# Version tags considered harmful

We've noticed that a huge percentage of questions are tagged or .

This is a dangerous pattern for your community to fall into. Here's why:

1. Version tags are redundant. The site is already called "sharepoint". We don't need to know that it's sharepoint-2001, sharepoint-2003, sharepoint-2005, sharepoint-2007 in every single tag on every single question. It's redundant.

2. Version tags are a crutch. Because these tags dominate the site, and contain the name, they are the first thing users will turn to when tagging their questions. This means users will fail to tag questions with any other meaningful tags, since "I already tagged my question with !" This isn't hypothetical. We've seen this happen time and time again. Version tags are a mindless replacement for thinking about what your question is about. "Oh, this question is about . Done."

3. Version tags make questions disposable. The entire point of Stack Exchange is for questions to be editable, timeless resources -- a version tag implies exactly the opposite and ties questions to specific moments in time, with no incentive to improve them to be relevant to future versions. This is extremely dangerous!

4. Version tags encourage needless question duplication. Rather than "How do I do X?" which can cover both supported versions, now there has to be "How do I do X in Version 1?" and "How do I do X in Version 2?"

5. Version tags aren't necessary for most new questions. New questions are very likely to be about the current version of the software -- so for all new questions, tagging with the current version is usually not helpful.

On top of that, how many versions (outside of freakish "I still use Windows 2000" edge conditions) will really matter at any given time? Two at best? And certainly any software worth its salt will strongly urge people to regularly migrate to the latest version as soon as they can, so that the community can move forward to bigger and better things.

Thus, here is what I propose.

• Eliminating the version tags on existing questions. We can do this in one click globally. (I have already done this for as it was utterly dominating the site to a degree we haven't seen anywhere else on the network.)

• Treating version tags as the exception not the rule on new questions -- if you have a strong case to make that the question you are asking is ONLY relevant to one version and can NEVER EVER be relevant to any other version, then -- and only then -- add the version tag.

• If you encounter an old question that is truly specific to a version, and cannot be edited to be version-agnostic, retag it with a version tag.

The bottom line is that version tags have to be treated as the exception, not the rule. It is important to fix this now while your community is young. Otherwise you will create deep problems in your community that will be very hard to fix 1 or 2 or 3 years from now.

• The version tags include sharepoint-2007, sharepoint-2003, wss-3.0 as well. I'm a little concerned about losing context in existing questions by deleting these tags. They probably should be checked first, but who's going to do that, right? – Alex Angas May 22 '11 at 1:29
• @alex I'm not too worried about the older tags; it's when a single tag (or two tags like on Drupal) dominate the site, appearing on nearly every question, that I get deeply concerned. – Jeff Atwood May 22 '11 at 3:58

I'm not sure I quite understand the reasoning for some of these so hopefully you can help me through it.

1. Version tags are redundant, but familiar to the SharePoint community. I understand your point about the tag containing the name. However, I rarely hear anyone call it "2007" or "2010".. they call it "SharePoint 2010". Settling on the longer tag names seemed like a natural fit at the time. However, changing this to the shorter version would be OK with me if they were more than just redundant.
2. Version tags are a crutch encourage users to give their question helpful context. People are using the tags which is great. In order to answer the question accurately, the answerer needs as much information as possible. I do understand your point about users tagging a question with only the version tag. However, instead of discouraging the version tag we should encourage adding more than one tag. What if we made the minimum number of required tags TWO instead of one?
3. Version tags do not make questions disposable. Just because the version tag is present doesn't mean the question is disposable or doesn't provide value to someone searching for a different version. Additionally, we already decided that duplicate questions would be closed. This would encourage (or force) users to post relevant information in older posts. Once additional information is added, we can always retag the question if needed.
4. Version tags won't encourage needless question duplication. (see #3)
5. Version tags aren't necessary for most new questions. I think your point is that many new questions are about the "current" version. However, a significant amount of new questions have been about SharePoint 2007. And, as @SPDoctor mentioned, what happens to the questions when a new SharePoint version is released?

I think the number of version specific questions is underestimated. At the very least, I believe many users won't be able to tell when their question is version specific or not. This means, that the tagging would have to be continually enforced by moderators familiar with every SharePoint version. I'm not sure this is a reasonable solution.

Lastly, I think this whole situation could have been handled a little better. I feel like I was brought on to help encourage leadership from within the community. This was not a proposal brought before the community. Instead, it was implemented without discussion and it has damaged our carefully maintained content.

