We can’t perform the operation requested here, that is, blacklist and while still leaving the tags present on the site. We have some suggestions on what could be done as an alternative, though.

Nuke The Tags

Simply put, obliterate the tag. I’m aware that the previous request was to explicitly not destroy the tag, but it remains a simple, direct, and potent form of action. It’s swift and easy to do - simply need to grab a dev and get it done. It is also instantaneous, taking no time. And it gets the most important aspect of the job done: the prevention of future questions with this tag. The cleanup afterwards is just to remove from a much smaller portion of questions remaining. Without a doubt, the fastest option available.

It is not without fault, though, the main issue being that it erases all traces of the tag. There may be several questions which had other tags, yet may have benefited from additional retagging. The ease of finding these questions would be lost.

Plot The Disambiguation

Rather than obliterate the tag as a first step, an alternate route is to work through the existing tag, without performing any retags but instead plotting out how the disambiguation would work out. This would entail collecting links of all the questions, and organizing them into discrete groups of similar properties, so that the consequent retagging job is highly organized. An organized set of links to all the posts would allow for the tag to be safely removed from all instances without inhibiting the ability to revisit them; it would also allow for the merits of any particular retag direction to be discussed and fine-tuned.

On the minus side, it is an extensive amount of work to perform, perhaps the most time-consuming option available. Assuming it is done merely as a side task rather than a focused effort of hours at a time, merely running through a handful of questions, cataloging their links into appropriate groups, it will take a team of users several days to tackle 1100 questions.

Use A Dummy Tag

This is what Seasoned Advice did when they had to deal with the likewise horrible [cooking-techniques] and [ingredients] tags that were just easily misunderstood, ambiguous, and waaaay too widespread across their site. They created a new tag, [please-remove-this-tag], which all of the bad tags were renamed to. This gave them the ability to take their time with the retag effort while preventing the bad tags from resurfacing during that time period.

It is similar to the previous suggestion, but exchanges the high level of organization for a much faster execution. The immediacy of the renaming will prevent future tag instances much sooner, while still preserving the access to all the questions. It is, however, a bit clunky in appearance, and users may be confused by the presence of a tag which requests its own removal.


These are the current options on the table. There may be better tools available in the future, but dilly-dallying until those tools are available is just going to let those tags continue to grow, festering like a fetid pile of compost salad.

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On the topic of "tools available in the future", I'll toot my own horn and point out this request of mine, which if you think would be handy, you should show it some support if you haven't already. ♪ –  Grace Note Sep 30 '11 at 16:38
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5 Answers

Building a list of questions for disambiguation without doing the retagging at the same time sounds absolutely horrifying. We have over 1,000 questions that we have to set straight and I can't imagine how collecting and categorizing links to them is going to be anything but a painful and error-prone process.

With that, I think the "plot the disambiguation" option should go right off the table.

Using a dummy tag would only solve a part of the problem. We'd still have to manually retag 1,000+ questions without destroying the front page. At the rate of about 10 questions a day, we can get through that in about 3-4 months. I don't think it makes a huge difference whether we go through a dummy tag or the real ones. New questions that use these tags can be retagged almost immediately, so they shouldn't hugely contribute to drowning the front page -- new questions should already be there anyway.

So in my mind, we have two options left:

  1. Do what we've been doing;
  2. Delete the tags.

I kind of favour option 2. It would get the problematic tags off the table quickly. It would break the problem up into smaller, more manageable parts. We'll have some questions to deal with and some smaller problematic tags, but overall it should be a far less intimidating and an easier-to-coordinate endeavour.

If nuking the tags also includes blacklisting them to prevent their re-introduction, then I'm definitely in favour of that option.

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Disambiguating on the fly—like we've been doing—is what I thought we were talking about; I missed the part where we're supposed to re-list all the questions in the tags. Ugh, no thanks. –  user8 Sep 30 '11 at 20:03
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While it sucks we can't get them blacklisted, I'm pretty sure we've already ruled out the "nuke the tags" and "use a dummy tag" options, and we've already had stabs at disambiguating the tags (without enumerating every single question):

Iteration the first:

Iteration the second:

While those questions started with thinking we could merge everything into career and sort out the rest, in both iterations, the idea of merging them into one giant supercrap tag was considered to be worse than leaving the tags as they are while we sort through and disamiguate them.

Nuke the tags

Nuking the tag seems to be the worst of these options: while we'd have lower number of questions with onerous tags on them, we'd have several hundred questions with no career-related tag floating out there, without any way to track them. It "solves" the problem of the tag being available to users < 1,500 rep, but it doesn't actually deal with the questions or tag them correctly.

Disambiguate the tags

We already have lists of tags that need dealing with: the tag pages. We need people to use their best judgement while working through those tags to clean them up. That's what we're currently doing. Manually relisting all the questions in the tags just to avoid a blacklist seems to me to be a non-starter.

Rename the tags

Rebecca mentioned in her comment, having [please-remove-this-tag] doesn't seem to be a great user experience either, and I don't see how synonymizing tags to it would be any less disruptive to users.

