We've seen a fair bit (British understatement alert) of work recently going into our tag wiki excerpts, but a few of them are simple dictionary definitions and others have more detailed content that may or may not be useful to users of this site.

There's some basic guidance on constructing tag wiki excerpts here: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/03/redesigned-tags-page/ including:

  1. The excerpt is the elevator pitch for the tag. You only have ~500 plain text characters for the excerpt, so don’t feel obligated to cover everything in it! Save that for the 30,000+ character Markdown tag wiki. The excerpt should define the shared quality of questions containing this tag — boiled down to a few short sentences.

  2. Avoid generically defining the concept behind a tag, unless it is highly specialized. The “email” tag, for example, does not need to explain what email is. I think we can safely assume most internet users know what email is; there’s no value in a boilerplate explanation of email to anyone.

  3. Concentrate on what a tag means to your community. For “email” on Server Fault, mention the server aspects of email including POP3, SMTP, IMAP, and server software. For “email” on Super User, mention desktop email clients and explicitly exclude webmail, as that would be more appropriate for webapps.stackexchange.com.

  4. Provide basic guidance on when to use the tag. In other words, what kinds of questions should have this tag? Tags only exist as ways of organizing questions, so if we don’t provide proper guidance on which questions need this tag, they won’t get tagged at all, rendering the tag excerpt moot. Think of it as a sales pitch: in a room full of tags screaming “pick me!”, what would convince a question asker to select your tag?

  5. Some tags are common knowledge. Most tags require a bit of explanation in the excerpt, even if it’s only 3 or 4 words. But if the tag is common knowledge — that is, if you walked up to any random person on the street and said the tag word to them, and they would know what you were talking about — then don’t bother explaining the tag at all. Stick to usage of the tag within your community in the excerpt.

I wonder if there also are some site-specific guidelines we can come up with for ourselves?

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2 Answers 2

For tags of countries and states, I think too much "common knowledge" and not necessarily relevent material is being added, e.g.:

  • united-states: The United States of America, commonly called the United States, and abbreviated US or USA, is a country in the continent of North America.

  • england: Country, now part of the United Kingdom, located on the British Isles.

  • australia: A nation state of approximately 22 million people on the world's largest island (or smallest continent) between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean. Created in 1901 by the federation of a group of existing British colonies. Indigenous Australians now make up approximately 2.5% of the total ...

  • texas: A large state in the south-central United States of America. Joined the US in 1845. An independent republic from 1836 to 1845.

We don't need locations like "a country in the continent of North America" or "located on the British Isles" or between certain oceans or where in America.

We don't need populations or even what the population is made up of.

I think what is relevant to genealogists who delve in the past is:

  • What year it was formed
  • What it was before (make that tag a synonym if it's one-to-one)
  • Any significant changes to it that would have affected your ancestors and the years of those changes, e.g. border changes, joined/left the union (USA/USSR/...), end of communist rule, ...

Here's an example of what I think might be good:

canada: Became a country in 1867 made up of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Added Manitoba and Northwest Territories in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873, Yukon in 1898, Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905, Newfoundland in 1949 and Nunavut in 1999. Prior to 1867 it was made up of a number of British colonies.

and even that can be improved.

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For countries that experienced a lot of immigration, information about where the population came from and when would be relevant. Otherwise, I agree. –  ColeValleyGirl Dec 20 '12 at 8:08
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Tricky one... for some of the obvious tags, the excerpt will be obvious - to the point of being pointless.

That reads slightly callous, and isn't meant to undermine the effort of the person(s) who've made the edit...

The tag excerpt is, as @lkessler suggests, the elevator pitch for the tag - as such I'd simply suggest that prospective tag-editors consider whether their proposal adds any value. Stating the obvious isn't adding value, or help explain the purpose of the tag.

{and sorry if that sounds too management-speakish}

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Even tags about obvious terms can benefit from a description of when to use the tag. For example, the software tag wiki could use some editing to describe when to use it "for questions about how to use genealogy software" and when to not use it, such as for questions asking for links or software recommendation, assuming this community discourages those, that is. Hope this helps! –  jmort253 Dec 21 '12 at 4:39
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