• Silence is an answer too – Anders Rask May 24 '11 at 19:32
• please see my response here. – Shog9 May 25 '11 at 5:19

I'd regard our primary discussion on this topic at Should we tag questions with a SharePoint version? and don't have anything further to add than my answer and edit 2 there.

On second thoughts, one thing I'd like to comment on is how this situation was handled. I accept that the Stack Exchange team has experience on this topic, and perhaps our community has made the wrong choices here. However making significant changes to data and how the site is run without any consultation or warning - especially when we've discussed it more than any other meta topic (probably) - has been a disempowering experience.

• That's a good answer. – Shog9 May 23 '11 at 21:57
• Does that imply we should flag this Q as possible dupe of that? :-p – Anders Rask May 23 '11 at 22:38
• @Shog9 Still think so after my edit? :-P – Alex Angas May 24 '11 at 8:09
• oh yes... disempowering is one way of expressing it – Anders Rask May 24 '11 at 13:17
• @Alex: yup... I think you and Jeff are right on the money WRT the harm versioning can cause, but obviously you're having trouble getting traction & this isn't helping... I'll write more in a bit. – Shog9 May 24 '11 at 16:06
• in this case it was critical since 80% of questions had one tag. We've never seen that on any other network site. – Jeff Atwood May 25 '11 at 10:47
• Doesn't that just indicate that the set of 80% tags is actually the emergence of a metadata field in it's own right? – SPDoctor May 25 '11 at 15:10

My answer. Hmmm - it wasn't really a question. No need for discussion, because Jeff Attwood already deleted them. I think you should create a sharepoint-2005 tag for extra laughs.

So I suppose the current position is the sharepoint-2010 tag is gone. That sort of works, because we can assume that it is the current version unless it is tagged sharepoint-2007, which should be less and less frequent over the next year or two. But it is essential to know if the poster is on 2007 - I have wasted quite a bit of time answerring questions only to then spot the 2007 and back to square one. Does Jeff understand how different the 2010 version is to SP2007? Probably not - why would he?

So far so good - no harm done by deleting the sharepoint-2010 tag. But what happens in 2012/13/whenever? Do we tag sharepoint-V15 questions? Do we need to go back and re-tag the 2010 answers that might not be relevant to the new version?

When I search for information on the wider Internet I usually enter "SharePoint 2010 blah" or "SharePoint 2007 blah". How is that going to work moving forward, with the 2010 tag gone?

I think we need a way of tagging which version of SharePoint a questioner is using. If the platform can't provide that then that seems like a shortcoming in the platform that will make it unsuitable as a long term repository of information (as is deleting all our content - sorry, I will try not to mention that again).

• So you are saying you wouldnt hire Jeff for your next SharePoint project? :-O – Anders Rask May 24 '11 at 13:18
• Very good point about when a new version comes out. Also, I'd like to add a question to @SPDoctor's post. How would we encourage users to use the sharepoint-2007 tag but discourage them from using the sharepoint-2010 tag? – Kit Menke May 24 '11 at 13:33
• @kit users should mention the version in the body of the post only when it is relevant – Jeff Atwood May 24 '11 at 17:03
• @Anders I would hire Jeff Atwood without a second's hesitation for any project (if I could afford it). – SPDoctor May 25 '11 at 8:34
• @kit I assume you just delete the sharepoint-2010 tag (maybe you have to keep deleting it) and update the site FAQ. And I notice most new questions are still getting the sharepoint-2010 tag. Hmmm. – SPDoctor May 25 '11 at 8:44

## Wherein I address some of the concerns raised on other answers

(This started out as responses to Kit Menke and Anders Rask, but... it got long)

First off: this is our fault, at least in part... One of the big goals of this beta period is to let the site develop without the baggage of SharePoint Overflow to hold it back - and yet we missed the opportunity to warn you away from this tagging strategy earlier. I sincerely apologize.

Second, this is... kinda urgent. Versioned tags have caused headaches on other sites, so it's important to tackle this issue before the volume of questions is too large to deal with. We're set to dump a whole lot of old questions from the SharePoint Overflow site, and they're going to need some cleanup - that includes tags. The 2010 tag is gone, and the 2007 tag will have to follow. It would probably be a good idea to consider the tag as well...

I believe many users won't be able to tell when their question is version specific or not.

This is probably the best argument against version-specific tags. If you're used to answering SharePoint 2007 questions and browse the site looking for that tag, you're going to miss any question that isn't specific to that version. By assuming most questions are version-specific, you resign yourself to a future where all questions are version-specific! No matter how good your intentions might be regarding cross-version duplicates, you're setting yourself up for failure by creating a site where users are encouraged to ignore a giant chunk of the questions.

