Bad Tags March 1, 2010 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Do you use tags to search MeFi?

I ask because I've wondered about this recently, and I have a theory that people who actually use tags to search for old posts tend to provide better tags (when posting) than those who don't. For instance, the other day, someone posted the Joel Johnson confessional but didn't include Joel, Johnson, or JoelJohnson as tags, all three of which I would have considered relatively crucial in case someone came looking for "that Joel Johnson confessional" post. And then today I got to thinking about them again because of this post, where degreezero unintentionally misspelled Joanna Newsom's name. Objections were noted in the thread and cortex came to the rescue and fixed the spelling of the name in the post itself but left the tags alone (they're now fixed). I find it odd that he either didn't check the tags or didn't look to see if they were also in error, because it makes me think that not a lot of people use tags to search old posts, or that I use them differently than other people.

Ultimately I've found that the easiest way to find an old post is to google "metafilter" and then whatever it was I remembered the post to be about - "deep sea fishing shark attack epilepsy" (as a fictitious example). That usually gets me to my desired destination most quickly. But then why are things tagged if we can search that way? Are there other uses for tags besides just searching old posts?

If tags are for searching things first and foremost, can we (as a collective group), or a select number of posters, a tagging posse, if you will, correct tags that are misspelled and add tags that would be helpful? I realize this is incredibly anal but it's been bothering me a bit so I thought maybe it's been bothering others, as well.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates to MetaFilter-Related at 10:15 AM (67 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

sometimes
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:17 AM on March 1, 2010


Yes.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:18 AM on March 1, 2010


deep sea fishing shark attack epilepsy

That was a good thread. I think we all learned something that day.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:19 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


my process usually goes search --> no decent results or too many? --> tags
posted by craven_morhead at 10:19 AM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I use Google to search MetaFilter. I use tags to browse MetaFilter.

Tags, at least as implemented on most of the internet, are not sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from google.
posted by DU at 10:20 AM on March 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sometimes I use them, but more often I use a Google query along the lines of "site:metafilter.com foo" or "site:ask.metafilter.com bar"
posted by jedicus at 10:20 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I use Google to search MetaFilter. I use tags to browse MetaFilter.

This is exactly how I use them, too.
posted by zarq at 10:21 AM on March 1, 2010


I find it odd that he either didn't check the tags or didn't look to see if they were also in error

I might sometimes think to look, but while someone gave me a heads-up about the spelling in the post in this case, no one mentioned the tag thing directly to me. Dropping us a quick note about that sort of thing via the contact form is fine, btw. Also, tags can be amended by both the post author or by their mutual contacts, which makes these things sometimes resolvable without any mod interaction.

I use tags for searching sometimes and find it useful for doing a rough survey of a topic, depending on the topic and the likely tags; I don't think it's going to be a sufficient search vector for anyone trying to be very thorough, but as a part of the process or a jumping off point I think they work relatively well.

Definitely it'd be nice to see tags be awesome on every post, but it's hard to enforce that when we've got such a diverse posting population, many of whom in raw numbers don't particularly engage with Metatalk and etc. Certainly it's fine to drop someone a polite note now and then if you think it's a good idea to add or clarify tags on their post, and again it's cool to let us know as mods too.

Whether we want to really do a post-hoc retagging posse thing, I don't know. The backtagging efforts we've organized to get all the old content on the site tagged were pretty great and we're thankful to all the awesome folks who threw in on that, but I worry that by comparison it might be more trying and less rewarding to try and have some on-going, no-end-in-site tag maintenance thing going on. But I could be wrong; maybe there are a lot of folks who would really like to have a go at that sort of thing. If so, we'd need to talk about goals and details of what was and was not going to work and so on.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:23 AM on March 1, 2010


If tags are for searching things first and foremost, can we (as a collective group), or a select number of posters, a tagging posse, if you will, correct tags that are misspelled and add tags that would be helpful?

