$ – d80d2729a352b1366139fc119d3345 Jul 30 '14 at 11:58
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ Wake up, Mister MSE. Wake up, and smell the ashes. $\endgroup$ – user61527 Jul 30 '14 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ Given that the flood of homework questions never stops, and many people answer in full before a more responsible tutorial/hint discussion can get going, I'm not sure what the tag change will accomplish. $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Jul 30 '14 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ Or, is this a sweeping victory for those who want us to do their homework? "I don't even need to tell you where I got this problem" $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Jul 30 '14 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ Will, I guess the idea is that nothing about the attitude towards HW has changed. Only the tag is gone. May be the askers now need to learn something to tag properly? (not holding my breath) $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Jul 30 '14 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ @WillJagy Bad homework questions tend to be self-identifying even without the tag, and hopefully this will lead to people actually using relevant tags. I don't expect any other changes to happen regarding the reception (or robo-answering) of low-quality questions. $\endgroup$ – user61527 Jul 30 '14 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @WillJagy Tag removal might decrease the number of incoming hw questions. If the existing ones get better treated by Google, now that their page titles will begin with some keywords instead of "homework". Google->find a similar question on SE->get help from the existing answer is how SE is supposed to work. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @achillehui 1) and 2) will be done, per the post below. As for 3), batch-closing is not something that SE ever did (as far as I know). Some of those are actually quite good questions, and have nothing to do with homework. Some posters even say this explicitly: "I could not find a tag that fits, so I put homework since it's the first one listed". $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Squirtle See Would splitting the site into more elementary and more advanced questions help?... the general opinion there was that the answer is "no". $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Squirtle There are other issues, such as: why would SE want to host MHSE? They brand themselves as a network of expert communities which generate reusable content. A homework help site does not quite fit. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ @user26857 Please do not start your comment with something like "The right question is the following" if you direct a comment to a specific user. I thought that first part of your comment was a bit patronizing. It's better to directly state your own question alone. $\endgroup$ – Cookie Jul 31 '14 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ The tag removal will make no difference. How about 'smells-like-homework'? $\endgroup$ – copper.hat Jul 31 '14 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ @copper.hat: Will there be a Weird Al parody cover "Smells Like Mathematics"? If not, then it's not worth it. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 1 '14 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ "Now what?" Now I stop visiting math.SE, since I can no longer filter out homework problems. $\endgroup$ – Ben Crowell Aug 4 '14 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ @BenCrowell The tag never helped with that very much, as is witnessed by homework-induced irritation expressed on meta for years. If ignoring one tag solved the problem, there would not be blood-shedding debates over it. .... May I interest you in a filtering bookmarklet that hides HW more efficiently than any tag ever did? $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 4 '14 at 19:58

Its days are numbered, starting today. You've voted, and while a little controversial, we'll support your decision. What remains is just the 'final arrangements', so to say.

We'll need some preemptive cleanup

Things with the tag applied to them do tend to have some issues. Take a stroll to the end of the very long tail - use your flags and close votes judiciously. Moderators can very likely make quite liberal use of the delete button on the back third.

Remember, a lot of the cruft isn't likely to surface again regularly, so a healthy dusting of brooms is in order. Fix what can be fixed, close / delete that which can't. As you proceed, remove the tag. When you see new uses of it, remove it, leave a comment pointing at this post:

Hello, and welcome to Math SE! We're in the process of removing the homework tag, so I've removed it from your question. It looks fine otherwise, good luck! or (advice on how to improve the question)

Hello, and welcome to Math SE! [We're in the process of removing the homework tag](http://meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/16425/the-community-voted-now-what/), so I've removed it from your question. It looks fine otherwise, good luck! **or** (advice on how to improve the question)

We'll blacklist prior to completely removing the tag

We need to turn the tide back, or the flow will just make the effort perpetual. At the same time, we don't want to more thoroughly confuse new users that find it. In a day or two, we'll prevent the tag from being applied with an error message pointing at this meta post. This will also force the tag to be removed before edits can be saved. Hopefully, this keeps it out while minimizing confusion.

