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The tag seems to have originally meant to be used for questions about package development, or general questions about using packages (e.g. how to install a package?)

I noticed that it is often added to questions which ask about how to use some specific third-party package.

I would like to discuss this usage a bit. I'll tell you my opinion, please comment if you disagree or if there's something important to add.

First, I don't think there's much value in using for specific questions about specific packages. An example would be: "How do I create a multi-panel figure with SciDraw?" I propose to reduce/avoid such usage. For such questions, the tag is not specific enough to make a useful category or search option. But it does dilute the first type of use, e.g. questions about package development.

An example of such an (IMO undesirable) usage is this (screenshot in case tags will change in the future):

enter image description here

Second, I think there is value in introducing specific tags for large, complex and high profile packages. There are already a few such tags, and today I created two more, namely and . Earlier I created . The big question is of course: which packages should get their own tag?

I think the examples I mentioned definitely need it. xAct and NCAlgebra are large and complex packages with a lot of functionality accumulated during continuous development for over a decade. Questions about them usually require domain specific knowledge, familiarity with the package as well as with Mathematica. It helps to be able to easily browse these questions when learning to work with such a package.

Most importantly, there are already multiple questions from multiple users about these packages.

I think we can use this latter criterion for creating tags: several questions from different users over an extended time should warrant a new tag.

There is one more reason why giving packages their own tag is useful (admittedly I have a bias here): it helps the package author to find the relevant questions. I did not create the tag, but as one of the authors of that package, I am very glad that it exists. It helps me filter relevant questions and helps reduce the support load. In fact since this week we suggest M.SE as a support option for MATLink.

  • I agree, but want to note that the current tag wiki and excerpt is more about packages in general and barely covers package development. In principle a more specific package-development tag could be useful, but would mean to much re-tagging and maintenance work compared to the value of having a rather meaningless packages tag. – Karsten 7. Sep 22 '16 at 17:55
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    Or maybe splitting is up into something like [package-usage] and [package-development]? What do you suggest for questions about the usage of a package that doesn't have it's own tag? – Karsten 7. Sep 22 '16 at 18:02
  • @Karsten7. What I don't understand is what use a such a tag might have. Why do questions about how to use some specific package should get a tag at all? There just isn't much in common between such questions. One could be about how to canonicalize a tensor expression and another one about how to draw an energy level diagram. – Szabolcs Sep 22 '16 at 18:56
  • I should have phrased that last question as: "How to tag questions that currently only have the [packages] tag and aren't about package development?" But after a closer look I'd say that these are only a few. A lot of them being on hold or closed and the rest could be tagged with what people want to achieve using a package. – Karsten 7. Sep 22 '16 at 19:32
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    Making [packages] a synonym of [package-development] together with a new wiki and excerpt might be needed to make this change more clear for newer users and those who don't visit meta. – Karsten 7. Sep 22 '16 at 19:37
  • Any objections to just tagging a package with [package-name], whether it's internal or not? – rcollyer Sep 22 '16 at 21:38
  • I don't agree with the second point. Each of those packages has a name that is a keyword specific enough to use it in search query. I mean, I don't see why it would be useful in general but if it can be useful for authors or folks wanting to pay attention and answer, that is good enough to create them. (p.s. feyncalc). – Kuba Sep 23 '16 at 12:27
  • I completely agree with package-specific tags for mainstream (or not even) packages. Which packages should get their tag should solely depend on the number of questions asked. If there is already a large number and/or a steady input of such questions, it is indicative of a solid userbase, and then everyone would benefit from the tags. Furthermore, I second that package should be a synonym for package-development, or the other way around, with appropriate tag wiki focusing on general package development. – István Zachar Sep 23 '16 at 19:18
  • @IstvánZachar "then everyone would benefit" - how? What is the difference for a regular user if one can just type "xact" in query. It is highly unlikely it will miss anything or add something not relevant. I'd say more localized tags for list-manipulation are needed in this sense as standard mma notation is not handled by search engine. (again, I'm not against this idea in general, I'm just clarifying some things) :) – Kuba Sep 24 '16 at 8:52
  • @Kuba People, especially new users, often omit relevant information from the title or often include it incorrectly (typos, unnecessary spaces/dashes) which - I assume - makes it harder to find all relevant posts for me or for a search enginge. Tags provide standardize keywords both to alleviate title and to better specify scope - and they hardly allow typos. BTW, is there a computational/economical limit on how many tags a site should have? – István Zachar Sep 24 '16 at 10:13
  • Actually, isn't it a total waste of time for someone to ask a question about a 3rd party package on stackexchange? All such questions should really be addressed directly to the developer. What exactly is the point of making users able to ask questions about 3rd party package functionality? (However, I totally understand asking questions about WRI created packages like Notations etc...) – QuantumDot Oct 1 '16 at 15:06
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    @QuantumDot I strongly disagree with this. If a question requires Mathematica expertise to answer, then it should be appropriate for this site. Telling people to email the developer with any question involving a package is generally not a good thing: I can attest to this as someone who has published more than one package and gets regular emails about them, some of these emails being quite ridiculous and basically asking me to solve arbitrary problems for free (which I won't). There are many answered questions on this site about third-party packages, which clearly can't be called... – Szabolcs Oct 3 '16 at 13:22
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    ... a waste of time. Is the package author not frequenting this site? Well, maybe they should. We want exactly those people who know Mathematica well enough to create advanced packages. There are also multiple cases when the package author did show up after someone asked a question (example). We are not a Wolfram support site, and I definitely don't want us to be that. We are a community of Mathematic users, with emphases on community. That's why this SE site graduated from beta status in record time. – Szabolcs Oct 3 '16 at 13:24
  • Hmm... I suppose there is a spectrum of questions concerning third party packages. On one hand there are questions like in your screen cap which clearly should be deferred to the author, since it concerns a package bug causing the kernel crash. On the other hand, there are legitimate technical questions about package usage. But since only a fraction of the SE viewers use that package, I'd imagine such questions would simply go unanswered, making it a waste of effort/time on the OP's part... – QuantumDot Oct 3 '16 at 13:41
  • ... Finally, the "please solve my arbitrary problem" type questions you mention should neither be requested from the package author nor should they belong on SE. Wouldn't you agree? In the end, the real question is, do we want mma.SE to also include FAQ questions about third party packages? My (not so strong) preference is "no" since I feel this is the package author's responsibility to maintain on his/her package site. – QuantumDot Oct 3 '16 at 13:43
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I propose for questions which are genuinely about package development. Conflating this with questions like How do I create a multi-panel figure with SciDraw? is indeed a disservice to the community, IMO.

