The IFDB Tagging System

Take a look at the tag cloud. The first ten entries have double quotes around them. What’s that supposed to mean? Of these, there are two entries for “adventure” and three entries for “historical”. Huh? Mouse over and you see that there’s really only five tags, but three of them have multiple words for the same tag and none of these have any corresponding games. The single-word “adventure” and “historical” tags are actually the same as the equivalent tags without double quotes, so all these double-qoted tags should be removed, as they don’t do anything.

The thing that really bugs me is the lack of consistency. Let’s take IF Comp for example. There’s IF Comp xxxx, IF Competition xxxx, IFComp xxxx, ifcomp xx, IFComp Game and so on. Why do we need any of these tags at all when there’s a category for competitions?

There’s also IFComp Winner, Spring Thing Winner, Winner of a Comp and a few minor winners. Surely, we only need one tag for comp winners.

Another example is source code. I counted 40 variations of source code available. There is even a tag to say source code NOT available. What the?

And why do we have so many tags for the programming language or authoring system? There’s a Development System field for that.

I could go on, but I think you get the message.


I absolutely love tagging systems. I want to create weird stuff, but I also want to kinda fly below the radar. With the help of tags, I can trust that people who are looking for what my game contains will be able to find it. I might not get many players, but those who do play will very likely find what they are looking for.

Meanwhile, I’m not launching my name everywhere and bouncing off of the majority of people by attempting a marketing campaign.


Right now, I think the only way to hide tags is by using one of the custom stylesheets in the style gallery. (Settings → Display Preferences → Custom Stylesheet → Stylesheet Gallery → Hidden Tags)

It would be good if there were another way to deal with spoilers in tags, like being able to hide ones that had been marked as spoilers.


I don’t have a clear idea of how it is used, or if it is currently helping people find what they want to find.

If I were to assess it, I would assess it based on its utility.

In practice, I don’t mind anyone adding anything if it is useful, but I’m not sure we can ever determine that. So how would we police it? Nobody has given my game a tag that I disagree with. Depending on the tag, I might just be happy for the engagement.

I think the breathless, event-focused nature of things makes it hard to observe people in the wild just finding a game that interests them, then talking about it. The news splash and news page of IFDB seem to bear this out.


The one benefit that tags have over competition pages for tags like ‘ifcomp game’ is that you can sort everything that has a certain tag, but you can’t sort competitions. I tagged almost everything with ‘ifcomp game’ many years ago just so I could find the highest rated ifcomp game of all time. If there is (or if we got) a way to search games by competition, then the tags wouldn’t be necessary.


Has anybody looked at the Archive of Our Own tag wrangling system? I feel like something similar to that would be a helpful addition to IFDB.


I definitely prefer AO3’s system, though in fairness I think they’ve put a ton of work into making and planning it. Still, it would be great to have something like it. Or something informed by it.


Maybe when someone types a tag name that is similar to an existing tag, suggestions of similar tags could pop up?

Or provide an easy way for someone to look at the existing tags on the same screen where they are entering the tag? (Maybe especially if someone enters a tag that has not been used before.)


Part of this is IFDB has been around forever, and people have been entering tags for that long. Many are probably considering tags as informational only instead of something to filter for searches, which is where you get problems with IFComp, ifcomp, IF-Comp entry, Interactive Fiction Competition Entry, which could be multiply applied. I can appreciate the humor of an ironic tag like “cheese”.

One advantage on the forum is tags are not allowed to have spaces nor capitals and if you start typing a tag you see suggestions.
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I can see we also have a bunch of weird tags that are superfluous and single-use, but again sometimes a purely informational tag can be appropriate. Like catchphrase seems weird, but as I click it, I can see in the message that Catchphrase is the name of a custom parser.

IFDB is older (possibly a legacy custom web page?) that was predates Web 2.0 conventions we all kind of expect now. I don’t know if it’s helpful to grouse or blame anyone for the misuse of tags as it’s been going on historically, but I agree the tag jumble makes searching by tags less useful.