One week from today, it's history

I'm setting a reminder to come back on 8/6 and remove all instances of the tag. This will be done all silent-like, so make sure you've got at least the worst of the worst cleaned up before it falls into eternal obscurity.

Why not just burn it now?

This approach gets rid of the tag entirely, very quickly, without a lot of cost or aggravation. Someone that used the tag earlier today isn't going to hit a lot of confusion while trying to edit something, at the same time we make sure that it stops coming in. The real 'work' here is in cleaning up the worst of the worst, which isn't very difficult to do.

We'll be monitoring it, and in pretty close touch with your moderators. As soon as they signal us to say "we're as ready as we're ever going to be ..", the tag is history, so it might be sooner than a week.

Thanks to all in advance that help clean up the mess, and we're happy to support you as you do.

  • $\begingroup$ I have added the version of comment template you have suggested, which can be copied directly from the post. I hope it is ok. Another suggestion: Maybe it is sufficient to put this information into edit summary (it will still be visible to the OP and anyone who views revision summary). $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jul 30 '14 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak Good idea on making it easy to copy. I think it's sufficient to just comment - as the tag itself is going to be history soon, so any mention of it is at best ephemeral. There's no reason to keep mentions of it around in revisions, since it's soon moot. $\endgroup$ – Tim Post Jul 30 '14 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ What happens if a question with the homework tag is missed? Will the tag simply be removed from that question? What happens if the homework tag is the only tag on that question? $\endgroup$ – robjohn Jul 30 '14 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ @robjohn When tags are burminated on SO (where this is done regularly), some questions become untagged. Hence the remark "Please care for the widows and orphans" there. Hopefully, the current cleanup effort will avoid creating too many of those. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @900sit-upsaday: I just noticed that you have a typo in "burninated". May the wrath of Trogdor the Burninator be upon you! $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 3 '14 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila Argh, too bad the comments aren't edible. Well, at least the question titles on main site are. Such gems there every time I run my smoke-detector script. Can someone explain this is plain english?. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 3 '14 at 5:20
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    $\begingroup$ @900sit-upsaday: If comments were edible, I wouldn't need lunch. Stop trying to sell me your scripts. I'm a fan of chaos and entropy. Order is bad and unnatural. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 3 '14 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ Could we have another review task temporarily dedicated to going through questions with the homework tag? That way it can be organised and counted? $\endgroup$ – Ali Caglayan Aug 4 '14 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Alizter Not feasible to change the software just for a one-time task. Those review queues are more complicated than they may look. To find questions with only homework tag, you can use the link at the top of my answer. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 4 '14 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ @TimPost Your reminder seems to have forgotten to remind you. How are things going to proceed? $\endgroup$ – Daniel Fischer Aug 8 '14 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ There are around 150 questions left tagged with only homework. $\endgroup$ – rabota Aug 8 '14 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ The tag still exists ten days after it was supposed to have been deleted... $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Aug 18 '14 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ For that matter, it seems the tag was never even blacklisted; new questions are still being tagged with "homework". $\endgroup$ – Daniel Hast Aug 19 '14 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ Alright, my fault :) It was still set to warn, I moved it to block, and removed the tag completely. This resulted in only ten 'untagged' posts which need some attention. Other than that, it's done. $\endgroup$ – Tim Post Aug 19 '14 at 16:04

I don't have much to say about what is going to happen. But I do want to point out something about what is going on. This point was sorta brought up by another user, but the answer was deleted.

There are people currently removing the tag manually from questions. But I have seen some users removing it from "famous" questions which are old, and certainly had several tags and reasonable formatting.

Please don't bump old questions which are properly formatted and have more than just a homework tag.

In fact, maybe we can collectively agree that in the next week or two, we should avoid bumping old questions except for the purpose of retagging/close-delete of questions which have only the tag.

