Here's version 2.0, which cuts a lot of the flavor in favor of more bullet points :)
Problem: Tags != Organization
- Planning, to understand the best way to organize
- Structure, to match the complexity of the items being organized
- Policy, to ensure items are properly sorted as they are added
- Maintenance, to fix issues created over time
Stack Exchange Tags are:
- Easy to create and apply, low rep requirement, few checks/barriers
- Applied by question askers (who frequently are unaware of policy)
- No checks or methods of policy enforcement
- Hard to maintain (page-by-page reviewing 2000+ tags on 20,000+ questions, edits spam the front page, etc)
- No concept of structure any more complex than a single layer deep
Tags are not good for organization. We fight/overload the system, and use it in a way that is not compatible with how it was designed when we try to use them for organization. The system is designed in a way that makes our jobs hard.
Current State: Brute force and spot checking
Our current solutions to this (periodic tag review and destruction, occasional discussions on policy) are good, but are overly brute force and could be refined/improved/extended.
- Vigilance (attempting to process each entry as created) is important, but at the rate questions are asked and tags are created, we are bound to miss tags now and again. Also, a system where, by design, the power users/administrators must touch many, many bits of user generated content in order to ensure organization is enforced is inefficient and/or poorly designed.
- Maintenance (after the fact cleanup) is essential, but is not enough, and it is currently too hard. The tools we have are not designed to make maintenance easy. The data exists, so helpful tools could exist.
- Policy is good, but it requires either vigilance or maintenance to enforce - there is no policy enforcement built into the system. It's hard to make coherent policy that works within the system, because, as stated above, tags are bad for organization.
Possible routes of attack:
- try to campaign to fix the system (thereby preventing the mess), which is difficult/complicated and requires SE intervention, and their inertia on the subject is great
- try to make identifying and cleaning up the mess easier (perhaps something we can do ourselves?)
In the meantime, we have to acknowledge that things are going to continue to get messy, and require more effort than it really should take in order to clean up.