First, I'd like to apologize for having my question itself be unclear. I noticed a problem, and I'm having trouble figuring out the best way to call out that problem as a "question" for meta, while my thoughts are also filled with possible solutions and related problems. Anyway, let's start.
Here's our list of identification tags:
story-identification, character-identification episode-identification, object-identification, actor-identification, music-identification, scene-identification
The comprise 22% of all of our questions. history-of/origins adds another 1%.
These types of questions serve several purposes, which I'll address individually.
Helping the asker find what they're looking for
This is the most basic and obvious use of the questions! They are helpful to the person asking, because they get the information they want and leave.
The primary source of criticism from these questions comes from comments similar to Jeff Atwood's on his infamous blog post about the subject. But guess what? Jeff Atwood hated the idea of SciFi.SE, and left the company partly because his vision of what the Stacks should be didn't match up with what they were becoming and what they are now.
I don't mean intend this as an ad hominem, but I believe the criticisms outlined there aren't valid, simply because we as a community have long ago decided otherwise.
On the premise that these questions are useful at the very least to the asker, then we can increase their ability to receive an answer by increasing the visibility of the question to those who might have an answer.
Helping people with expertise find the question
We've done this so far using media tags such as movie or short-story. And, we clearly have experts in some of these tags. Whether they're experts because they've seemingly read every short story known to man, or because they're adept at searching their resources based on small clues, having these media tags helps to dramatically reduce the scope of the search through memory or data.
You can browse unanswered questions in a genre, such as hard-sci-fi or target audience such as young-adult, to help narrow things down.
Yet, even by combining those tags, sometimes there's simply too many to sift through. Plain search terms can also be a mess, something easily seen when looking for slytherin questions, where searching
slytherin on its own raised far too many false flags to be useful (this is a direct counter-point to the argument that character tags aren't useful).
This means we have a need for some more specific tags, to help categorize questions. We already do this to some extent, which I'll address later, but it's been mostly slipshod up to this point, with a clear goal of aiding identification questions in mind.
Helping people who read the question before find it again once they have an answer
Sometimes you read an identification question, don't have an answer at the time, but later re-read the work or come upon it in a search and realize it's the answer to that question. The trouble is, finding that question again later can be a problem!
If you remember it was about a female character do you narrow it down by searching "female" or "girl" or "chick" or "lady"? Or if the main focus was about a UFO, do you search "ufo", "space ship", "spaceship" "aliens", "first contact" or what? Do we resort to Google to try and find stuff on our own stack that we know exists but simply isn't cataloged well enough? Maybe. But I think we can do better.
Helping people come across interesting stuff that they might want to look into
This is perhaps the most controversial purpose of the usefulness of identification questions. It's certainly not part of the advertised or intended purpose of our Q&A. Yet, intent or not, it happens. Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I have read issues of comics or short stories simply because they showed up on the stack. Similarly, I've gone through and read passages from Tolkien's writings after browsing through tags such as istari.
This has provided me two uses, then.
- I've increased my knowledge, and thus realm of expertise, should any similar questions come up in the future
- Duplicates are not uncommon, there's 618 of them for story-identification alone
- I could also rule out the book if I know it's not a match
- It's given me something fun or interesting to read (which also describes 75% of my interaction with the stack).
So... there's a need to make it easier to find topics within identification questions, just as we've done with our other large tags. If you look at our tag map you'll see tags like the-one-ring, severus-snape, the-force and more. Each of these work-specific tags has been somewhat controversial in the past, yet are widely used today. It's a need that seems to be easier to pinpoint or put to paper for specific works, but it exists for identification (and history) questions, too.
Perhaps not new. It seems to me that we have some loose idea of guidelines for identification-supplementing tags, we just don't put them into practice consistently, or appear to make the tags with that specific intent. Rather, a tag gets made by whomever and it stays being poorly-defined or used for a long time. A recent specific example is the ongoing discussion of children, a tag that has been around for over six years, but was only brought up this week. Or mystery which was completely burninated, removing it even from story-identification questions where it was correctly applied and used the most (and the problem appeared to be the usage guidance, not the tag).
What I'd argue is that these two tags are both examples of genres which can significantly help narrow down the scope of the questions needed to look at to find a question or its answer, and aide users in the same manner as short-story and young-adult.
The key is to be explicit in that purpose by:
- Making tags clearly refer to the genre/sub-genre
- Provide clear tag wiki guidance
medieval from: Use this tag for works written or based in Middle Ages (5th to the 15th century).
medieval-fantasy to: For identification or history questions about a work in the medieval fantasy sub-genre
female-characters -> female-protagonist: For identification or history questions about works notable for having a female protagonist
- Update other genres, such as horror to have new verbiage indicating "For identification or history questions..."
- Always keep in mind that tag wiki excerpts are not meant to be definitions, but instead provide usage guidance
- Proactively removing misapplied tags to non-identification questions (here, history-of would get an exception)
- This would have saved mystery, make super-hero have a clearer scope, fix children and by contrast show us that none of the current villains questions are valid (since it's already slated to be axed anyway, and under these guidelines, we'd be expecting the tag to be used for works told from the villains point of view)
I would also propose that, over the normal course of things, if an identification questions gets answered, we should go back and edit in those genre/sub-genre tags, which adds to the usefulness of the whole endeavor.
However, this is not a call to start tagging things with lettuce. But there are a wealth of sub genres available to SFF, and categories that cross genres such as female protagonists, anti-heroes, alternate histories (a note, currently alternate-history is about 1/2 ID questions that'd fit these guidelines, and 1/2 questions where it's used poorly enough that we'd normally considering axing the whole thing), and more.
I don't see that any of my suggestions fall outside the line of what we have long accepted as useful or expected, but I think the tags are certainly neglected and we have a predisposition towards nuking tags instead of improving them. Sometimes we consider that they add use to identification tags, but some of the discussions I've seen or participated in have been about whether or not existing solely for the purpose of adding it to story-identification is enough. Rather than trying to see if the tag can stand on its own we should should consciously address it from the viewpoint of:
"Are a high proportion of these questions identification questions? If so, should we make this an identification-only tag? What steps do we have to take to improve the tag for ID-only?"
Input and feedback are appreciated. I'm also working on compiling a list of some of the tags that I have found that are the most obvious examples of needing to be categorized as "identification and history" tags, which may or may not help my argument. (As you've seen here, there are some tags that on their own are bad or simply poorly used, but when paired with story-identification make a lot of sense. There's quite a large number.).