Right now, mutual contacts can add tags to each others' posts. And we're happy to make a change if something needs to be corrected. Just send us a note via the contact form.

In addition to helping people browse content, tags power the Related Posts feature on MeFi and Ask MeFi, along with the stuff at My Ask. So they have some other behind-the-scenes benefit as well.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:26 AM on March 1, 2010


Nope. site:metafilter.com [search-term] is the most efficient way that I have found.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:27 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I usually start a search in Metafilter with tags, but that is a hit or miss proposition. I generally do better with a search term aimed at words in the post itself or by looking at the poster's page or at my own favorites.

In general I find tags less helpful than search terms, on almost all sites. I agree with cortex that people's idiosyncrasies lead to a great posting reading experience, but cut against consistent tagging practice.

I also think the back taggers rock. Thanks to them, my tag searches do pretty well for older posts.
posted by bearwife at 10:28 AM on March 1, 2010


deep sea fishing shark attack epilepsy

That was a good thread. I think we all learned something that day
.

A little late for some of us.

[this comment was typed with a metal hook]
posted by marxchivist at 10:29 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm of the opinion that the more tags the merrier, so I would be up for opening access to more people being allowed to edit tags. I think it's hard to have too many tags, especially since you can search for multiple tags at once: eg, cats+organic+litter. I realize now that maybe people use tags most often in AskMe? So if you were looking for posts about what is the best type of organic cat litter, just searching for cats would give you too many results. Searching for cats+litter might narrow it down but cats+litter+organic will get you zeroed in on what you need.

So the way I used MeFi - yes, bring on the tags. Overload posts with tags. Of course, I understand that how I use MeFi is different from how others use MeFi. Thus the post. Anyway, I don't have any solutions other than opening up the editing of tags to a group of people (say, the people who helped with backtagging? why not?) and let them have free rein. I don't see people abusing that privilege. But maybe I'm just not creative enough to imagine the diabolical ways in which that could be used against the site.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:34 AM on March 1, 2010


[this comment was typed with a metal hook]

That reminds me to finish that post about Dvorak On The High Seas.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's hard to have too many tags

What if you put the entire post text in the tag field? Then a tag search would be the same as a full text search. Except you really need to put all the post text in along with all the synonyms of the post text. So a search would have to check more data than you actually have....
posted by DU at 10:44 AM on March 1, 2010


What if you put the entire post text in the tag field?

Then there's no hope for you, because you are a complete moron and should be kept away from knives.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:46 AM on March 1, 2010


Now and again.
posted by Mister_A at 10:49 AM on March 1, 2010


I make sport of adding inappropriate and embarrassing tags to my contacts' posts.
posted by BeerFilter at 10:56 AM on March 1, 2010


What if you put the entire post text in the tag field?

Then there's no hope for you, because you are a complete moron and should be kept away from knives.


Right, but my point is this: When you search using tags, you are only searching a tiny subset of the data. Google searches all of it. The only way to make tags suitable for searching is to use them the way a "complete moron" would. Therefore, tags are not for searching.
posted by DU at 11:00 AM on March 1, 2010




Right, but my point is this: When you search using tags, you are only searching a tiny subset of the data. Google searches all of it. The only way to make tags suitable for searching is to use them the way a "complete moron" would. Therefore, tags are not for searching.

And my point is this: sometimes I want to search for a post but am not sure what that post is. Maybe I know it was about Joanna Newsom, for example, but I'm not sure which particular Joanna Newsom thread it was that I want to search for. I can use the tags to find all of them and go from there.

Or in AskMe, I can search for threads having to do with certain topics without searching for an exact thread. The more tags I can bundle up together, the more precise I can get. I think this is the optimal way in which to use tags.

For instance, blue_beetle links to the tag for SLYT. Which, if I'm divining his point correctly, is an example of a tag that is sort of worthless. But then I click on the +cat and I've narrowed it down to five links. Five links to Metafilter of cat-themed single link youtube videos. I find that helpful, and am merely stating that I'd like more of that to be available, not less.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:07 AM on March 1, 2010


Everything you've ever wanted to know about tags.