However, instead of discouraging the version tag we should encourage adding more than one tag. What if we made the minimum number of required tags TWO instead of one?

This just punts the problem on to the next lousy tag... Which makes this a good time to bring up , now the second-most popular tag on the site. And it tells you even less about the question than the version tag does. And yet, there are questions on the site tagged with nothing but [sharepoint-2007] [development] (and up until recently, the same situation existed for [sharepoint-2010]).

### A philosophy of tagging

Tags are intended to categorize questions, allowing experts in specific, well-defined categories to follow questions in those categories and users to find them. A well-tagged set of questions will expose the focus of the site, creating a dynamic, flexible, non-hierarchical organization system.

Stack Exchange sites require users to enter at least one tag: questions should start out in some category, and more can then be added to refine or link in related topics. It's super-important that this step doesn't inadvertently encourage users to miscategorize their question by presenting them with ambiguous or misleading tags.

It's worth noting here that the system already blocks certain redundant tags. Obviously, tagging a question [sharepoint] on a question named SharePoint isn't very useful... But that's also going to be the first tag that occurs to most users, effectively guaranteeing that [sharepoint-version] will see widespread use. It's actually sort of a clever tactic to get them to pick from a list of pre-defined options...

So instead of adding noise in the Q ("i am using SP2010") and delaying answers with ping-pong comments with "what version are you on" we decided to keep versions.

That's understandable, and as I said, somewhat clever. But... You're sacrificing one entire dimension of a question's information for the sake of reducing omissions in another dimension. There are all sorts of details you'll want regarding problems users face; among them, which version of the software they're using has to be one of the easiest and most obvious.

## Going forward, cleaning house

As I mentioned at the start of this, we're about to re-introduce the old SharePoint Overflow questions. Before that happens, you'll want to have your house in order: the new questions should be well-tagged, top tags should be clear, specific, and easy to choose from, with any necessary synonyms or black-listed tags configured.

To that end, I strongly suggest you consider eliminating the [sharepoint-version] tags entirely. Don't make them optional - they'll creep back into every question where a user hits that tag box and starts typing "shar...". As Jeff notes, this elimination can be done easily upon request.

Following that, take a good hard look at - can it be eliminated, renamed, or at least documented (I know what software development is, but what does the tag mean here?) Keep in mind that meta tags are also considered harmful - if the tag doesn't describe the content of the question in a way that can stand alone as that one mandatory tag, it should be eliminated.

And finally, attack every question without a good, solid tags, and give them something that actually categorizes them, based on the content itself.

