For discussion of some of the tag proposals a distinction should be drawn between:

A. objective attributes of questions derived solely from the content of the question. Examples: is the question over 500 words in length? Does it give more than zero sources for the material posted? (These could be instantiated as hypothetical tags [long-question] or [contains-sources], which I am not proposing but just providing as examples of objective and presumably reasonable question descriptors that go beyond the mathematical subject tags.)


B. "meta-tags" or "dependent tags" as defined in the Death-of-Metatags policy posting on Stackoverflow. These are subjective or questioner-dependent attributes of the question: is it an [easy-question], is it [homework] (where not reported in the question), etc. Such tags are (in the DeathOf posting) said to be ambiguous or contentious and are discouraged for various reasons.

I believe that tags of type A are unobjectionable and in some cases highly desirable as a method of content filtering. For example, some people might be very interested to know, before clicking on a question, whether it is over 500 words long or contains sources, just as they might be interested in the number of upvotes, answers or views. Generally, more information is better, and the information one would ideally like about a question is not limited to the mathematical subject tags.

There seem to be posters here who want math-subject-tags only. If so, it would be good to hear their arguments for why number of words or other such indicators should be off-limits for tags.

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I think your description of what metatags are as defined in the Death-to-Metatags policy posting is somewhat inaccurate. (I'm not saying that we have to or even necessarily should follow this suggested new policy on math.SE; I'm just pointing out what I feel is a misrepresentation of that position.) Here is a relevant passage:

The reason meta-tags are a problem is that they do not describe the content of the question. They describe some other aspect of the question, like the author’s skill level, or the author’s motivation for asking it, or generally what “kind” of question it is (poll, how-to, etc.).

Meta-tags are actually a subset of a larger problem that I usually call dependent tags. These are tags that don’t say anything by themselves – you can’t tell what the question is about unless they’re paired with some other tag (or several of them). These tags are a problem because people don’t realize this and will often use that as the question’s only tag.

This is the insight that had eluded me for two full years. Seems obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?

From this point on, meta-tagging is explicitly discouraged. How can you tell you’re using a meta-tag? It’s easier than you might think.

1.If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question, it’s probably a meta-tag. Every tag you use should be able to work, more or less, as the only tag on a question. Meta-tags, like [beginner], [subjective], and [best-practices], are useless by themselves — they tell you nothing at all about the content of the question.

It is clear, isn't it, that [long-question] and [contains-sources] would not work as the only tag for a question, so they are probably metatags according to this definition. The next point (2.) which I didn't copy here has to do with subjectivity, which you seem to be taking as the definition of a metatag, but my point is that I don't think that's the definition in play. Rather, a metatag is one which does not directly address the subject area of the question but rather some other aspect of it. Tags have been designed to convey specifically taxonomic information. Or so say the founders of SO, anyway.

If you want my opinion, I do not look forward to seeing [long-question], [contains-sources] or [random-task] as tags. The former two convey information, but information that I don't personally need to know before I read the question. The latter seems downright problematic to me. By using tags which are pejorative in nature (or could likely be perceived that way), we open ourselves up to the possibility of tag-wars, which -- since retagging bumps the question -- could be highly distracting and annoying to users of the site.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the "can function as sole tag" is omitted for several reasons. (1) These proposals are for externally imposable tags. I suppose [unsourced] or [long-question] can be voluntary tags from questioners, whether as courtesy or as invitations to locate sources or compactify the question, but primarily these would be tags added by others. (2) Many existing tags do not satisfy this criterion at all, or are so general as to convey very little information on their own. (3) This criterion is a non sequitur, unlike the others that I did cite. Re: edit wars, do you find ongoing comment wars better? $\endgroup$ – T.. Sep 4 '10 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I disagree that [long-question] doesn't describe the question on its own or is dependent on any other tags. It doesn't fully describe it, but then neither does [algebra]. All of these objective but non-mathematical tags convey their information content in the same way no matter which other tags are present, and do so more invariantly than [algebra] does (but not more invariantly than, say, [probability], which is unambiguous in the same way [over-500-words] would be). $\endgroup$ – T.. Sep 4 '10 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ As far as "describing the content of the question" is concerned, it is circular (not to mention unrealistic) to define content as the set of mathematics subjects touched in the question, and then say that other attributes of the question do not describe its "content". I view the tags as, ideally, a selection of the five or so most informative/relevant descriptors (more precisely, predictors, in the statistics sense) of what the question contains. Reading that a question is [calculus] [limits] [random-task] may be more useful than seeing [calculus] [limits] [l'hopital]. $\endgroup$ – T.. Sep 4 '10 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ @T: I agree that the word "content" is unhelpful here and that the general description I quoted is not optimally written: I found the points 1. and 2. to be much more clear. As I said in my answer, the history here is that tags have been used for taxonomic purposes, and usually not for other kinds of content. I agree that it does not have to inevitably be thus; I just expressed my opinion that the length of a question is not a big factor in whether or not I decide to read it. Finally, yes, comment wars are preferable to tagging wars: adding comments doesn't bump a question. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Sep 4 '10 at 13:35

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