Does it seem odd to anyone else how many "Single Link You Tube" posts contain more than one link?
posted by zarq at 11:08 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe I know it was about Joanna Newsom, for example, but I'm not sure which particular Joanna Newsom thread it was that I want to search for. I can use the tags to find all of them and go from there.

Except you almost couldn't, because the tag here was spelled incorrectly. Whereas with search, unless every single person in the thread misspelled her name you would have gotten it.

That said, tags would be much much much more useful if we could all edit them. Then your tag search for Joanna Newsom would only have failed if everyone who used tags spelled it incorrectly.
posted by DU at 11:13 AM on March 1, 2010


Except you almost couldn't, because the tag here was spelled incorrectly.

...

That said, tags would be much much much more useful if we could all edit them. Then your tag search for Joanna Newsom would only have failed if everyone who used tags spelled it incorrectly.


It's like you're fucking with me, dude.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:16 AM on March 1, 2010


I use Google to search MetaFilter. I use tags to browse MetaFilter.

Tags, at least as implemented on most of the internet, are not sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from google.


What DU and zarq said, except I rarely browse that intensely (beyond just "what's new" or "recent activity")

The only times I find tags that helpful are when I'm the only one doing it (like my EverNote notes or delicious bookmarks) -- because I've got a good handle on how google finds things, when it comes to how real people categorize information, everyone does it wrong.

Except me, of course.

tags: sarcasm, AlJaffe, semantics
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:17 AM on March 1, 2010


As soon as I am done tagging my 100,000 Flickr images I'll start worrying about tags on MetaFilter.
posted by fixedgear at 11:22 AM on March 1, 2010


I use tags to reduce the chance of posting doubles.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:29 AM on March 1, 2010


I use tags to reduce the chance of posting doubles.

Yup. The linkcatcher only catches exact copies, which doesn't always work for newstories and the like, but the 'these threads have been posted recently which use the same tags' thing has saved me embarrassment more than once.

The embarrassment from posting something stupid, of course, is mine to savor.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2010


Needs the "the" tag.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:34 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Needs the "the" tag.

This is why tags are useful.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:38 AM on March 1, 2010


(Related tags include 'of', 'and'.)
posted by shakespeherian at 11:39 AM on March 1, 2010


My main use of tags is to limit the scope of AskMefi to things I know about. Linux, ubuntu, kansas city, etc. I treat the blue as a place to occasionally waste some time, so I don't track RSS feeds of it or pay much attention to tags. But it's handy on AskMefi for catching local questions and whatnot.

To that end, the main problem is knowing which tags are popularly subscribed to. The tag cloud displays tag popularity as measured by use, which might be a workable substitute even though asking a question shifts the probability of a poster knowing good tags to use. It's not perfect though. A quick look at the tag cloud reveals that 'computer' is different than 'computers', with only 44 using both. Moreover, it's general enough that I doubt anyone follows it. My gut instinct tells me there's more people subscribed to a tag feed of 'windows' 'apple' or 'linux' than 'computer', to the detriment of this question.
posted by pwnguin at 11:39 AM on March 1, 2010


deep sea fishing shark attack epilepsy

That was a good thread. I think we all learned something that day.


I certainly did. I've tried to talk to my neurologist about experimental shark therapy, but she won't return my calls.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:15 PM on March 1, 2010


I use tags all the time - to browse, not so much to search for specific threads - and I'm generally impressed at how useful they are for browsing past content given that they're entirely voluntary & user supplied.

One note though- you can't actually combine three tags in the URL, ala cats+litter+organic - only up to two. Trying three gets you an error message like so: ask.metafilter.com/tags/cats+litter+organic.
posted by yarrow at 12:16 PM on March 1, 2010


Tag? You're it.
posted by Cranberry at 12:19 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Trying to search with tags throws a websense warning here and gives the category as "sex" for some reason. Anyone know why this is?
posted by Big_B at 12:28 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyone know why this is?

