So one of the major problems we have on Programmers is the proliferation of bad tags. We've had a number of discussions and posse requests for different tags, but killing a tag—when it's even possible—tends to be incredibly ad hoc.

So, based on the recent software tag cleanup, I'd like to propose a more structured cleanup process for tags:

Step 1: determine a tag needs to die

Once a quarter-ish, we'll create a question here, tagged , that'll request candidate tags for cleanup. Each tag will get its own answer so they can be discussed in comments.

After two weeks, the question will be closed, and any tag with a score of 5 or higher will move onto the next round. We'll work through each of these tags in the same way: once these are complete, we'll create a new call for candidate tags.

Step 2: create a cleanup notice for the tag.

Once a tag is identified as needing to die, a moderator will create a new meta-discussion question tagged that starts the cleanup. The ground rules of the cleanup would be:

  • One cleanup notice active at a time
  • If a question in the tag is closed as anything other than "exact duplicate", has less than 20 score, and has been closed for a month or more, it can be deleted at any time
  • If a question's been closed as an exact duplicate, it'll be listed as a "merge candidate" in the cleanup notice.
  • If a question is closed and has a score of 20 or higher, it'll be listed as a "deletion candidate" in the cleanup notice

Once this post notice is created, a two-week cleanup timer begins.

Step 3: cleaning up the tags, identifying close candidates, and the last call for heroic edits

During the two-week cleanup period, the community will be tasked with doing the following:

  1. Cleaning up the tags: if a question is on-topic for the site, it needs to be revised and retagged with more meaningful tags.

  2. Identifying close candidates: if a tagged question just slipped through the cracks and needs to be closed, it needs to be listed as a close candidate on the cleanup notice.

  3. For any tagged closed question or close candidate, the cleanup period is the last chance to save them with heroic edits: consolidate lists into canonical answers and flag duplicate answers for deletion and substantially improve the quality of the question. If an attempt to save a question has been made, flag the question and list it as a "saved question" on the cleanup notice

Step 4: cleanup aftermath

At the end of the two-week cleanup period:

  • any questions marked saved will be reviewed and reopened if the edits have, in fact, substantially improved the question and addressed the original reasons why the question was closed
  • any deletion candidates not saved will be deleted
  • any merge candidates not saved will be merged
  • any close candidates not saved will be reviewed by moderators and closed if found to be off-topic, not constructive, too localized, not real questions, or exact duplicates of other questions

Any questions closed during the cleanup will stick around for a month to give one final chance to save them. If they haven't been reopened after that, they'll be deleted.

Wrap up and feedback

This is pretty close to what we've been doing for other tag cleanups, just in a more structured manner that keeps everyone in the loop about what's going to happen at any specific time.

What do you think? What concerns do you have? Are there specific implementation details that need tweaking?

  • The one cleanup at a time, I like. But, as always, [career] breaks everything. It's just to big to do in one go.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 23:44
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    @YannisRizos For large tag cleanups, they'd be done in several rounds. career has shown that having open-ended tag cleanups don't work, because there's no sense of urgency. 99% of the cleanup has been performed by two moderators.
    – user8
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 23:47
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    I like the revised #1 - it's an improvement on my improvement, which just means it's that much better, IMO. However, are we limiting it to tags that need to die, or tags that are potentially misused or have a large number of bad questions? Also, I'm not sure if bringing the top 5 in is always a good thing. Perhaps looking at the size of the work first, and bringing in a family of tags (careers and jobs) or a few smaller tags that aren't related, but not creating so many questions to go through that it takes more than 3 months with a handful of people cleaning it up. /cc @YannisRizos
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 10:57
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    @ThomasOwens Score of 5 or higher in the tag candidate post, not top 5: similar to what's done for community promotion ads. The goal is to have focused, actionable cleanups of tags that should no longer exist, not over-expand the scope of tag discussions so that nothing gets done and we perpetually discuss whether tags are related or if other tags can be added. Perfect is the enemy of good.
    – user8
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 12:51
  • That makes more sense. I thought there would be 5 tags under cleanup at a time, which didn't make any sense.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 13:00

3 Answers 3


I like it, generally, but Step 1 might be refined.

Perhaps we could prioritize with a single question here on meta? Someone (you or another mod, I'd assume) posts a question asking for the bad tags. This question should be featured. Every answer consists of a single bad tag, a reason why it's bad, and a proposal to properly clean it up (remove it, suggestions for possible replacements, etc.). Comments on each answer can be used to discuss if the tag is actually bad, improvements to how to clean it up, and so on. Everyone votes on the answers/tags. At some point in time, the top voted tag (which would represent the most important tag to clean up) would be deleted and copied into its own question for questions, status, and clarification, and this question would also be featured.

In the comments, Yannis Rizos suggests not deleting the "answer" in the organization question until after the cleanup. This would help make sure that the reason for the clean up is captured in its original intent. Of course, the content of the discussion and key points should be captured and moved into the cleanup-specific question. Once the cleanup is done, that would be the point where you delete the question in the organization question.

