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Background

On Puzzling - as with other sites in the Stack Exchange network - each question tag has its own associated 'tag wiki' page, containing information to explain the use case for each tag, i.e. when it's appropriate to use, what one might expect to see in a question with this tag, etc. (See the riddle tag wiki page, for example).

Each of these pages also includes a very brief 'TL;DR' stub at the top of the page to explain in its most basic form what this tag is about. This is known as the 'tag wiki excerpt', and is what appears in the tooltip when hovering over a tag with the mouse.

Users with sufficient reputation on PSE are able to edit and improve tag wiki pages, to make them easier to use or more relevant as puzzle types evolve with time or become more popular.

The problem

Lately, one particular (and relatively new) user appears to have taken it upon themselves to be the site's unofficial tag wiki librarian and is gradually, day by day, going through tag wiki pages and making the same edit to many tags to explain that (paraphrase) 'general [tag name] questions that are not puzzles are off-topic here, but can be asked on our sister site [relevant site in the Stack Exchange Network].' (For example, see the mathematics tag wiki page.)

While such enthusiasm is to be applauded (even if it's only to earn an easy +2 rep or achieve the Research Assistant badge!), these edits are being made twice to each page - once in the main body of the tag wiki, and once in the 'tag wiki excerpt'. There are two problems I see here:

  1. This is redundancy in action - a large quantity of the same information appearing twice on the same page.

  2. This often makes the tag wiki excerpt overly long and more difficult to read quickly.

The tag wiki excerpt does not need to contain all of the information from the tag wiki body - the point of it is to summarise the key points about this tag that a user might need to know when they are considering using it on a question, or when they have clicked on it to find out more about questions tagged this way in general. In my view it is not essential to list all the things that this tag is not, and alternative places to find further information in the tag wiki excerpt - this is the place to list the bare minimum of relevant information for somebody with a passing interest in this tag.

When these edits first began appearing I - like many other users - blithely fulfilled my duty in the Suggested Edit review queue and accepted all the ones that appeared not to be detrimental (or purely changed spellings between US-UK English - but that's another post...!). However, after some reflection I now feel that editing the tag wiki excerpts in this way is NOT beneficial to the site.

Question

Does the PSE community feel these tag wiki excerpt changes offer any benefit to the site? (Or am I alone in thinking they do not??)

I have made it clear (I hope) that in my opinion adding more and more information into the tag wiki excerpts makes them more cumbersome and less useful, but I appreciate that I am not the only user on this site(!) and that differences of opinion doubtless exist.

If some kind of consensus can be reached then we can either allow these tag wiki excerpt edits to continue (under the notion that this information is key to the short tag wiki excerpt) or we can undertake some kind of clean-up operation (under the notion that this information belongs best in the main body of the tag wiki page only).

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    $\begingroup$ I was considering raising this too. I initially saw a couple of suggested edits in the review queue and agreed with them as I thought it was just one or two were the user thought it was necessary to clarify, but then checking the history logs I saw it was for all of them. Personally I think this is not needed, although it may be a good idea if one such genre keeps having questions asked where it should be on a different site, but until that happens I agree they should be removed $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '20 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ Leave it to PSE to supposedly need to clarify that you cannot ask everything on the site XD $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '20 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, quick clarification Stiv: The research assistant badge can only be earned through editing the actual tag wikis, but tag wiki excerpts don't count towards the badge $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '20 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ @PrinceNorthLæraðr ^Yes, I was aware of that (they don't even count towards edit totals as far as I'm aware) - I'm just not sure whether the user in question is aware of that! :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Dec 1 '20 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ Tag wiki excerpts do count towards edit totals- that's how I have 360 edits in LSE! :P $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '20 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @PrinceNorthLæraðr Ah, well I stand corrected on that then! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Dec 1 '20 at 17:27
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TL;DR

Tag wiki edits should reflect the bare minimum of what the tag is and when it should be used. Tag information about how not to use it should only be added as a preventive measure of a perpetual problem, or a meta update.

As someone who has been writing tag excerpts for Literature SE since... April (?) I can speak with a bit of experience.

A tag wiki excerpt is supposed to be short, but give proper information about how a tag should and should not be used. For example, here is an example (from PSE's site) of a good tag wiki excerpt:

  • : "A puzzle that heavily depends on linguistic features; for instance, it may concern foreign languages, or only work in some particular language, or be built around a peculiarity of the English language."

It's not too short that it's ambiguous, but it's not too long that it becomes redundant or gives the "wall of text" effect. It answers the two essential questions of the tag excerpt:

  • What is this tag for?
  • When do I use this tag?

In this case, the tag is clearly for "puzzles that heavily depend on linguistic features", and then gives some nice, clear examples such as "foreign languages", "work in some particular language" or "peculiarity of the English language". It's perfect. Here's another great tag:

  • : "A puzzle related to mathematical facts and objects, whose solution needs mathematical arguments. General mathematics questions are off-topic but can be asked on Mathematics Stack Exchange."

This is also a great tag. It answers the "what" is this tag, and "when" people should use this tag. The second portion "general mathematics question...." is highly relevant for this site- this site gets a ton of just ordinary "math" problems, or "textbook math problems", which are NOT allowed for this site. Now, let's look at a poorly edited tag here:

  • : "Puzzles that crucially depend on some feature of the English language or that only work in an English formulation. General English questions are off-topic but can be asked on our sister sites English Language & Usage Stack Exchange or English Language Learners Stack Exchange (depending on the level)."