• It would be wise to delete and ban any tag that matches [sharepoint-*number*] as their use is ingrained into our culture. As you've said / we've discussed, [development] is too general and should be deleted/banned as well since it will come through on the import. (If it's easy, please record the tag deletions in question history.) These are tags that have been and will continue to be a headache to maintain in the future if they are allowed to stay. Thank you for this well thought-out post. – Alex Angas May 25 '11 at 6:25
• I don't oppose the tags existing for the case when a question absolutely, positively, unequivocally is about a specific version. But this should be the exception not the rule, and the potential for abuse is definitely there all the time. – Jeff Atwood May 25 '11 at 7:14
• I think the problem is there is a need to enforce some metadata but tagging doesn't give you enough control. You want at least one descriptive tag, but a version tag doesn't count. A single tag bucket won't let you enforce that - tagging is like "weak-typed" metadata. The platform doesn't have a way of adding "proper" metadata (e.g. sharepoint version, dev/IT/end-user). I suppose that's why you have Stack Overflow and Server Fault as separate sites, but that's not the solution as you narrow the field of knowledge. – SPDoctor May 25 '11 at 9:16
• @SPDoctor: well, the other side of that is the user interface gets worse and worse the more you add inputs to it - it's already a terrible strain for the vast majority of users to come up with a descriptive title, an informative body, and one good tag. All too often, it's lousy title, lousy tags, everything useful crammed into the body. – Shog9 May 25 '11 at 14:00
• I agree with @Alex. We might as well get rid of all the version tags. We want users to be able to accurately tag their questions without community intervention every time. – Kit Menke May 25 '11 at 14:27
• If you get rid of the sharepoint-2007 tag, the answers to half of those questions won't make sense anymore. – SPDoctor May 25 '11 at 14:49
• @Shog9 You make a good argument. I just think product version is so fundamental to answerring a technical product-related question. SharePoint has a fairly long release cycle and big changes between versions. So ideally I would have a version field (any(dflt)/2003/2007/2010), maybe a SKU, probably wouldn't bother with dev/IT, then give me at least one tag or something. Would be unreasonable to ask for SE to implement that, so I don't have an answer within the metadata limitations of a single tag bucket. – SPDoctor May 25 '11 at 15:06
• Why are we even discussing this when the decision has been made? As SharePoint "expert" I can only say that SharePoint versions are almost different products. If your software cannot require at least one tag to be different than [sharepoint-*] maybe you should add it as a feature. I am very disappointed with @JeffAtwood enforcing policies like this. – Toni Frankola May 25 '11 at 17:01
• @Toni: we're discussing it because simply stating "NO VERSION TAGS" doesn't accomplish much. You guys need good tagging - the prevalant use of version tags wouldn't be nearly as much of an issue if questions were well-tagged otherwise, but seeing that they've effectively choked other categories out means it's an issue with the culture of the site - if we can't convince y'all that better tags are necessary, simply destroying the existing tags won't help. – Shog9 May 25 '11 at 17:07
• @SPDoctor: if you see a question asked that doesn't give enough information for it to be answered, ask for more information to be provided. If none is forthcoming, close it. This is pretty much standard procedure on every site - I appreciate that version info holds special significance for product-focused sites, but really they're - at most - just a piece of the puzzle. – Shog9 May 25 '11 at 17:17
• @Shog9: I understand your concern, but IMHO version tags are part of good tagging system. We DO need guidance on how to improve tagging system. IMHO version tag should be required along with one additional tag. – Toni Frankola May 25 '11 at 17:25
• @Toni: at that point, you've effectively segregated the site. Tags describe content - if a question is tagged with a version, that's an implicit statement that it applies only to that version. No previous versions. No future versions. Just. That. Version. And then... Well, shucks - you might as well just create a different site for each new version and go back to one required tag. It's not workable - the premise of having a product-specific site is that enough of a cohesive ecosystem surrounds it to make it a field in its own right - if that's not true, this site shouldn't even exist. – Shog9 May 25 '11 at 17:37
• @Shog9: Most of these are version specific, you should pick random 100 question and then ask the mods to confirm if these are version specific or not... I estimate ~80% will be version specific. The only problem being what happens when SharePoint v.Next is released, but there is still 2-3 years till that. – Toni Frankola May 25 '11 at 17:52
• @Toni: even if you're right, that's 20% of the questions on the site with a superfluous tag, misleading search results, and duplication. And that's assuming the questions to the other 80% are so completely different that they simply cannot be related or consolidated. Again, it's either pessimism (the site can work without it) or a very, very bad sign. – Shog9 May 25 '11 at 18:14

We have already had this discussion several times (latest here) where we discussed pros/cons and came to the conclusion that it was best to keep the general SKU versionong since solutions vary depending on what version of SharePoint is being used.

So instead of adding noise in the Q ("i am using SP2010") and delaying answers with ping-pong comments with "what version are you on" we decided to keep versions.

A lot of the points you add is valid. But it is points we already discussed and decided -for the time being- against, so i find it a bit odd that you just delete all the tags when this we, as SharePoint experts, decided things was best? So tell me, can you add those questions back as fast as you deleted them?

• We don't support this sort of tagging at the network level, for the reasons I outlined. History has shown us that pernicious version tagging leads to severe quality problems -- it's been tried and deemed a failure on Wordpress and Ask Ubuntu, and I have no reason to believe this time will be any different. Also, that answer says what I am saying: "When your question is version specific, include the version tag." .. as in only when – Jeff Atwood May 21 '11 at 9:34
• @Anders Rask: The discussions on this topic indicated that version tags should rarely and only be used in those cases where the question applied narrowly to that version only (meta.sharepoint.stackexchange.com/questions/24). Their wide-spread use has shown these tags are already being abused. Even the discussion you quoted: "You should use a version tag ONLY when your question is version specific." But that has not been the case, so it was best to remove them to keep the from proliferating further. Users imitate the behaviors they see on the site and these tags were poorly used. – Robert Cartaino May 22 '11 at 16:57
• Well how could users tag version specific Q now when the cannot add the tag? I foresee alot of tag noise inside the questions/answers or hopefully comments, since solutions in SharePoint are very version specific – Anders Rask May 23 '11 at 5:46
• Oh and for the record, tags or no tags, I still find it weird that the decision to delete all existing tags was done without any mods being noticed, warned or anything. – Anders Rask May 23 '11 at 10:51
• @Robert Cartaino: I think you underestimate how many questions are version specific and I think you also are assuming that everyone can easily tell which questions apply to both versions (or not). – Kit Menke May 24 '11 at 0:31
• @Anders: please see my response here. – Shog9 May 25 '11 at 5:18