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We have now had a couple of discussions about meta tags.

So far the support has been strongly against the use of meta tags. The point of this post is two-fold; 1) to congeal the discussion of meta-tags to a single place and 2) to play devil's advocate and provide an argument for why they can be useful.

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It's easy to cherry-pick one or two use cases where meta tags sound like a good idea, but over the years there have been thousands of "other" axes folks wanted to filter content. Before we recognized this as a growing problem, there was a major uptick in tags that didn't describe the question at all. Why go down this path?

Yes, these^ are based on actual use cases suggested elsewhere.

But even if you restrict these meta tags to just a few, we've found that these tags are all-too-often used to forgive content (or activities) that wouldn't otherwise be allowed on the site. Filtering as a means ignoring and disowning content is fine for the power users, but it completely ignores the other 99% of people who use this site and think these tags and these questions are the norm. And the problem grows.

Tags were designed to describe the content of the question. It is a wonderfully simple system that works well and I would stick to that use case.

The Death of Meta Tags

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I asked all three questions listed (which at first glance doesn't give me the best appearance here), but I did think that there were some interesting features of each tag/subject that did not purely rely on meta tags. Overall, though, I think the consensus has been interesting.

I originally was all for meta tags - and indeed, I think that they have some benefits - but I no longer think that they're necessary on Engineering.SE. Perhaps on other SEs, but not this one. If I may, I'll go to Chris Mueller's answer:

Once the site has a lot of traffic (which we are well on the way to), some of the users may get annoyed by the high volume of low-level questions. The type of user I'm referring to is only interested in visiting the site to interact with other proficient engineers and has no interest in interacting with the less accomplished engineers who are new to the field (and possibly new to SE). Those users may be in support of banning the questions from these less accomplished engineers all together. Having meta tags for the questions that they may not want to see allows them to personalize their view of the site by ignoring those questions completely.

Well, yes, but you can also favorite specific tags. I, for example, follow the and tags. It could be argued - perhaps quite successfully - that there are a range of different "levels" of questions for each tag (e.g. "high-level" and "low-level"). But there may be other tags used that can narrow down the question to a specific sub-field. If I'm interested in airflow questions still related to aerospace engineering, I might also follow the or tags. That can narrow the questions down quite a bit. There's still some variety, but you get the idea.

The rest of my argument is summarized by Trevor's answer here:

This post on SO gives a good description on why meta tags are a bad idea. To summarize, they describe the question itself rather than the content.

Imagine sorting through Engineering.SE by tags. If you look at the questions tagged with , you can reasonably assume that the questions will cover subjects like roads, bridges, buildings, and various infrastructure elements. If you look at questions tagged with , it can cover all kinds of subjects. It will provide no useful information about the question itself, except the context in which it's being asked. It won't help anyone with similar issues trying to find it, and it won't do anything to attract more qualified people to answer it.

They don't tell you anything about a question. I might click on a question if I see, say, the tag, because that's one of my primary interests. But doesn't tell me anything about the question. It won't make me interested in the question, or differentiate it from any of the others.

That's the way I see it.

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Although I don't particularly care if we use them, I will play devil's advocate and make an argument for meta tags. The argument is based on how I know they are used by people at physics.SE.

Once the site has a lot of traffic (which we are well on the way to), some of the users may get annoyed by the high volume of low-level questions. The type of user I'm referring to is only interested in visiting the site to interact with other proficient engineers and has no interest in interacting with the less accomplished engineers who are new to the field (and possibly new to SE). Those users may be in support of banning the questions from these less accomplished engineers all together. Having meta tags for the questions that they may not want to see allows them to personalize their view of the site by ignoring those questions completely.

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