If we can just rename [jobs] and [career] (which have been used interchangeably anyway), it'd get people to stop using those tags while still leaving us with the questions to deal with, but it's still not ideal and has its own set of problems: namely that [please-remove-this-tag] becomes the most-used tag, being on about 1 out of every 10 existing questions.

It's a bit bikesheddy, but calling it [please-remove-this-tag] seems to be counterproductive: if people see the tag and have no idea about the disambiguation process, they'll do what the tag says: remove it. It becomes a slower version of the "nuke the tags" option. Not sure what else it could be called to clue people into it being a tag you shouldn't use and you shouldn't just remove without replacing it with one of the approved career-related tags.

Conclusion

We have a problem with 1,300 questions that's going to take many manhours and months to fix whether they're called [career], [jobs], [please-remove-this-tag], or [untagged].

If these are our only options, disambiguating the tags on the fly—as we've been doing—still seems to be the least onerous of the three. I'd be okay with renaming the tags to some master crap tag and working through that tag in the same manner as we've been doing, but I don't see how that's any less disruptive to the user experience than just blacklisting [career] and [jobs].

Addendum

Talking with Aaronaught about the Seasoned Advice cleanups, they were only working with 150-200 questions, which is a lot of questions, but a fraction of the problem set we have. It is, however, close to the number of [jobs] questions we currently have: 245. There are also 92 [jobs] questions tagged with [career].

If we did the rename just for [jobs] for now, we'd at least collapse this problem down to one tag. Removing the 92 questions from the [career] pile would bring the total number questions left to be dealt with through only disambiguation down to 1,000.

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I don't think we'd actually institute a synonym if we did the rename - that seems like it'd be dangerous and it would also leave the [career] and [jobs] tag still in the tag suggestion, just to note on that point. –  Grace Note Sep 30 '11 at 16:37
    
@GraceNote Hm, in that case, as long as we only use this tactic for jobs/career-related tags until please-remove-this-tag is empty, that seems like it could work. Although please-remove-this-tag would show up as the most-used tag on Programmers merely by virtue of career currently having that distinction. –  user8 Sep 30 '11 at 16:41
    
Aye, it would have that position, but I think Seasoned Advice had to deal with that too. For all my own quizzicalness on the issue, they did manage to pull it off, which says something to its potency. –  Grace Note Sep 30 '11 at 16:42
    
@GraceNote Can we get please-remove-this-tag blacklisted? It's unambiguously a maintenance tag that no normal user should be using and shouldn't show up in the tag suggestion list unless someone started typing "please". –  user8 Sep 30 '11 at 16:46
    
The theory behind its conception on Seasoned Advice was "No one is going to be stupid enough to manually apply the tag". It's basically more of a mental blacklist - it's both not going to commonly show up, and it's not something someone will just see and go "Oh, I want that", like they do with [career] in spite of the big "DO NOT USE" you wrote on its excerpt. –  Grace Note Sep 30 '11 at 16:51
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How about renaming to [career-(deprecated)] and [jobs-(deprecated)] as dummy tags?

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The [jobs] tag could still use some love (only 91 questions left!), but [career] has long been dealt with - it's blacklisted and can no longer be used. –  Anna Lear Nov 3 '12 at 1:35
    
er, well, you get the idea. –  psr Nov 3 '12 at 2:32
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I like the dummy tag idea. Would be very noticeable and easy to lump all general “bad” questions together.

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bonus points for using [this-is-a-bad-question] as the dummy... –  Shog9 Sep 30 '11 at 15:48
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Doesn't seem like a very good user experience for someone to see [remove-this-tag] on a question, especially for someone new or who doesn't know about a cleanup effort. –  Rebecca Chernoff Sep 30 '11 at 16:08
    
@Rebecca: If we migrate them all to one tag we can then run through that single tag and clean up all the questions. I guess we could also do that for each problematic tag. –  Josh K Sep 30 '11 at 18:31
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The only problem with just nuking the tag is that there's no opportunity to apply appropriate tags. Instead, I would recommend changing the tag description to mention it's depricated and put the list of appropriate related tags that should be used in the tag wiki, begin working through all of the questions with that tag to remove it and tag them appropriately, then blacklist the tag when all is said and done.

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It's been done, and it doesn't work. When we inquire as to why people keep using the tags, they say things like "Why should I read a tag wiki if I know what the word career means?" even when the description right below the tag says "Don't use this" –  user8 Sep 30 '11 at 16:23
    
@Mark Yes, people don't read it, but if there's an active effort to plow through every question that contains it at a faster rate than questions are tagged with it, eventually the number of questions will reach 0 and the tag can be blacklisted entirely. The only problem with doing that, though, is the fact that every question edited with the careers tag gets bumped to the front page. –  Thomas Owens Sep 30 '11 at 16:31
    
There's been a posse request active for some time, but only two moderators have been actually doing this. By all means, we want people helping. But where are right now is that after a few months, tag wikis don't stop anything and nobody wants to help clean these tags up. –  user8 Sep 30 '11 at 16:34
    
@Mark I'll jump on that at some point, then. I just starred the Posse request question for reading when I get home. My lunch break is almost over, so I can't do much now, but perhaps I can do a little something later. –  Thomas Owens Sep 30 '11 at 16:46
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