All tags are equal, but some tags are more equal than others.
Once we started tagging things, it became clear that there’s a stark difference whether something applies to a background character or the protagonist, or whether something is a major plot point or an event that makes up half a page and then never gets mentioned again. Readers will want to be able to tell at a glance what’s really important, and flooding the tags with minor details won’t permit that unless they’re sorted or highlighted in some way. We weren’t happy with the thought of drawing a line declaring things not worth tagging - we might miss someone’s favorite trope that way, or someone’s trigger.
Still, you wouldn’t want to read a book hoping for awesome time travel action only to find out the tag refers to a mention to the technology, and none of the characters travel through time themselves. You could use tag names like “Time travel (mentioned)” or “Mention of time travel”, but then our moderators end up with lots of duplicate tags that don’t differ in semantic content, but only in how much they apply to the book.
This way, for us, is setting relevance levels on tags. We currently plan using three of them: major, regular, and minor.
Major tags are the most important tags, and reading only those should give a pretty good overview what kind of book it is. Often, the main genre will be a major tag, as well as the defining feature of the protagonist, information about the overarching plot, themes and setting. Major tags convey the sort of information you’d give someone when describing the book to them: “Oh, it was an alternative history of ancient Egypt, and there were lots of dragons, and the main character was a slave who escapes and becomes a dragon rider.” These things would become major tags. To be major, a tag should apply to most of the book, not just a scene or chapter. In case of events, they are major if their preparation or aftermath is referred to throughout.
Regular tags will likely make up the majority of tags. They describe all sorts of things relevant to the book, from style, point of view, events, topics, characters and tropes to meta information like the existence of movie adaptations, real world inspirations and the reading level.
Minor tags are those that are mostly inconsequential, the kind of thing you might easily forget soon after reading. These things are tagged for the sake of thoroughness, but unless they matter to someone specifically, they are not going to tell you much about the book. Minor tags also refer to things that are happening off-screen, are only alluded to, or don’t take place in the story itself. A character’s background, a fictional world’s history and things characters are told about warrant only a minor tag unless they are critical to the plot or of specific importance to the characters.
With these relevance levels, we can highlight the most important tags, or hide some of them behind a “show more” button, sort them, or even show the major tags in search results for a first impression. Our search can prioritize stories where the tag in question has a higher relevance, and might even allow selective filtering, like not showing books with character deaths unless they are minor or mentioned. Keep reading how we handle trigger warnings for potentially upsetting content!