That’s part of the disadvantage of legacy software. I know when I have tagged my own IFDB games I want to apply the most popular tag and I have used the “biggest font wins” methodology. That cloud is a bit hard to find, but it’s a link from individual pages below where the tag is. It doesn’t require people to check for a tag prior to using them, nor does it suggest similar tags. The tag dialog allows you to type a tag and ‘add’ it, whether it exists or not.

(Sorry my chosen IFDB theme has black on black in places, so I had to highlight the text to see it.

There have been calls to update IFDB to a more modern database display type thing, but sunk-cost labor may be too great to do that now.

(Now I’ve got to tear myself away from obsessively mass editing tags here…this is why I don’t go in there often!)


I find it useful to be able to distinguish between IFComp Winner, Spring Thing Winner, etc. The comps all have different personalities, and their audiences value different sorts of games. Lumping them together wouldn’t be helpful if you’re trying to search IFDB for specifically IFComp winners, for example, which I have done before!

Maybe if IFDB had a better way to search games by such criteria, then you wouldn’t need the tags. But the tags are currently more convenient than anything else. Without the tags, you’d have to visit the competition pages individually, which gets cumbersome.


This was what I was thinking too. I know it relies on volunteer labor, but IFDB is much lower-traffic than AO3 and I don’t think it would require nearly as large of a time commitment from nearly as many people. Honestly, I would sign up to help with it.

If the volunteer thing seems like too much to ask of people, there’s also the way LibraryThing handles it, which is to let people propose tags to merge and then have users vote on whether they should be merged or not.

But I think the bigger question is whether IFDB’s software even supports having one tag redirect to another that way.


I’ve only used IFDB a little bit, but from my understanding, tags are the way everything is categorized.

Much like what we have here on intfiction with forum sections, I would have categories for games that are in the IFDB system. These would be genres, competitions, IF engines, accessibly-friendly options and anything else that is objectively useful. Then I’d have tags that are user-defined that can be anything; keywords, basically, and limit it to 5 or so.

The categories would be on the administrative side, while the tags are open to the public as, I assume, they currently are. This way, ECTOCOMP 2023 is a category (possibly with other categories, such as horror, comedy, parser, tads 3, reader-friendly, etc.) and if the game submitter wants to waste precious, limited tags on every variation of that Ectocomp keyword, they can do so… or they could use it intelligently to describe what their game actually offers and sets it apart from the categories it falls within.

This creates a separation of keywords and categories. This would be relatively straightforward for a database programmer to do with the current IFDB site to assign existing games to relevant categories and dispose of needless, redundant tags.

My two cents.


I love organization and categorization and discussions thereof, and thus I love this thread. It’d be great to see the IFDB tag system get cleaned up (eliminating redundancies, editing for consistency, etc.), and I would definitely join a volunteer effort to do so.

I like tagging my own games, in the hopes that it’ll help them be discovered by more people. So far I’ve made sure to only use tags that already exist, since I figure those are the most helpful for game categorization/searching purposes. I think until today I’d only tagged my own games, actually; I’ve voted for other people’s games in polls that they fit, but I guess it never occurred to me to add tags.

FYI, the links under this section aren’t actually going to the searches for those tags when I open them! I’m getting just searches for those words, I think.

There is an existing tag called “breaking up”, but it’s only been applied to five games.


Yeah, links to IFDB searches get wonky on this forum because Discourse converts symbols/punctuation into their URL-encoded equivalents and that messes things up. I remember this coming up during the IFDB Awards, but I don’t remember if anyone ever figured out a way around it.


AO3’s tagging system was briefly mentioned in the original post, though it was hidden in a collapsible so not very easy to find! I agree that its tagging system is stellar. Among other features, the synonym system and parent/child tags would be very useful. The sheer categorization potential…

(Just imagine.)

These would be good short-term solutions, though I’m not sure how easy they’d be to implement. It’d definitely be simpler than revamping the tagging system entirely!

It’d work best with a way to rename and combine tags, as Patrick Mooney said. A way for mods or users to move everything from one tag to another would be a good start.

Now that I think about it, some of the issues brought up are listed on the official IFDB suggestion tracker. The source code for IFDB is publicly available on Github, but unfortunately I have next to no experience with what it runs on. Maybe someday I can try to figure it out, or someone else will. Then we can get to the part where we implement solutions. (The hard part!)


