At the risk of suggesting more work for the stalwarts who already contribute most to this site (and of boring everyone to death as I revisit a topic I raise quite often):

Is there an approach we can adopt to systematically improve our tag wikis?

While many of them have 'excerpts' and some even have 'full wiki entries' we still have a number of problems:

  • tags without any guidance at all
  • tags with excerpts but not full entries
  • tags with poor wiki content (including an inconsistent approach to providing the same level of guidance for similar tags).
  • tags that don't have a clear purpose or overlap with other tags un-necessarily

We also have a number of exemplary tag wikis that could be used as a basis for improving others; and there have been a number of efforts to rationalise overlapping/similar tags.

Why should we improve matters?

  • to make it easier for people to choose the right tags (which will reduce the effort in re-tagging)
  • to steer those (few) people who will read the full tag wiki into asking better questions (by providing tag-specific guidance that we can't include in the main Help), which may reduce the workload of improving questions
  • to give us tag-specific guidance to which to point posters who obviously need more guidance on constructing their question.

As a by-product of reviewing all the tags, I'd also hope to see:

  • more tag rationalisation where appropriate
  • potentially, generation of topics either for the regular chats or (even better) for canonical questions
  • a framework for constructing new tag wikis more quickly and easily

I'm not suggesting we should put so much guidance in the tag wikis that we obviate the need for (even basic) questions -- but I am suggesting we pay attention to the advice here https://stackoverflow.blog/2011/03/24/redesigned-tags-page/ especially

[the] tags page is an essential map of what your community is, and is not, about.

To inform the discussion (and maybe prioritise activities), here is a snapshot analysis of our tag usage, based on a rough categorisation I've allocated to the tags... where the category is blank, I couldn't pigeon-hole the tag. And bear of mind, this is about numbers of tags (not questions, which have multiple tags).

Tag analysis

  • I've upvoted because I applaud the effort that must have gone into compiling your table, and much of what you have written. Personally, I think tagging well is important, but I think that investing time in their wikis and excerpts is much less important to me than trying to increase our question volume and quality. I think this is the tags page that the Stack Overflow blog posting was referring to: genealogy.stackexchange.com/tags
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 0:23
  • 1
    @Polygeo Whereas I see improving our wikis as an important aid to improving our question quality. Yes, I was aware of that page -- I scraped it to produce the table.
    – user104
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 6:25

2 Answers 2


My suggested approach to improving our tagging and tag wikis is: (recognising that only those few of us who are motivated will participate, and we need to minimise the effort expended versus the payback for moderators, tag wiki editors and 'ordinary users'):

  1. Agree the Utility/Purpose of Tags: use https://stackoverflow.blog/2011/03/24/redesigned-tags-page/ as guidance, plus the practices of similar but older sites such as history.stackexchange.com, to define tests on whether a tag should survive or not, but accommodate convincing genealogy-specific arguments for different handling where they are made and voted above removing the tag. This will need a series of questions (one per category) to reach a consensus. I suggest we allow a month per question (hope springs eternal that people will vote on meta, in spite of past experience) and then act on the majority vote in each category (if there is no majority, the status quo should be accepted).

  2. For tags that don't survive the winnowing process, set up suitable tag synonyms.

  3. Agree what makes a 'good' tag-wiki -- I'm torn between doing this in a chat-room or doing it on Meta. Point 1 above should hit the big requirements, leaving the rest for a chat-room? General guidance and info from older-relevant site should also feed into this.

  4. For the tags that survive the initial 'winnowing', convene a working-group (in a dedicated chat-room which anyone can join if they're willing to put in the necessary effort) to identify a 'best practice' wiki to replicate for other tags in the same category. (based on 1 and 2) above. For some tags, this will exist already; for others, it will require more effort. Effort should be expended in the order of usage of tag categories that survive the winnowing, although the 'working group' may decide to hit the 'quick-wins' first. This should also give us a template (or set of templates) for similar tags so keeping up the quality in future should be less onerous.

  5. Any outputs from the chat-room that aren't agreed by a majority of participants could be verified by a meta question. I'm torn on this as well -- anyone who really cares and participates on Meta will participate in the chat-room, I suspect... So will a meta-question add anything to the process?i

I'm willing to raise the necessary meta-questions and set up/nudge the chat-room, to minimise the effort on moderators. Anyone who cares about the outcome will have every opportunity to participate...

