Early in the beta, community member Beastly Gerbil started a meta conversation titled Should we be tagging questions with the names of specific books?. So far, we generally have been tagging questions with book titles, but that has caused several problems, and has the potential to cause problems down the line, including (these are all borrowed from Standback's meta answer on the subject):

  1. Awkward abbreviations for tags longer than twenty-five characters.

  2. What happens if two books have a similar title. For example, take a look at how many books have the title "Love".

  3. Stack Exchange has a feature that lets you favorite tags, which makes it easier to find questions tagged with your favorite tags. Tagging by book title ruins that feature, because there are so many tags that it's inefficient to add all of your favorite books.

So what should we do about title tags? Keep all of them, keep some of them, or keep none of them? I want to have this conversation now, because (a) we now have practical experience with title tags so we know if they're useful, and (b) it is still feasible to remove them as this site only has about eight-hundred questions.

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    I don't see why everyone makes such a fuss over it - I have no problem at all with adding many tags to my favourites (unless there's a limit I'm unaware of). Commented May 28, 2017 at 18:39
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    The part about multiple books with the same never came up yet (to my knowledge) - given that I've had a proposal rejected for the same reason, I don't see why we should worry about this right now. When it finally comes up, we'll just come up with yet another awkward abbreviation. Commented May 28, 2017 at 18:43
  • @Gallifreyan there is a difference between this discussion and the meta discussion you linked to: moving our tagging system away from title tags will take a lot more work.
    – user111
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 18:47
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    Awkward abbreviations is the most troubling aspect, but that is the flaw of the system, and not ours. Saying that one can search for [author] title is not very different from saying one can search for author title - why don't we abolish author tags as well then? Only in that case people who subscribe to an author will get a lot of questions about a work they haven't read or have no interest it. Commented May 28, 2017 at 18:51
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    I was considering the same-name thing, and one thing I thought of was adding the year in - e.g., the-storm-2015.
    – Mithical Mod
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 18:53
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    @Mithrandir What do you do if there are two books with the same title published the same year? How do I decide a priori whether a title contains the year? Not to mention that this compounds the problem with tag length. Commented May 28, 2017 at 21:39
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    Regarding point two: I don't know how to manipulate a WorldCat search properly, but your search finds all results with "Love" in the title, and not (as you have it) all books with the precise title "Love."
    – Shokhet
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 1:10
  • @Shokhet but you should see that more than one book has the precise title "Love" (which was the point of including that link).
    – user111
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 21:52
  • @Hamlet Of course.
    – Shokhet
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:22
  • I personally think that the favourite system is an argument for title tags. I'd much rather favourite individual titles than entire authors in cases where I've only read a fraction of their body of work (which is usually the case). Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 7:28
  • TBH I was quite happy with Standback's answer to part 1 Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 17:13
  • I don't understand why this is [featured].
    – Shokhet
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 20:57
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    @Shokhet Because it's an important discussion for the site and we want as much of the community as possible to see it and express their opinions?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 22:40

3 Answers 3



Title tags offer a lot more benefit than drawbacks - those include easier navigation, less ambiguity, easier customisation of the site.

  • Title tags make navigation a lot easier

Obviously one could search for [author] "title" and it would yield the same result (or even more results). In fact, one could also search for "author" "title" - is there no need for author tags as well then? I could make a case for abolishing author tags too, especially for comics, where the three authors (writer, penciller and inker, 4 if you count the colourist) all may have had the same contribution to the work (see Watchmen and V for Vendetta, or The Sandman).

New users, towards attracting which we are working, are unlikely to know the quirks of the SE search system. Encapsulating search strings in quotes ("title title") may be a known thing, but then how will we differentiate questions about a book from questions that merely mention it?

And what if a book has a generic name like Love (or my favourite, It)? Searching for "love" will yield (I'm sure of it) lots and lots of irrelevant results. Adding an author tag to the search? See above.

Two books of the same name published the same year? Please. Even if this ever happens, and both of those books find their way to this Stack (I bet 100 rep they won't), this is too much of an edge case to take into account when deciding title tags as a whole.

  • Following book tags is handier than following author tags

Following is overrated anyways

There are multiple reasons for that, but most important of them is the ability to fine-tune the front page.

  • The number of works by one author could make following them uncomfortable

    Following an author tag may be a drag for particularly prolific authors (see Stephen King), who have lots of books which may be in completely different genres. For instance, I like Mike Carey Lucifer, but don't care about his other works. Same goes for Holly Black, who wrote some issues of the new Lucifer - I liked it, but I couldn't care less about her young adult fantasy novels.

  • Too many tags to follow?

    Following is overrated, really. It may be useful on a site life SO, where a question is posted every 10 seconds, but here we get 4 questions per day - it should be easy to browse through all of them in some 10 minutes. Following too many tags may be a made up problem as well: how many tags do we have now? How many get added every day? With our growth rate, this issue is hardly a problem now and in the close future.

    I'm not aware of the limitations of the SE question filter system, but I think the issue of using RSS or mail to follow tags is overrated. RSS subscriptions do have a limit on the number of tags, as does the site search. The solution - 2 RSS subscriptions!