My 2p… (nothing very new here, tbh)

I’m another tagger in IFDB (at least sporadically), again mostly using existing ones, occasionally inventing my own.
I think as a system it’s worth it, provided you don’t take it too seriously, and recognise the messiness that comes from the limitations of the implementation and available effort.
I would be interested to know if there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes effort in moderating tagging.
While AO3-style tag curation sounds lovely, it also sounds like a lot of upfront and ongoing work to implement and maintain, as well as raising the barrier to taggers by making tag semantics more complex, all of which this community may not have the energy for. (I’d totally be up for being a tag curator, though! For now I settle for going through and adding the majority tag to works with a minority spelling/term, now and again.)

I don’t think anyone’s really suggested it, but for the record, I think having to have new tags preapproved would basically kill most energy for tagging. Better to have some way to tidy/curate them after the fact, I think.

Mm. I occasionally feel some guilt/responsibility about this, as a tagger.
While I kind of like that authors mostly aren’t super privileged by IFDB, it might be nice if there were some way for authors to contest tagging that bothers them, less drastic than ‘pester the tiny core admin team’.

When I’m entering (other people’s) works into IFDB, I’m very reluctant to use the Genre field, and often leave it blank (unless the author has provided an Official Authorial Genre, or it’s very obviously a trad ‘Fantasy’ work or something).
I’m reluctant to promote my perception into the single “this is the most important facet of this work” genre slot. Whereas I’m happy to tag something as espionage or whatever, without thereby implying that’s its most important attribute.

Aside on Forgiveness Rating

(Relatedly, I do see what certain editor(s) are doing with the ‘Forgiveness Rating’ field. …I’m here for it, honestly.)

As has been said, some interactive suggestions of existing tags to nudge people onto the consensus spelling/ontology would be nice; or (probably easier to implement in IFDB’s current form) even just saying in the editor whether the entered tag already exists in the ‘Edit Tags’ popup, before ‘Save Changes’.
Wouldn’t be perfect (hard to see how any system would have steered me from *‘timed text’ to the consensus term ‘delayed text’, to pick a recent example).
Currently it’s two clicks, and probably manually opening a new tab/window, to get from editing tags to the unabridged list of all existing tags, which seems like a lot to ask of people (I have it bookmarked, instead) – there may be an easy tweak to reduce that.

I’m not super fond of the busywork and duplication involved in entering/maintaining competition membership into IFDB’s well-developed competition system, and also tagging it in various ways.
As you say, Wouldn’t It Be Nice If there were a search term like compresult:"Annual Interactive Fiction Competition":"1st Place" (with the second part matching either series or individual comps), to answer use cases like mathbrush’s? (I think this would answer CMG’s need too.)

Agree. I’ve also held back from tagging for this reason.


Incidentally, I’ve been vaguely wondering for ages what the colours on the all-tags page signify.
In my IFDB theme, most tags are some kind of blue, but a few are black.

Having been provoked by this thread into poking the HTML and IFDB source, it turns out they show tag ‘age’. I think this probably means the most recent time someone applied that tag to a game (calculated here), but I’m not 100% sure.

From www/ifdb.css:

Tag ages 1 through 7 - these depict the age of a tag using font weight
and color intensity.  We use darker color and heavier [bolder] type for
newer tags, lighter color [more washed out, closer to white] and lighter
type for older tags.  Age 1 is newest, 7 is oldest.

In practice, all tag ages from 0…7 appear, so black might mean ‘the very newest’ (since there’s no CSS for tagAge0), and all ‘older’ tags are blue, getting wishy-washier as they get older.
(Or maybe the appearance of tagAge0 is due to a bug and not age-related. There’s certainly some kind of bug here, which I ought to report, or see if it’s already been reported.)


How do you search for multiple tags? Something like tag:"tag a"&"tag b" or tag:"tag a"|"tag b"?

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And’ing tags tag:parser tag:commercial. No idea if Or’ing is possible.


That did the trick. I had previously tried this and couldn’t get it to work, then realised I was looking for two comps in different years, which would have required an OR operator.