Bad tags.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:04 PM on March 1, 2010


I've always wondered if my tags are any good and could be done to make them better?

I'm gonna end up sending two easy payments of 19.95 to someone, aren;t I?
posted by The Whelk at 1:07 PM on March 1, 2010


I'm gonna end up sending two easy payments of 19.95 to someone, aren;t I?

That's Z-A-R-Q, 1313 Mockingbird Lane, PO Box 65483....
posted by zarq at 1:32 PM on March 1, 2010


Tagged as delicious™!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:36 PM on March 1, 2010


Is this where I repeat my per user tag cloud pony request?
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've tried to talk to my neurologist about experimental shark therapy, but she won't return my calls.

Well that's just silly; sharks can't use phones. You have to video-conference with them if you want to get anything done.
posted by quin at 3:26 PM on March 1, 2010


the
posted by stet at 3:40 PM on March 1, 2010


saints
posted by The Whelk at 3:43 PM on March 1, 2010


go
posted by shakespeherian at 4:26 PM on March 1, 2010


marching
posted by The Whelk at 4:41 PM on March 1, 2010


blarching in? You stupid monkey!
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:41 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


dammit
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:42 PM on March 1, 2010


I'd like to be in that number!
posted by zpousman at 5:32 PM on March 1, 2010


zarq! Yay! I feel like we share a cosmic bond having taken overlapping hiatuses.

And: video-conferencing with sharks is HARD. They never stop moving! Would you just STOP for a MINUTE?! You're going all blurry! It's exhausting.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:59 PM on March 1, 2010


When I was a kid I didn't know that "number" could refer to a musical/creative performance, and I was also kind of a precocious math nerd, and so that song was a source of confusion basically.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:13 PM on March 1, 2010


I always thought number meant "more numb".
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:42 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It'd be fun to do really crappy sequels to classic rock songs, and here I'm inspired by the notion of Comfortably Number.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:42 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


zarq! Yay! I feel like we share a cosmic bond having taken overlapping hiatuses.

We do!! :)

I just desperately needed a breather. When I lose my temper trying to correct people who are "wrong on the internets," it's a clear sign I need to step back, breathe and change my perspective. I don't want to be that guy, you know?

Can I just say how happy and relieved I am that you're back? It's great to see you! :)
posted by zarq at 6:56 AM on March 2, 2010


I just desperately needed a breather. When I lose my temper trying to correct people who are "wrong on the internets," it's a clear sign I need to step back, breathe and change my perspective. I don't want to be that guy, you know?

Yep. That's exactly the reason I took a break. If I'm getting ANGRY at words on a screen, it's time to go outside.

(And then come back in later because it gets kind of cold outside and I think I left my mittens somewhere in the Blue. If you see them, please give them back.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2010


You're not going to come up with a better way to search text than google. It's kinda what they do? Tags might be useful to drive features like "related post" links, but if you are relying on it to find something you vaguely remembered, you are doing it wrong.
posted by cj_ at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2010


You're not going to come up with a better way to search text than google.

I will quibble with this only for the sake of clarity. Google is an excellent general purpose search tool but its generality (even with Google's ongoing implementation of all kinds of niche specificity within that generality as far as blog format/content stuff, music and image search vectors, etc) makes it underperform for some kinds of local search tasks.

Which is not a big defense of tag search for general search in particular, because, as discussed above, tags themselves are only a guide and an inconsistent one at that.

But the on-site search at this point has the ability to provide results explicitly limited to posts or comments on subsites and per-user searches via profile pages, and can detect and report when a search term is represented inline or within link text on a per-result basis. The on-site search also has complete coverage and does not repeat itself, whereas Google has both gaps and a tendency to overindex what it does have.

