Should I create a new tag? is certainly required reading for everyone. That being said:

  1. What else can we do to improve our "tag hygiene"?
  2. What are good strategies to check the tagging of posts from new users or posts we are already editing for other reasons?
  3. How does our current tagging situation compare to similar sites like Astronomy SE?
  • $\begingroup$ Rather than the site itself being inherently bad at "tag hygene", is it possible that a large number of the tags are created by a small number of people? $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2020 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ Could it be a "can't see the forest for all the trees" situation? I.e. are new users so overwhelmed by the list of tags that they give up and invent their own? (Knowing the reputation distribution of tag creators at the time they create new tags might help.) $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2020 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ @RayButterworth Both of those are great points! Please consider adding an answer pointing those out. I think that "tag hygiene" (I mipselled it in the question, fixing now...) includes both practices related to their creation (see the link in my first sentence) and practices related to editing questions posted by others as discussed in the current answer. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 27, 2020 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ @RayButterworth I've created quite many tags myself, see for example What might a campaign to improve tag definitions and wiki's look like? which links to my mia culpa Easiest way to get a list of tags for which I've bee the first user? Algorithmically if possible! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 27, 2020 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ They are comments because I no reason to believe that they are true. Speculation doesn't make a good answer. But if someone has access to the confidential data, and they can confirm either of the situations, then that could be an answer. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2020 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Just did a new query. uhoh, you have indeed created the most tags. Your tag creation count is 234. You're one of only three people who have tag count in the hundreds. More details to come. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ @RayButterworth Your suspicion was correct. About half of the tags on the site were created by five users. However, I stand by my answer; this burden is on all of us to bear. We all have the responsibility to edit posts, and one of the things good editors should monitor is tags. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage yes I should be inducted into the "tag proliferator's hall of shame"! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 27, 2020 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ @RayButterworth Also, rather than new users being the ones who create the most tags, it is the high rep users who are actually likely to create more tags. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh Thinking about the implications of your tag creation rate some more: on your own you have created a tag count comparable to the tag count of entire sites the same age as Space Exploration. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ @RayButterworth And I still think this reflects poorly on our tag hygiene as a site. Network Engineering (the most comparable to Space Exploration in terms of size) also had half of its tags created by only about 10 users, and overall high rep users are more likely to create tags. This means it is not unusual to have a few users who create a lot of tags. What is unusual is that we as a community do not monitor tag creation sufficiently. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ I've created...2. I always claimed to have a narrow wheelhouse. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2020 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Here is my thinking on tags, right or wrong; I'm a book person; I read and use a lot of (technical) books and when I pick one up I scan the table of contents and the index first. The value of any post is throttled by its findability, and tag specificity and granularity can improve the findability of clusters of related posts. That said, it only holds true if tags are effectively used, well-monitored and carefully curated, and those functions may not be consistent with how SE actually works day-to-day. Any "theory of tagging" must be evaluated against how a site operates. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 27, 2020 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ For example; if most people use search engines to find content rather than in-site searches and if search engines don't make use of in-site tags, or if in-site searchers mostly don't specify tags, then all this tagging is for naught. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 27, 2020 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, now I've created 3. And this last one wasn't so I could hide stuff! $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2020 at 14:53

1 Answer 1


Because the title question leads with "How is our tagging situation?" I'm going to start by addressing number 3. If you'd like to skip the detailed breakdown, feel free to jump down to the Comparison Summary heading.

How does our current tagging situation compare to similar sites like Astronomy SE?

To analyze the tagging behavior of Space Exploration in context, I compare it to other Stack Exchange communities of similar age. I include communities +/-2 months of Space Exploration's site age. Those are Network Engineering, Open Data, Freelancing, Blender, Astronomy, and Tor.

I'll start with questions per day compared to number of tags. All questions per day are based on the average over the last two weeks as reported on the network stats. All tag counts are based on a Stack Exchange Data Explorer query.

Site                    Q/day   Tag Count
Space Exploration       5.0     1096
Network Engineering     6.8     447
Open Data               1.5     298
Freelancing             0.2     118
Blender                 64      303
Astronomy               5.6     478
Tor                     1.3     209

Already you can see a stark difference. Even Blender, which has a vastly higher rate of questions per day (yes, that's 64, not 6.4), has a number of tags within the 100-500 range, just as the other comparison sites, but Space Exploration has a number of tags over a thousand! Now, you might quibble that some of these topics don't have the same number of concepts to create tags for, but if Astronomy created tags for every exoplanet catalogued it would vastly outnumber Space Exploration's tags.

Now let's take a look at how well each site uses their tags. Let's start by sampling one tag from each site. We'll exclude the top ten popular tags and then select the next most popular.

Site                Tag                 % of questions tagged
Space Exploration   crewed-spaceflight  3.77
Network Engineering wireless            4.23
Open Data           nlp                 2.52
Freelancing         invoices            4.89
Blender             uv                  4.68
Astronomy           gravity             4.74
Tor                 onion-routing       4.07

You can see that with the exception of Open Data, every other comparison site's #11 tag is in the 4% range, while Space Exploration falls short. The outlier, Open Data, only has 5,312 questions and 298 tags. Space Exploration, with its question count of 13,681, is more comparable to Network Engineering, which has 13,885 questions and the second highest number of tags of the comparison sites (447 compared to Open Data's 298).

There are at least 222 questions on Space Exploration that talk about crewed missions but don't use the crewed-spaceflight tag, and many (if not most) of those have less than the max number of tags.

To get a bigger picture look, let's compare the number of singleton tags by site:

Site                    Num of Singleton Tags
Space Exploration       79
Network Engineering     24
Open Data               23
Freelancing             4
Blender                 1
Astronomy               29
Tor                     1

It should be clear by now that Space Exploration does an exceptionally poor job of using tags after creating them.