    Following a lot of tags? Well, aren't you interested in those works? Would you rather follow few tags but get loads of unrelated questions?

  • The ability to hide books you don't like and to avoid spoilers

    What if I want to follow an author one of whose books I have not yet read? I can unfollow the author, but that would still display the book on the front page - with spoilers and all that entails.

    And what if I don't want to see questions about a certain book at all? Not using title tags will make the filtering of front page impossible. Enter spoiler hellfest and those darn questions about 1984 and Lord of Flies.

  • The limitations of the tagging system can be circumvented

  • With clever omissions, length of a tag is not a problem

    E.g. we can drop some auxiliary words in the middle of a long title - it won't suffer as long as the users see something remotely similar when they begin to type the name.

    In this regard, the problem of adding/not adding "The" in front of a name - vs - may be worse, because the tag system won't suggest the latter when one starts to type the former.

    Say, for I created and , both of which are sometimes used. When a user starts to type naus, guess what they will see in suggested tags? :D

    • With Hamlet's feature request, we may yet have some new developments on the topic of tag length, so it's too early to close this page yet.
  • Make up for awkward names with guidance in tag excerpts

    This is what guidance is for, folks! All problems, from to will be solved with an appropriate guidance. If the askers can't follow the guidance, a "good" tag name will not help as well.

    An example of tags for books of the same name would look like

    Use this tag for the book by X written in Y


    Use this tag for the book by M written in N

    which clearly indicated the difference between the two books. The important part would be to set this rule straight from the beginning, and adhere to it in all cases.

    Mind you, I still think this criterion is a nitpick, as, to the best of my knowledge, we still haven't received 2 questions about books with the same name - maybe we could admit that books with the same name are not that common to make a fuss over it?

  • How to choose the name of a tag?

Simple - follow your best judgment. If the title has alternative British and American spellings, make them synonyms, and use whatever is the original one. If the title is translated - use an official translation, and set up synonyms for other translations and the original name.

Too long? Clever abbreviations, and common sense. E.g. for a question about The Secret Lost Diary of Admiral Richard E. Byrd and The Phantom of the Poles, my instinct tell me to go for [the-secret-lost-diary], which makes sense and is probably what a new user would begin to type when asking a question about it.

For any kind of misunderstanding, there is always chat and meta, where think tanks can be gathered and tag names decided.

  • Creating tags for new works and maintaining them is what we (the community) are there for

A new user can't find a tag for their work and leaves in frustration? Good riddance! A new user uses a generic tag and leaves a comment asking someone to create needed tags? That's the spirit!

I think this may be a nice litmus test for new users, as an indicator of their will to ask a question here. I assume this sort of trouble happens from time to time on Movies & TV, where more experienced users handle it - and this is a good sign to show new users that we care and we're here to help.

It is my personal opinion that no question should be left without attention of at least a few users of the site - there must be something that needs an edit, an up vote, a down vote, or other kind of moderation action.

  • The will of community is important - and the community doesn't seem to object to title tags.

Recently I had a proposal to determine the usage for the tag right now, before it becomes a hot mess of wrong tagfests. I was turned down on the grounds that the community has to actually see the tag to establish a pattern.

From what I see, the community has been using the title tags since the beginning of the site, despite the fact that the highest-scoring answer is against them. I don't know about you people, but it seems to me that the community has already decided whether they want title tags or not.
Want to change that? Good luck.

  • I think the last reason you give is the most important. I'm not sure if I 100% agree with it in this case. My reasons are complicated and hard to express in a comment -- I've been meaning to write an answer about the role of meta so I can link to it -- but the extremely simple version is that, unlike the graphic-novel tag, we've had title tags for some time, so the community is in a position to say "hey, we tried title tags, and we really don't like them."
    – user111
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:11
  • Yes. Great answer. I can't even think of anything to add to this right now (but I probably will later ... :-P )
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:46
  • @Hamlet I've rolled back your edit to this answer, because the tag length limit can still be a problem. While the increase is very welcome, it's only to 32 characters, not infinitely many. Even just now I bumped into this problem, when trying to create a songs-of-innocence-and-of-experience tag.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 8:46

Sometimes, but not often.

I really firmly agree with Mithrandir's post, but I wanted to extend it a bit. I won't rehash the reasons for removing these tags in general as they already do a pretty good job of it.

But I think, as I mentioned​ in a comment on their post, that there's a case to be made for certain book-specific tags.

When a work draws a lot of attention, for one reason or another, people can become pseudo-experts on that book in particular. This can happen for one of many reasons - either the book has a wide enough canon to which the idea of "broad knowledge" even applies (think LotR), or the work is typically heavily studied and/or is in some places a cultural touchstone, like The Odyssey, or The Brothers Karamazov.

These books do benefit from individual tags, for two reasons.

  1. Tags for these books are more likely to directly draw in knowledgeable people.
  2. These books are also most likely to be filtered by people who either don't like or aren't interested in them, and don't want to see question after question about them.

I fall into (2) for books like 1984 and Brave New World, for example.