For some search tasks, the on-site search is easily the best tool. For other search tasks (e.g. those involving quoted strings or specific negations or exclusions), Google is fundamentally stronger. For general search outside of those specific situations where one or the other excels, either will generally do the trick and which you prefer to use is mostly a matter of personal inclination and what's important to you in how the search results are presented and ordered.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:17 AM on March 2, 2010


You're not going to come up with a better way to search text than google. It's kinda what they do? Tags might be useful to drive features like "related post" links, but if you are relying on it to find something you vaguely remembered, you are doing it wrong.

Well, for instance, take the Paul Stamets post on the FP. I knew there had been other Paul Stamets posts on the blue, and I wanted to find them. Googling "Metafilter Paul Stamets" would have pulled up lots of posts, some with Paul Stamets in the body of the post, some with Paul Stamets in the comments. A much easier, faster, and thorough way to search for posts about Paul Stamets would be to type in metafilter.com/tags/stamets. The problem is that people will write a post about Paul Stamets and then tag it as "mushroom" which, in my opinion, doesn't really help anybody. Thus the post and the request to allow people to add and fix tags, thus improving the efficiency of searching and browsing through tags.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:50 AM on March 2, 2010


Using Metafilter's search function works well in that application, though.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:52 AM on March 2, 2010


Fair enough, I haven't tried the local search and I'm not sure what powers it (lucene?). But user-curated data is just not the way to do it for precisely the reason this post exists: people won't put sufficient tags on their posts. I agree that if every post were perfectly tagged with all relevant and related keywords, it'd be more useful than it is now, but it's kind of a pipe dream IMO.
posted by cj_ at 8:00 AM on March 2, 2010


Fair enough, I haven't tried the local search and I'm not sure what powers it (lucene?).

I'm not certain, that's all pb magic, but I think the site search is built out on SQL Server functionality directly.

The local search was much less robust a few years back, and I almost want to do PR for how much better it is now, for all the folks who might not bother with it because they remember the old not-so-useful version. It really does a great job now for the tasks it can handle (the big omission currently is the lack of quoted-string search) and I much prefer to use it over Google for most of the crazy site-search projects I get up to because it reliably produces everything that matches, in datestamp order.

Google's index gaps and less robust capacity for presenting stuff in content buckets in strict order are a dealbreaker for me for a lot of tasks, though my search needs (well, search wants, I guess) are probably pretty outlier at that. But it's a testament to how well the site search works in general that despite having direct access to the db I rarely go there for search-related tasks.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:12 AM on March 2, 2010


I'm not certain, that's all pb magic, but I think the site search is built out on SQL Server functionality directly.

Yep, it's built with SQL Server Full Text Search which is ok. We're looking at other search engines like Lucene, but they seem to be more document-centric than atomic-record centric, which is our advantage with the local search. One promising option is the new Solr feature built into ColdFusion 9.

We have a big wish-list for the local search, and I think we're finally getting overall site performance to the place where we can start to do more with search.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:27 AM on March 2, 2010


Full text searches are actually pretty useless when it comes to short peices of text that may be somewhat oblique and not contain any of the relevant terms... that's where good tagging really helps.
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on March 2, 2010


No.
posted by Rash at 10:50 AM on March 2, 2010


What DU said -- "I use Google to search MetaFilter. I use tags to browse MetaFilter."
posted by Rash at 10:52 AM on March 2, 2010


I have a theory that people who actually use tags to search for old posts tend to provide better tags...

Certainly not in my case. I use tags to search but I always feel like I've done a poor job of tagging my own posts.
posted by lekvar at 11:50 AM on March 2, 2010


Ultimately I've found that the easiest way to find an old post is to google "metafilter" and then whatever it was

The reason this works is that the tags provide a load of back-links between related pages on mefi; assuming all those other pages contain relevant keywords; that helps the Google page-rank algorithm to return the right page for your query.
posted by Lanark at 12:26 PM on March 2, 2010


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