Comparison Summary

Space Exploration creates significantly more tags than sites of a similar age, and it is substantially worse at using those tags than those same sites.

What else can we do to improve our "tag hygiene"?

Let's start with why this is a problem. First, I'll address our gross overpopulation of tags. Every time I go to check in on the status of our singleton tags, I find that the majority of the tags didn't even need to exist at all. I remove the obvious offenders, but some of them are more questionable for a mod to unilaterally get rid of. If everyone followed the guidance at Should I create a new tag?, then we wouldn't have an outsize number of tags to begin with.

Next is tag usage. Under-utilization of tags is a big problem for a few reasons:

  1. If tags are not being used, why keep them around? We have a load of tags to maintain for no discernible purpose.
  2. Tags help categorize questions. Categories make searching for existing knowledge a lot easier. We would get less redundancy in new questions if people could more easily find the information that's already available. Tags help with that. If hundreds of questions exist about a topic but aren't tagged with the corresponding tag (as with ), then those questions may get lost in the sea of search results.
  3. User maintenance of tags partially depends on how much a tag is used. Creating tag synonyms is a big part of tag maintenance, and it can only be done by mods and users with a certain score on the tag. If tags are used on less questions than they could be, then less users are getting the opportunity to be able to help maintain that tag.

So that leads me to what we can do about it. It is impossible to control the tags that each new question asker applies initially, though anyone reading this should keep the meta guidance on tagging linked above in mind when asking new questions. What we can control is the review process. I know a lot of us are involved in editing new questions or reviewing first posts on the review queue. When we do that, we need to keep an eye out for what's going on in the tags.

What are good strategies to check the tagging of posts from new users or posts we are already editing for other reasons?

It is really easy when reading a question to take a moment to mouse over the tags and see if any of them are new. If you see anything that says "1 question" in the pop-up box, it is a new tag. Really, it's probably best to consider anything used on only two questions as a new tag, as well.

If the tag is new, walk through the steps of our meta guidance on tagging. Remove bad tags, and if necessary replace them with appropriate tags. Also, make sure the tag has a good excerpt, because people are more likely to reuse it if there is a brief explanation of what it's for.

When removing bad tags (new or not), if the tag is used on two or three questions, make sure to remove/replace the tag on all of the questions. If it's used on more than that, it's probably better to bring it up on meta rather than edit a bunch of questions unilaterally.

In addition to monitoring new tags, you should also look over the other tags to make sure they are appropriate for the question. When doing this, consider what the essential subject matter of the question is and what tags relate best to that.

If the question only has one or two tags, consider adding a few more. Look up words connected to the subject matter on the Tags page. Use Google to find synonyms and related concepts if it helps.

I have some queries at Stack Exchange Data Explorer (SEDE) that you can use to help monitor tags, if you like. Keep in mind that SEDE is updated weekly on Sunday, so you can't see the latest activity there.

Closing Thoughts

Over a thousand tags is a lot, but it is still within our capacity to shape up our tagging behavior. The site is still growing, and we want to catch this now before it really balloons into something unmanageable. If you see a tag you have questions about, ask about it on meta. We need to be having conversations about these tags, so that we can determine as a community how to get the best use out of our tags.

  • $\begingroup$ I wanted to dedicate a portion of the answer to tags that could be used more, but it already ended up really long, so I'm just going to copy my notes from chat in the comments here. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 26, 2020 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Some tags that could stand to be used more: russia, new-horizons, atmospheric-drag, the-sun (!!!), space-telescope, astrobiology, aerodynamics. These are all central to lots of questions that are not maxed out on tags. Many of these questions even have these concepts in the title and don't tag them. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 26, 2020 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Some new tags that have a lot of potential: ground-crew, naca, space-force, capsule-design $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 26, 2020 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ There's also a couple of older singletons that could probably get more usage: insolation, mdm $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 26, 2020 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ Some tags that have a little usage that could probably really expand: caves, outer-planets, landing-site, supply, nutrition, military $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 26, 2020 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ One thing I've learned from tagging our 80,000+ photos is that overly broad tags aren't very helpful when you're trying to find something, i.e. flower, bird. crewed-spaceflight seems awfully broad to me. However, our photo tagging software allows a hierarchy of tags which is very helpful. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2020 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Perhaps, but it's just an example. Other tags are also underused. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 27, 2020 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ It would be good the tag wiki were mandatory on tag creation... Some singleton tags are obscure to me, and I can't know what other questions would be worthy of it. They're often concepts or acronyms found elsewhere, so searching on google doesn't help. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2020 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ Also, there's a singleton tag strap-on. Apparently from the question it seems to be about strap-on boosters. What surprises me is that there is no tag side-booster side-core or strap-on-booster, so aside from srb, strap-on is currently the only tag for that, even though it only has one question. $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2020 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Speedphoenix Yes, I wish people were required to fill out the excerpt too, but I think SE has looked into that in the past and found that people are more likely to plagiarize if forced to write an excerpt. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 31, 2020 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ Also how do we flag tags? If a tag has no questions after a retag for exemple $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2020 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Speedphoenix If a tag has no questions, it will automatically be removed by SE. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 31, 2020 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Speedphoenix I added a bit about the excerpt to my answer. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 31, 2020 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage if tags with no questions are automatically removed, why do we have page after page of tags with no questions? Here is the last one of many. i.imgur.com/E1ltWPP.png $\endgroup$ Aug 31, 2020 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Agree. Here is a place where you can view a list without the synonyms: data.stackexchange.com/space/query/1288717 $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage Mod
    Aug 31, 2020 at 18:47

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