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It would save a lot of effort if we could direct newbies to the faq before they ask identification questions. I can't really blame them for not finding it first because it's not obvious.

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    $\begingroup$ yes please! that would help us indeed $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Aug 11 '18 at 6:27
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I think the best approach here is a tag notification warning. That way when someone adds the identification-request tag to a question, they will see a message that directs them to the guide. It could also contain a sentence or two summarizing the key points of the guide.

The downside of this approach is some people won't see the warning because they don't know to use the tag. But I don't think making the guide more prominent in the sidebar is right for this site. I tend to agree with Robert that identification questions aren't in the wheelhouse of Stack Exchange sites. Several sites have been overwhelmed with them and have had to ban them outright. A few of these questions can be fun, but it's a lot less interesting to have them dominate the site. So I don't think it's ideal to send the message that this site is about rock identification.

In order to add the warning, I'll need some copy. Ideally it should be just a couple of sentences and a link to the guide. If anyone wants to write up the copy, ping me and I'll add it as a tag warning.

If the problem of people not knowing about the guide persists, we can think about more aggressive steps.

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  • $\begingroup$ Did anyone sent you the "copy" to add the tag notification warning?? $\endgroup$ – Camilo Rada Mar 30 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @CamiloRada: Nope. I'm waiting for someone to suggest something here so that it can be vetted by the community first. $\endgroup$ – Jon Ericson Mar 31 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ OK. I wrote something but felt it won't get much attention here in the comments so I posted it in a new question: earthscience.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1716/11908 please make a comment there so we can tag you onces some degree of consensus is reached. $\endgroup$ – Camilo Rada Mar 31 at 22:29
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There are a few sites where the consensus is to support well-asked (and interesting?) identification questions, so migrating your question to the main Meta site would expose it to a larger audience.

A pin would take up valuable realestate on the main page to advertise a type of question that is often welcomed but not one we want to focus on.

Our main Meta site has the question: "Are identify-this questions allowed on Stack Exchange?" (asked Jan 23 '11) to which Grace Note replied:

"The current policy is that it is up to the individual community. There is no network-wide ban on them currently. But they're a very dangerous question type, so it may be all the better to avoid them if possible.

To clarify Gaming's exact stance, identification questions are tentatively allowed under increased scrutiny. And I would suggest that if any other site wishes to entertain them, they'd do well to be very mindful in monitoring them as well.

You can think of these in a similar vein as to how Code Golf exists on Stack Overflow - it's a bit of a game compared to a normal question. Past the original author, it is unlikely to help many users outside of the sport of naming the items; this unlikelihood is amplified by how scattered the memory of the question asker is in providing known info. As well, any truly vague ones will tend to fester and accomplish nothing by staying open other than attracting yet more junk questions of similarly lacking detail.

So taking the above into account, if you do plan to allow these on your Stack Exchange site, exercise moderation and be cautious not to let this sport overtake your standard Q&A. It feels good to help someone out with something they forgot. But remember that our ultimate goal as a part of the Stack Exchange Network is to help the larger number of people in the internet, not to be simply a personal support line for individuals. Time spent helping individuals reduces our resources to help everyone else.

As JavadocMD put it wisely in a chat message,

[...]it's easy to forget that each question has a real cost: the cost of clutter and the decrease of visibility for all other".

@JonEricson wrote in his answer: "I tend to agree with Robert that identification questions aren't in the wheelhouse of Stack Exchange sites."

I didn't read that, into that, see: "Are questions such as “Can you identify this rock?” on-topic" where Robert Cartaino writes:

"The problem becomes if a lot of the [indentify-this-*] questions become a prevalent part of the question listings. That's just not really what this site is about. But I would allow them and circle back around to this discussion if and only if it becomes an actual problem in practice." (Emphasis mine).

Wheelhouse means:

Idioms

  • in one’s wheelhouse,
    a) Baseball. (of a pitch) within the zone that is most advantageous for a batter to hit a home run.
    b) within one’s area of expertise or interest:
    There are some subjects that are in your wheelhouse and some that are not.
  • in the same wheelhouse , very similar and usually in the same category:
    The two folk singers are in the same wheelhouse.