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    $\begingroup$ I would phrase this differently: if your sole editing action is to remove (homework) tag, then don't do that; the tag will be removed automatically and without bumping. Edit to improve. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ Also, close-delete does not bump, and is often preferable to editing. Can I borrow your 30 daily votes to delete for a few days? $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ Borrow? No. Loan with interest? Sure. The interest rate is 6,000 USD per week, over 30 delete votes. This means that if you want to borrow a three days worth of votes, and we work out that you pay me back in a week, you will have to return me 90 delete votes and 18,000 USD. (Nothing personal, I just really want to attend many conferences, and I have no reasonable travel grants as a Ph.D. student.) The price is final and non-negotiable. Of course, if your university (or a university in your city) has a strong set theory group, we can exchange that with an invitation+travel expenses. :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 30 '14 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ Charging 6000 USD per week on 30 delete votes, this probably violate your local law of maximum interest rate. The contract may not be enforceable and the borrower may keep the delete votes until the legal issue get settled. This proposal may also attract tax collectors to look at your books. IMHO, this is not a good loan proposal but this is probably too late... $\endgroup$ – achille hui Jul 31 '14 at 8:26
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    $\begingroup$ @achille: I am unaware of such laws, but they probably exist. But did I mention that each delete vote is worth nearly 100,000,000 USD on its own? So what's the interest rate now? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jul 31 '14 at 14:22

Exactly how many active users do we have? I would suggest that 156 is a tiny fraction.

I've been an active user of the site for a couple of years and had no idea that this discussion was taking place. I find it questionable that a discussion with a different web address (meta) can impact on the ordinary site.

It seems a little like me getting a few of my friends around my house in the UK, 12 of us vote to nuke Russia and so the US has to nuke Russia.

Don't get me wrong: I do agree that the homework tag should be removed, but having such little support on a different site doesn't seem to give the motion any legitimacy whatsoever.

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    $\begingroup$ It was in the Featured column on the main site since June 16. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ There's a lot of active users on the main site who have little or no interest in the goings on here on meta, which is unfortunate because meta is where discussions about the site occur. We cannot force these users to become active or even interested here. (For comparison, there were 437 ballots cast in the last moderator election. Should I turn in my diamond?) $\endgroup$ – user642796 Jul 30 '14 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ @900sit-upsaday That obviously didn't work. You got about 220 votes out of how many users?! $\endgroup$ – Fly by Night Jul 30 '14 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ How many active users the main site has is an interesting question with no obvious answer; it merits a separate question. The fact, already pointed out by Arthur Fischer, is that few of them take any part in discussions on meta. They may enjoy the fact that tag system is sensible, but apparently don't want to deal with boring tag maintenance tasks and so forth. That's okay. But those who don't vote have to live with the decisions made by those who do. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ @ArthurFischer You'll find that there are a lot of active users on the main site that have little or no idea that meta exists, nor what impact it has. This motion has 211 votes. There are 2019 editors (not just users) on the main site. Something needs to be done about getting more users involved. This site simply does not have a popular mandate. $\endgroup$ – Fly by Night Jul 30 '14 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ @900sit-upsaday The site says there are 100,000+ registered users, but most of these are one-visit-wonders. There are 2019 editors on the main site. These are those with the editing privileged, and all have reputations 1,000+. That means about 7.7% of experienced users support this motion. (I am one of those!) My point is not against the motion but is a point about popular mandate and democracy. $\endgroup$ – Fly by Night Jul 30 '14 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ "Something needs to be done" -- please propose your idea toward that. (Hm, where? I guess here on meta. Oops.) To emphasize the parallel with mod elections: Alexander Gruber was elected a moderator with the support of 86 users, and nobody's been questioning his mandate as far as I know. We can sit here and calculate percentages all day. But what exactly is to be done? $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ @900sit-upsaday Perhaps put some drop-down banner headlines on the main site, just like Wikipedia do when they're trying to get donations. A better thing would be to incorporate the meta site onto the main site - again, like Wikipedia do. We could have a "Policies" header along side "Questions" et al. There are lots of things that can be done. Every modern democracy in the World is trying to increase voter turnout and engagement. $\endgroup$ – Fly by Night Jul 30 '14 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @900sit-upsaday June 16 was somehow strategical chosen (right?), as one knows that most users are in a vacation now. $\endgroup$ – user26857 Jul 31 '14 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ @user26857 The proposal was posted by me, on June 10. It had positive reception and was made featured a few days later. You can see the timeline of events. There was no particular reason for the post to appear when it did. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 31 '14 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ In fact 156 (or 211) is not a tiny fraction! If you check carefully can easily see that the number of active users on M.SE is rather low. (Of course, there are more than 211, but I don't think their number is more than 21100.) $\endgroup$ – user26857 Jul 31 '14 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ FYI, this year ~23k (not very accurate) users had a nonzero reputation change. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Aug 4 '14 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi: users do not need to be active to have a non-zero reputation change. Questions and answers get voted on even when the authors are inactive. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 13 '14 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn I know, hence why I said it wasn't very accurate. It still gives a rough idea. But I'm not sure why your pinging me about something I said in August. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Dec 13 '14 at 8:19


