At the moment, Biology SE has tags (species), (species), (family), (class). A bit messy.

My proposal:

  • Species — Either singular or plural. Hence, either tags and or tags and . Let us aim for consistency.

  • Families — Instead of tag , how about creating tag (with synonym or )? Since many people like dogs, wolves and foxes, how about creating tag ?

I am not proposing that tags be created for all species and all families of mammals, but rather to species and families of mammals familiar to humans — such as Bovidae, Canidae, Equidae, Felidae, etc. After all, laymen seldom ask questions about animals they have never heard of.



Not everybody uses Stack Exchange the same way. For example, to read biology-related questions on Stack Exchange, I created a filter and am notified whenever new questions with the tags that I follow are posted on Biology SE, Medical Sciences SE, Bioinformatics SE, etc.

Top 3 questions on my bio filter

Does this remind you of RSS? Google may have sunset Reader, but the spirit of RSS is still very much alive in certain corners of Stack Exchange. Interestingly, not many seem to be aware of it!

Suppose that I am particularly interested in canids. If I follow I will be flooded with new questions, most of which are of little interest to me. Obviously, I would prefer to follow tag .

Suppose that the mean time between new questions with the tag is 2 months. It is tempting to conclude that this tag is too specific and, thus, unneeded. I believe the exact opposite is the case. The rarer, the better. I don't want to visit Biology SE for sightseeing, to read its front page hoping I will encounter something that interests me. Instead, I want to be notified whenever a new question with a tag that I follow is posted and I want to visit Biology SE mainly to read questions that I am already interested in. I don't think I am the only one with such proclivities.

  • $\begingroup$ The one thing I find absent from your argument is an explanation of why you think tagging is important — in general, and for "laymen". Obviously it is part of the SE Model, but you are proposing significant changes, so it would be good to be explicit on the benefits. In a comment you wrote "If people were serious about tagging, then tag-subscription would ensure that what is at the top of the list is utterly irrelevant." This seems to admit that most people are not serious about tagging. Who do you think will use these new tags and how? Best to answer in your question I think. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Aug 10, 2020 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I'd be interested in the comments of some of the mods on tag usage in general. From the company's point of view it may be to help Google index pages, for example. I'm not sure. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Aug 10, 2020 at 16:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My personal view (not speaking for other mods) is that the breadth of tags should be tailored to the volume of questions on a site. Having tags for every genus of arthropod, for example, is far too dense. Sure, there may be a small number of people who really only want to see questions about Bombus, but we do have bees. I think it's better to have that tag and make the Bombus purists manually filter out the Apis questions. I think global tags for felids and canids make sense. I'm not sure if it's worth retagging everything, but both cat and dogs are sparsely used $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Aug 10, 2020 at 17:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Since we are Biology.SE and not Pets.SE, I personally don't think the specific cat and dog tags are necessary, but synonyms with their families would be useful to capture people who will no doubt try to use those tags anyways. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Aug 10, 2020 at 17:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @David Mods are really representatives of the community, not the company, and I can say pretty confidently in this case I don't much care about the company's point of view. If tags are good for indexing to help people interested in Biology find good questions and answers on Biology.SE, though, I'm all for that. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Aug 10, 2020 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause — Apologies. I really didn’t mean to imply a connection. It was just two separate thoughts getting mistakenly connected. One point was that the mods might know more about tag usage. The quite separate point was that SE from early on decided to use Google to bring people here. (It’s in the video of an early presentation at Mountain View.) And, of course, it’s the ads that make SE possible. So, cynic that I am, I wondered whether the main purpose of tags was to help index the questions for Google. But I don’t expect you to know the answer. And I appreciate all your work for the list $\endgroup$
    – David
    Aug 10, 2020 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ @David Gotcha - I'm not an authority on this, but although tags may certainly have a purpose in search optimization, for big sites and especially StackOverflow, they are pretty necessary for anyone who wants to answer questions to get a reasonable feed of recent questions of interest. There are just way way way too many questions about too many diverse topics on SO. In contrast, on Biology.SE, speaking for myself at least it is pretty unusual that I miss any not-deleted question asked here on any topic (at least the title), since I spend enough time here and there are few enough questions. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Aug 10, 2020 at 18:27

1 Answer 1


It should first be emphasized that retagging and adding tags to old posts has negative, as well as positive, consequences for the list.

One negative consequence is that old retagged questions come to the top of the list again and dilute and displace new ones that then do not receive the attention they may deserve. This is unfair on posters who have put effort into an original question*.

A second negative consequence is that many old retagged questions are of very low quality and should have been left to die. The main reason, I believe, that they have not been closed is that this list does not have sufficient members with the privilege to close questions. One of the reasons for this is the low quality of questions a new academic encounters on first viewing this site. A vicious circle.

This is why, when I realized the consequences, I abandoned a project of my own to recatagorize the tags for metabolism. If I ever get back to it I will only do a few questions at a time, spread them over a reasonable time period, and ignore poor-quality questions.

I therefore believe that tags should only be invented or rationalized if there is a clear need. In my opinion, “A bit messy” is not a sufficient justification.

*Of course other actions on a question, such as edits bring a question to the fore. But here we are dealing with individual questions — not batches — and editing is an integral part of the SE model for producing good questions and answers. In addition, there are limits on the number of edits an author can make to prevent abuse of the system.

  • $\begingroup$ @RodrigodeAzevedo — I have addressed your first sentence in extending my answer. The second part of your comment on [1] is best addressed in a comment I will make to your question, as it is not really part of my answer. Your comments on [2] are all very fine, but I am describing what actually happens, not what could happen. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Aug 10, 2020 at 14:33

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