We have EarthScience.SE's Meta guide: "A guide for asking “Identify this rock” questions?", and many other sites have their own ID-Guides. Thus, such guides are in place on some sites and there's a bit of support (to the extent that there is interest in Tag wikis, and related meta FAQs) for producing and maintaining such guides.

We have 443 questions tagged identification, Biology.SE has over 1500 questions tagged species-identification, Electronic Engineering.SE has over 1000 questions tagged identification, and Outdoors.SE has broken them into seperate categories:

You have asked for a "pin" Jon has suggested a "tag warning" (assuming that the new user adds the correct tag to their question), but what it needs is a Stack Overflow style regex (at least for new user's questions) that looks for "what is this" within the text and prompts the new user to add an "identification tag" prior to posting.

That would have the dual benefit of slightly reducing the number of such questions and ensuring that the ones that are posted are correctly tagged, prompting them to refer to the guidelines for asking.

That's rather roundabout and complicated, while at the same time being within the Dev's wheelhouse - it's just a matter of time and budget while we await implementation (if it's popular).

@harasfur, asking for migration is something I'll leave to you. I can answer that a textbox offering a site specific message has already been handed out to the site's that are getting one, currently no more work is being done in that area.

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  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, I'm thinking of the first usage of "wheelhouse". Identification questions are sometimes base on balls or even a single once in a while, but you won't get many homeruns. That's why they become a problem when there are too many. I'm open to regex suggestions if y'all would like to try that approach instead. The main thing is to get a regex that doesn't have too many false positives (you can test it with searches) and get some copy that's clear. $\endgroup$ – Jon Ericson Mar 25 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JonEricson I wanted to bring up that point but not dwell on (on the meaning of) it too much. We don't seem to get 'too many' across the sites and we certainly don't want lots of them (by advertising) BUT, the SE users certainly are well qualified to (usually) easily answer such questions. Indeed the regex to get them to tag, and an admonishment to provide complete information will beat back the masses and allow interesting and well asked questions to be presented, and voted upon. Simple 'blurry photo, what is this' questions should be eliminated. We have regex experts @ CHQ + SO $\endgroup$ – Rob Mar 25 at 22:58
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@Rob's answer points out something that I think is important:

You have asked for a "pin" Jon has suggested a "tag warning" (assuming that the new user adds the correct tag to their question), but what it needs is a Stack Overflow style regex (at least for new user's questions) that looks for "what is this" within the text and prompts the new user to add an "identification tag" prior to posting.

That would have the dual benefit of slightly reducing the number of such questions and ensuring that the ones that are posted are correctly tagged, prompting them to refer to the guidelines for asking.

I ran across one of these a while ago: Should the word “problem” always be blocked from titles? (which I should have probably asked in the main SE meta, but three years ago I didn't know my way around that well.)

enter image description here

and it seems to be the kind of pop-up red flag warning that is needed here for rock identification questions in the way that I recently described in chat:

I know what you mean. It would be great if the UI displayed a "how to ask IDENTIFICATION questions" box as soon as people started typing word that suggest this is where the question is going.

A problem is that when there are frequent quickly-closed questions, some people can start getting used to writing less-than-welcoming comments.

When we start composing questions, the UI checks our words and starts suggesting similar question even before tagging or posting, so the functionality exists.

It might not be so hard to use the existing functionality to pop open the "how to ask IDENTIFICATION questions" box quickly.

A new user who comes to this site is not presented with any particularly visible cues how to ask a question. It's there, but you have to know where to look.

Best way to address these kinds of questions is to improve the UI to help new users by making a "how to ask" more visible. This has been discussed in the main meta and so far there hasn't been any substantial change.

So as long as the SE UI lets people ask without helping them know how to ask, we must be welcoming and helpful to then when they don't ask the way that it turns out they should have.

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