  • 2
    I like the plan. As far as chat vs meta, I think any chatroom consensus should be summarized in meta for future reference. I also think we should take it slow, at least to start – maybe just one or two categories at a time, otherwise things could get messy. Also I know that many, if not most, of the categories have been brought up on meta before, so it will be important to note what the previous consensus was and why, before changing things around.
    – Harry V. Mod
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 17:52
  • You ask "So will a meta-question add anything to the process?" If we want to refer back to what was discussed, which is easier to find, a link to the chat transcript, or a question on Meta?
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 23:42
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    @JanMurphy I agree with HarryVervet that anything that happens in a chat room should be summarised in Meta for future reference (and to give people who haven't participated the chance to have a say). I'm personally not convinced that a Meta question is the place to run a complex discussion as it gets fragmented over various answers, plus comments to the OP and to answers, so it's hard to follow.
    – user104
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 6:38
  • @HarryVervet see above.
    – user104
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 6:38
  • @ColeValleyGirl Good point -- I hadn't considered that. It's a pity sometimes that Meta isn't a forum. :(
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 6:39
  • @JanMurphy Meta permits discussion but I think we should all be thankful that it is not a forum :-) I think the key is to keep the discussion as much as possible in the Q&As rather than in comments on them. It takes more discipline but I think Meta works much better than chat for this.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 4:04
  • @polygeo, I'm also very happy for meta not to be a forum, but I think the back-and-forth of a discussions doesn't work in Q &As at all. You can't see the contribtions in order to see how the discussions developed, and answering answers with answers is just plain wrong :)
    – user104
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 6:44
  • Even though it is a discussion Q&A the normal protocols still apply i.e. only the question is answered, but the question being asked needs to be very clear so that viewpoints are the answers and can be clearly related back to it.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 6:47
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    And that's exactly why we're proposing not using it. Because viewpoints can evolve in response to many other contributions and the process is as important as the outcpme. We're back to hammers and nails again...
    – user104
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 6:57
  • @ColeValleyGirl We do have the option to order the answers using the oldest sort (as opposed to active / votes) but even then I agree, reviewing the discussion in order is far from transparent.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 21:01
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    @JanMurphy So much goes into the comments -- and comments refer tomore than one answer sometimes.
    – user104
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 6:59

I am glad to see this suggestion to re-visit the advice about tagging from Stack Overflow. It is a challenge to think about how Stack Overflow-style tagging could be applied to genealogy and family history, but IMO now is the time to do it, when the number of questions is still small.

To me, the critical thing to think about is here:

Periodically asking questions like “who would ever subscribe to this tag, and why?” can reveal a lot about the nature of tagging on your site.

I see far too many cases where someone (including yours truly) has tagged a question with things included in the question that could be easily found via search.

Imagine a day when the site is so busy that users can't keep up, and they want to subscribe to their favorite tags to make sure they don't miss a good question. I'll use myself as an example since I have been one of the offenders.

How likely is it that someone's interests are so specialized that they would subscribe to a tag because they only want to see questions about the 1840s? How helpful would it be to compare all the questions tagged , just because the question happened to center on this decade? A tag for the decade will sweep up questions from that decade no matter what geographic location is involved. Is this really useful?

See how different this is from a tag for a question about analyzing this specific record type?

For tags about chronology (in the table, "Period"), I think it is helpful to have century tags. But if we want to have others, let's think about what would be useful.

  • I do not subscribe to any tags on any SE sites (because newsletters are enough email from SE for me) so I place a low priority on the "critical" item you list. On the other hand I strongly prefer decadal tags to the more granular century tags. The way I use these is for searching. For example, my only ancestors that lived in the US were in Albany (New York State) from the 1850s (possibly late 1840s) to the 1870s so typing [1840s] or [1850s] or [1860s] or [1870s] albany into the search bar yields a set of posts that might talk about sources useful for me (or someone doing the same later).
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 21:19
  • If we use decadal tags in preference to century tags and want to look for posts in a century then to do that for the 19th century we can type [18*s*] into the search bar which expands to [1890s] or [1840s] or [1830s] or [1850s] or [1800s-decade] or [1860s] or [1880s] or [1820s] or [1870s] or [1810s]
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 21:36
  • Used alone, I think decadal tags have limited value, but in concert with other tags, when used in the ways I illustrate above, I think they are much more valuable than century tags because they provide a more useful granularity. If decadal, then why not yearly - I think yearly would be too granular.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 21:42
  • Yes, but is it possible for someone to subscribe to a combination of tags?
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 2:23
  • Your comment about not subscribing to any tag "because newsletters are enough email from SE for me" makes no sense whatsoever in light of the "interesting topics" portion of the help center : "If you'd like to be notified of new activity within a certain tag, you can subscribe via email or RSS by hovering over the tag and selecting the method you prefer." genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/interesting-topics What newsletters are you getting if you haven't subscribed to any tags?
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 2:29
  • these Newsletters: stackexchange.com/newsletters - ours can be found under Life
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 2:37
  • For a BUSY site, there is NO WAY I would want to subscribe to a site-wide newsletter! e.g. before the Win10 free upgrade deadline, when I was trying to figure out whether my machine was capable of running Win10, I subbed to the Win10 upgrade tag on SuperUser, which was all I was interested in.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 2:45
  • This is more about Newsletters - meta.stackexchange.com/questions/121630/… - I subscribe to three: Genealogy, GIS and Meta SE I use them for giving me an overview on how each of the sites I am the most interested is being presented to the world. To see the Q&As of interest to me I use a combination of the Search toolbar and tags (including Favorites and Ignored). I prefer that to receiving emails and RSS feeds.
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 2:49
  • Your preference as a user is noted, but I am writing with my moderator hat on. Someone else might prefer subbing to a tag via RSS -- my job as a mod is to make things easier for our community members.
    – Jan Murphy Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 2:51
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    This is how tag combinations can be subscribed to for an RSS feed: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/23935/…
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 2:53
  • 2
    I strongly support getting rid of the decadal tags -- you can do the searches @PolyGeo suggests without using tags at all. And they are almost always used to summarise a question which is not what tags are for. I also think a strong test of a tag is whether it could standalone as the only tag on a question. Decadal tags cannot stand alone and be meaningful. (We have other tags that can just about standalone - such as the geographic ones - even if they're usually qualified with e.g. a century or a record type.)
    – user104
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 9:53

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