Fewer than 50 homework-tag-only questions remain, and all of them are closed. Most of this post is obsolete, kept mostly as a demonstration of ugly line gap.

Some suggestions.

  1. [Done] Edit the tag wiki to say something like: "Do not use this tag; it will be removed soon. Instead, use a tag that describes the subject of your question, for example , , ,..."

  2. [Done] At present there are a few hundreds of questions tagged only ; the number has been going down in recent days due to some activity on that front. They need to be edited; most also need some improvements in formatting and titles, not just another tag. The list is sortable by the score (click the Score column) in case someone wants to work on the higher or lower end of the spectrum. For some of the closed questions on the list, deletion may be a better choice than editing (up to the 10K voters, of course). Also, a few of the closed ones have been merged into another question and can't be edited.

  3. [FAQ post has been edited] I think the meta thread How to ask a homework question? has been superseded by How to ask a good question?; at least I always suggest reading the latter rather than the former, and so do some other users. The former one can be delisted from faq.

  • $\begingroup$ Necessity of doing something with the FAQ post was also mentioned in this answer by Willie Wong (in the voting thread). $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Jul 30 '14 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ I've edited the wiki and excerpt to include a notice about its burnination. $\endgroup$ – user61527 Jul 30 '14 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not too familiar with SEDE. Is there any way to fork the query so it doesn't show deleted questions (or to use updated, rather than cached data)? It still shows 797 results, even though there are dozens of new deletions. $\endgroup$ – user61527 Jul 30 '14 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ @T.Bongers Unfortunately, not. SEDE is updated once per week, on weekends. It is a read-only snapshot of SE database at that time. The last update was July 27, next one will be August 3. I'll see if I can come up with some approximation to the query using the search operators. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jul 30 '14 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Bongers I found a way to get the up-to-date list of homework-tag-only questions; see the update at the top of the post. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 1 '14 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ Currently there are less than 50 questions tagged with homework only, and they're all closed. Is it time to nuke that tag for good? (Ps. I edited the answer to How to ask a homework question? to remove the suggestion to use the tag; I think the rest of the advice there is still quite valid.) $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen Aug 9 '14 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ @IlmariKaronen Thanks for editing that. I know robjohn already asked Tim Post about the delay. Maybe Tim is on vacation. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 9 '14 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ @900sit-upsaday Could you share this amazing method to find an up-to-date list? (I'd like to see these 50... But if you don't want to share, I understand--some techniques are best kept hidden.) $\endgroup$ – apnorton Aug 10 '14 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ @anorton To find questions with one particular tag, search [tag name] is:question and sort results by relevance. The system considers the questions with no other tag as the most relevant. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 10 '14 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ Warm thanks. I think your generated list helped/speeded up the clean up immensely. $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Aug 10 '14 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ There's still like... 30 questions with only [homework] and they don't seem to be going anywhere. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 12 '14 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila 30? Isn't that, like, the number of delete votes you have? $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 12 '14 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but then I won't be a billionaire anymore. Right now I am worth 3 billion dollars, with 30 votes remaining. Without them... Not as much. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 12 '14 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ Well, "all closed" is history. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Fischer Aug 13 '14 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielFischer This not the first "undead" appearance of the tag; now they are attached to questions where the poster has very low awareness of what they are doing. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 13 '14 at 18:21

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