There is also a tag which quite possibly I created. I feel that this has value as many questions do not clarify in the title that a separate product is required, and it wastes the time of many people if this is not apparent. Even a user who would go the extra mile and install a new package regardless of security concerns cannot assist in a case like this, so I assert that these are in some aspect segregated from the majority of the site and community, and it is appropriate to have this designated in some way.

I have some reservation about removing packages (or some other more suitable tag) from questions that require noncommercial packages because these too can waste time if it is not immediately clear that a separate package installation will be required. For popular packages like SciDraw I believe it is best to use only a specific tag e.g. . For less popular packages users may not have enough reputation to create a new tag. At the same time these more obscure packages may not be something that users generally want to install due to security risks, so again it seems fairly important to make it quickly apparent that such a question will be of interest to a specific subset of the community. If we kill I propose adding the package name to the title of every such question: tinkerTools: How do I replicate a widget?

p.s. cheeky choice to add to this question :-p

  • I think there's a fundamental difference in how you and I think about tags: are they for providing extra information? or are they purely for categorization to make searching easier? I took the stance that it's purely the latter. The reality is of course that they're used for both. What I don't like about package-development is that there are other issues as well such as general package installation, uninstallation, dealing with $Path, etc. I think putting the package name in the title is a very good idea, and will make searching easier. – Szabolcs Oct 3 '16 at 13:30
  • @Szabolcs Can you think of anything more general than package-development that would be appropriate? I guess we can try to retroactively force packages to be used only for the things you mention but I fear that it will not only be a lot of work now on the existing questions but an ongoing job. In any case I think there will be a lot of work involved but let us try to find a solution that minimizes future upkeep. – Mr.Wizard Oct 5 '16 at 17:14

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