This, I think, is a better middle ground: some book title (or series title) tags when the book has a wide canon of content or discussion, and everything else, we can just drop the tags for. It's just clutter. Trim the fat.

  • I think this is probably the best answer. However, I would like to see some sort of criteria for determining whether a book/body of work gets its own tag.
    – user111
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:06
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    The problem is that this winds up being very subjective - I could consider myself a Rick Riordan expert, and I know a lot of people online who would also. Where do we draw the line? How do we define when a book is popular enough?
    – Mithical Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:06
  • @Mithrandir You're right that it's fairly subjective in nature, and I also see that being a potential issue. I think it's possible for us to develop litmus tests that could more objectively guide us, though - and we should be safe on the side of permissiveness wherever reasonable. If there's an argument to be made for broad knowledge of a topic, I'd imagine staying permissive resolves that possible issue.
    – user80
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:08
  • A potential test could be the presence of a community that solely focuses on that one specific work.
    – user111
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:15
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    That's also hard to pin down, @Hamlet. There's an (official) forum dedicated entirely to the Jedi Academy book series, which you could argue is dedicated entirely to it, but it's desolate. Dead. Empty. How do you define a community?
    – Mithical Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:18
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    (I think finding possible tests may be a topic better suited for chat, given how much back and forth discussion is likely.)
    – user80
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:18
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    This sounds like a reasonable approach pragmatically, BUT. Look at all the effort we've been going to to avoid literature snobbery, promote works from other cultures, and so on. Allowing tag titles for "well-known" works but not for obscure/uninteresting ones is likely to encourage exactly the kind of snobbery we've been trying to avoid. Don't you think most of the titles considered tagworthy would end up being European or American, probably mainly English-language, and without the cultural diversity we've been striving for?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:42
  • @Randal'Thor I've been thinking about it, and I think you're right, that's a very reasonable point.
    – user80
    Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 6:38
  • @Randal'Thor I don't see this as a problem. What we haven't discussed is that different cultures have different ways of classifying works. For example, the people who wrote the Huexotzinco Codex would not have called it the Huexotzinco Codex; that's a name that was given to it by collectors. So any tagging system we use has to be flexible enough to accommodate this. (I'm still trying to decide whether to remove the huexotzinco-codex tag). Shoehorning a title/author tagging scheme onto works that don't warrant it may have the opposite affect of what you are intending.
    – user111
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 16:47


  • Length

    We have run into this problem several times, with tags such as (instead of , and (instead of ), and will doubtless run into it again.
    It's not possible to shorten every title like this - nobody will know what tag to use.

  • Duplication

    Lots of books have the same title as another. Let's take an example tag, . What would this refer to? This book? This book? This one?
    I suggested in the comments that we could add years of publication - e.g. . But @Gilles raised some valid points - when would we know to add the year from the start? What if more than one book with the same name gets published in a year? This would also exacerbate issues with the tag length. Also, what about a series? What date would we go by?

  • New users

    What happens when a new user comes and tries to ask a question about a book that there's no tag for? Doggone it, I can't ask this because I can't create the tag without 125 imaginary Internet points! Stupid site! I'm not posting anything here. ...and that's not so good for attracting new users. We should be trying to make the experience as pleasant as possible, for all users.

  • Different names

    Some books have more than one name they are referred to by. E.g. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone (yeah, I know that's included in - it's just an example), or a book that has a different name for different editions. What would we tag it?
    We could set up a synonym, but then how would we decide what the master tag is? Which name takes precedence?

  • Other languages

    Let's say that I ask a question about a book that's only available in Hebrew. Good, that helps the variety problem. But uh-oh - how do I tag this? Tags don't support Hebrew characters, there's no official translation of the title in English, and it could be translated different ways. Transliteration? Hah. Transliteration is very subjective - just take a look at all of the different ways things are spelled on Mi Yodeya. One word - שבת - can be transliterated many different ways: Shabbat, Shabat, Shabbos, Sabbath... There are more. Point is, transliteration isn't going to work.

SE also has a tag limit that you run into eventually, although I highly doubt that we'll encounter that any time in the next five years even with title tags.

  • I can see an argument to be made for keeping tags on specific works that tend to draw a lot of focus for one reason or another - either canonical familiarity like Harry Potter, or literary familiarity like The Odyssey. But the other consideration is that, in cases besides these, individual book tags don't really help searchability in any way. They're just clutter.
    – user80
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:52
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    @Emrakul Clutter what? Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:14
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    The only good points here are length and duplication. New users - yes, this could be a problem, but the same applies to author tags, or indeed any tags except for extremely generic ones like symbolism or poetry. Your argument doesn't say anything special about author tags; it's just a problem we have to cope with in general. [1/2]
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:29
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    [2/2] Different names - again, this could be a problem for author tags too (see this meta post). Other languages - yet again, same problem for author tags. Look at all the different ways of spelling Tchaikovsky in English! In fact, this is more a problem for author tags than for title tags, since titles are usually translated but authors' names aren't.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:29
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    @Emrakul What do you mean by "clutter"? Do these tags do any harm to the site?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:36

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