I'm Grace Note, a Stack Exchange Community Coordinator.

I was asked by users of this site to give some advice on tag synonyms - when they should be made, when they should be declined, and the general thought process behind it. So, to that end, when should people look at tag synonyms as a solution? When should it be avoided?

While I do ask myself here, please don't hesitate to speak up if you have anything to add, or even counter.

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I would welcome the availability of tag synonyms since the existing tag names are not always what might be expected, or what might be in common use by a user. However, on a related topic, I find it very difficult to find all the relevant tags when creating a question. The current simple alphabetic list - one that doesn't even appear as a helper option when creating a question - doesn't really "cut it" for me. Is there any chance of a list with some type of functional grouping of the tag names. Plus a nicely placed button to bring it up when you most need it –  ACProctor Dec 31 '12 at 17:46

1 Answer 1

I like to treat the synonym system as something that should be reactive in design. This design enforces the identification of a demonstrated need for the synonym, rather than proactive prediction of its potential for confusion. This stems from the fact that synonyms exist more as a mapping, not as a thesaurus.

Thus, the majority of synonyms tend to be handled as a side-effect of other processes, namely renaming tags or merging tags together. These usually are things that require a moderator to step in, as well as possible community discussion on the meta site, and so the reputation requirement gets a bit sidelined. But more importantly, these demonstrate that people are indeed, on the site, using an alternate term than the existing tag. Thus it is realistic that people actually might run into the wrong direction.

On Seasoned Advice, there is a tag [soda] that exists. "Pop" is another term for the same substance, but there is no tag synonym between the two. However, even though there are even questions that call it pop, the only tag they have is soda and there is no synonym. That's because even though there's a logical synonym here, there is no need to make a tag synonym because even those users will still tag it as "soda". This would be an example of the kind of scenario that a tag synonym isn't necessary - the community doesn't need to worry about pre-emptitively setting up a tag synonym because in practice, no one checks for a "pop" tag.

Meanwhile, on Game Development, there's a tag called [pathfinding], which has A* (written as [astar] and [a-star]) as its synonym. A* is a specific style of pathfinding, but the distinction isn't large enough to warrant a separate tag. Since both tags are in use, however, a synonym is helpful to setup so that the people who look for pathfinding stuff by searching for A* will find it.

Thus, to wrap this up, when trying to think of whether or not to implement a tag synonym, think about how people will use the tags over how the words are related to each other. If there are two terms for a place or period or methodology that comes up in Genealogy, if people actually are likely to use either term then a synonym is a good idea to setup. If there are two or more terms but one is fallen to disuse, is irregular for people to say, or if people just default to one term so much more, then a synonym probably isn't necessary.

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From all of this, I have learned two things--better to be the one providing assistance than asking for it; best pass on notions of tag synonyms (too many potholes). –  GeneJ Dec 26 '12 at 18:51
    
@GeneJ I'm sorry that this came across as such. Straight-forward tag synonym proposals are generally accepted and setup each time they are proposed. I may claim that the necessity may be weaker if it's only a relation in name, but this is still only advice for when there's uncertainty on the establishment of the synonym. –  Grace Note Dec 26 '12 at 19:10
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I say all this from a network-wide perspective, with the intent to avoid people burning too much time organizing massive lists of logical synonyms that don't match what the community feels it needs. But the community is also a major judge of what is necessary. Just like it is the community that determines the lingo of the tags, the structure of how people tag and what categories exist, so too does the community decide if there are certain sets of logical synonyms that should be maintained as tag synonyms. You should see the mess that is Arqade's title tag synonym lists some time. –  Grace Note Dec 26 '12 at 19:11
    
I'm confident we'll eventually get to the point where community needs are expressed in the course of normal site operations. We just aren't there yet. –  GeneJ Dec 26 '12 at 20:07

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