There are a few problems with this tag. First, it does answer the "what" portion as well as the "when" portion, but it fails to distinguish between when I should use "English" versus just , or what makes it different from the general tag. The second biggest issue though is this portion:

  • "General English questions are off-topic but can be asked on our sister sites English Language & Usage Stack Exchange or English Language Learners Stack Exchange (depending on the level)."

This is irrelevant. The reason why the excerpt doesn't need this is simple: Puzzling Stack Exchange does not get questions about the English language. The description of how not to use the tag in the is acceptable because it addresses a problem that is an issue in PSE. It adds something meaningful to clarify and address a problem on this site. New users sometimes confuse between what seems to be a math puzzle as opposed to a math word problem.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure we've never gotten a question about the English language here, or at least, it definitely isn't a problem. That's because users aren't stupid. When they see a Puzzling site, they're not going to ask a question about the meaning of a word in X sentence or whatnot. This could be an issue over at Literature SE, or a question about the meaning of a word in a book asked in English Learner's SE, but people don't confuse this site for an English site.

I think the only tag that needs the "don't ask questions about X here" should only apply for the tag. People don't ask about chord progressions here, people don't ask about how tall Mount Everest is or who wrote Finnigan Wake.

The General Principle

These are just my personal suggestions on a sort of rough "criteria" for tag excerpt wikis:

  • It needs to be short. If it's longer than three sentences, it's already too long. You know the tag is getting long when the color on "characters left" changes.

It needs to answer the 5 W's and H.

  • Who should use this tag?
  • What is this tag about?
  • When should this tag be used?
  • Where should this tag be used and where should it not be used?
  • Why should this tag be used?
  • How should this tag be used?

Now, you realize that many of these questions are redundant. For example, the "when", "where", and "how" are basically the answering something, the "who" is implied in the "when" or "what" (people asking questions about this question) and the "why" is also usually implied with the "when" or "where".

The Folly of Preventing Confusion in the "Future"

One argument I supposed one could make is "well, these edits are necessary, it'll prevent users from being confused about when and where to ask these questions!" This is fallacious. As I stated above, people aren't going to be asking "What is the motif of blood in Macbeth?" in a Puzzling Site. If someone does ask that, we assume they probably asked it in the wrong place. Not only that, but these off-topic questions would get migrated over to the respective site! These tag edits that say "Questions about X are off-topic, ask them at Y SE" actively harm readability. In tag excerpts, shorter is better, and the information you add better be very important or necessary.

A Note for the Reviewers

Despite everything that was seen above, give the benefit of the doubt. We'll probably run into a situation where something similar might arise, where some change is made to the tags. If the change is small enough, and the small edit does add some information, just accept it. (This is mostly so I don't get in trouble from Literature SE for adding birth/death years on authors and making small edits). The BEST thing you can do is actually "edit and accept". Maybe the edit they made was good, but it was phrased poorly so it was too long.

But what happens if this keeps on happening? What if a user perpetually makes small tiny edits (presumably) for easy rep? Well, let's consider the edits they're making. If it's the same sort of edits that are consistently superfluous, even to the point that the user needs to add an empty HMTL line, that's the time to reject, but add a specific note why you rejected that edit. If this keeps on being a problem, flag a moderator down (literally, using the in need of moderator flag on say, one of Deusovi's comments), and write that X user is perpetually making small superfluous edits, and if they can just talk to them about it. Alternatively, if they're active on the Sphinx, just directly message them there. As an aside, I'd suggest that any edit that needs empty HTML lines to surpass the edit minimum count limit should just be rejected. That's the definition of "superfluous". Be wise, be fair, but assume the best of people.

Happy Puzzling!

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this is a very fair and measured response, thanks. I also LOVE the line: "People don't ask about chord progressions here, people don't ask about how tall Mount Everest is or who wrote Finnegans Wake..."! :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Dec 1 '20 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ On a slightly different note, for editors: DON'T EDIT SOMETHING ON A POST UNLESS IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY! Edits on posts get "bumped" on the home page, so every time an edit is made, it just bumps it onto the front of the home page on Puzzling. $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '20 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ Unless it's already on the home page - if a random user posts a non-answer to an old question, then oh well, it's been bumped anyways, might as well edit now. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    Dec 1 '20 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ Now that so many of those edit are made, is it best to leave them as is, are roll them back? It seems pretty inconsistent that so many tags have such edits, while so many other tags don't, which can confuse a new user into thinking: "Since many tags say this, I guess the ones that don't say this will allow non-puzzle topics.". $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '20 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ @entioneveryone I think if more people agree then there's a very good case for rolling back all except the commonly misused ones (like mathematics), or at least removing the offending parts if other bits were actually improved at the same time. But we really need more of a mandate from the community before just going ahead and doing it. If the majority say leave it, we leave it. Let's see how it plays out! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Dec 1 '20 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @entioneveryone I do say roll 'em back, but we do have to wait and see what the community thinks, as Stiv mentioned. $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '20 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ As I'm reading this, another off-topic computer-science question pops up: puzzling.stackexchange.com/q/105318/11110 $\endgroup$
    – Glorfindel
    Dec 2 '20 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Glorfindel True. But does it go on one of our sister coding sites, or does it go on Code Golf? $\endgroup$ Dec 2 '20 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ I'm glad it's always a sister :) $\endgroup$ Dec 2 '20 at 15:55

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