This prevents a number of meta questions exclusively about "X tag is bad" and probably makes it much easier to prioritize tags to clean up. Steps 2-4 happen just as you described. When the clean-up is complete, the tag-specific question created in Step 1 gets closed for "archival" (I suppose is a good analogy).

Another advantage of having a per-tag question during the cleanup promotes discussing particular questions. In the event that there's an individual question that needs to be discussed, it can be posted as an answer, voted on, and discussed using comments to try to decide if and how to make it a good question or if it's not salvageable.

  • That's brilliant.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 1:10
  • @YannisRizos I'm not sure I would go that far, but I'm glad you like it.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 18:20
  • What I really like is the clear separation between identifying the bad tags and the actual clean up. It becomes a two step process, and it allows more people to get involved (even if they only choose to participate in the easy part). The one thing I don't like is deleting the answers, I'd prefer if we could preserve the discussion somehow, and provide a single point of reference. It would help newer participants understand how each tag was identified as troublesome, or even worth preserving (although I suspect that will rarely be the case).
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 19:02
  • @YannisRizos The newly spawned question from the cleanup would remain as a closed question, even post cleanup. If you don't delete the cleaned up tags from the organization question, you might hit a point where you need to scroll around to find tags that have yet to be cleaned up. I would assume that all comments and discussion would somehow be organized and moved into the new question dedicated to cleaning up that tag.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 19:28
  • Some of the discussion could be moved, obviously, but I'd be interested in preserving the original discussion so everyone can understand how the decision to clean up the tag was reached, especially since it might result in some questions getting deleted. I'm trying to avoid all the drama, from people joining the cleanup later on. We could delete the answer after the clean up ends, to avoid answers cluttering up.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 19:40
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    @YannisRizos I see what you mean, and I think that would be viable as well. I'll edit that into this answer now.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 19:41
  • I like consolidating the discussion of tag candidates, but I think we need to put a cap on them so we can determine what actually has consensus and what still needs discussion. I've revised step one a bit: let me know what you think. cc: @YannisRizos
    – user8
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 8:59
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    @MarkTrapp It was good enough for me before, even better now. I have a few ideas, but they might de-rail the discussion a bit. As far as I am concerned, your suggestion is at a point where there are no obvious flaws, and is ready for a test run or two. We should start small (i.e. not [career]) and optimize as necessary (if at all). There are always going to be arguments, especially for deletions, but I think this Meta question has run its course, and everyone had a chance to read it and comment.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 14:11
  • @MarkTrapp (cont..) It also makes sense to postpone any cleanup effort for after the election, so there is still plenty of time for people to join the discussion.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 14:14
  • @YannisRizos Why wait? With a 2 week identification/prioritization window, no formal cleanup activities will happen until after the moderator elections are finished anyway. Might as well start looking at bad tags and seeing which one is next on the list to tackle.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 16:23
  • As I wrote in my previous comment, I think this Meta question has run its course, so personally I'd prefer if we start right now. But until the election ends, the focus is (or should be) there; for all active users, not just the candidates. I would prefer if people spent their time bombarding us with questions and evaluating our answers, rather than trying to identify / prioritize tag clean ups.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 16:45
  • (cont...) In any case, why rush? I know some of Mark's suggestions will generate a fair amount of deletion drama in the long run, so let's give people a bit more time to evaluate them, even if only to say that we did, later on. The suggestions are solid, as far as I'm concerned, obviously. But no need to rush...
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 16:46
  • Case in point why we should let the election dust settle first.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 18:21

I've been looking through some of the questions, and a lot of them just have a bad tag, but aren't otherwise noteworthy. So why "heroic" edit?

I would prefer waiting a little longer before deleting the closed questions - if a "deleter" hits the questions before an "editor" gets there then there's nothing to edit.

Any worries about spamming the front page? Any guidance on that? (Note that throttling edits just gives the "deleters" an edge if there is a race).

  • Which questions? The [software] ones? The list I've assembled are the un-salvageable ones (imho). Vote to close them.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 23:40
  • Your list. I think we may be pretty far off in our question evaluation algorithms.
    – psr
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 23:43
  • Oh ok, I was confused because this meta question isn't about the [software] questions. Please evaluate each and every one of the questions, and remember that I salvaged twice as many. I couldn't find a way to improve the ones on the list, others I think are off topic, others not constructive. But it doesn't matter what I think, please take some time to evaluate them... I might have been a little harsh with two or three of them, was a bit frustrated no one seemed to care enough to join the cleanup.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 23:48
  • If a question is mediocre and has a bad tag, it's the perfect time to clean it up and make it the best question it can be for future visitors. Substantially cleaning up questions while retagging should act as a natural throttle to destroying the front page during a cleanup.
    – user8
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 23:49

some things that wouldn't hurt to add to this process.

  1. tags selected for cleanup have their wiki edited to a do not use message.
  2. create some additional incentive to participate in a cleanup, like a clean-up mvp medal for most heroic edits.
  3. for tags with very large amounts of questions, designate a time where the front page will get destroyed for an hour or two.
  4. questions below -1 can not be saved.

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