I think we should not allow any more. Here's why:

  1. People do not use the guide. Even when referring to the guide, people ignore it. I stopped bothering referring to the guide on new questions because the chance of people actually doing this is zero. I think I can count on one hand the times an id question was good to begin with, and about the same amount the times questions were modified according to the guide.
  2. This causes the overall quality of questions on ESSE to go down. The amount of these questions is increasing. On the tag page, sorted by "newest" with 50 q per page, the entire period of 2014–2017 is in the last 3 pages. 2018 alone takes 5 pages of questions.
  3. Could this be a positive feedback thing? The more questions we have, the higher we're ranked in Google or something, and more questions? If yes, the future is rather bleak.
  4. New users who want to ask questions about actual science, are discouraged because they get the impression that this website is a board for mineral identification requests (which isn't that far from truth to be honest).
  5. There are other and better resources for mineral identification out there. The SE platform isn't the best for it.
  6. Old users (such as myself) may find this tiring. These days I go on SE just to see yet another "I found this on the road, here's a shit photo, what this is". I just go and do something else instead. I miss the good questions that are hiding in between the rock-id questions. I often find a good question that was sitting there for a few weeks, and I wonder how did I not see it. Well, because I saw 10 "what is this" on the front page and I gave up. That's why.

Banning those questions would reduce the overall traffic to the site, and that's ok. We were never about quantity here. I'd hate to say "good old days" but my feeling is that the overall quality was higher in the 2014–2016 time period. Could be nostalgia, could be that all the good questions were asked. But based on my anecdotal and not-supported-by-evidence opinion, the deluge of rock/mineral-id is destroying this place. I have better things to do in my life than to tell people that their agate is agate.

Apologies for the negativity, but I was wondering if other old timers and higher rep users share my sentiments.


Ok, so following up on the answers and comments, I think we have an overall agreement in the community to change the policy. So our policy will be:

  1. If it's a bad question (we all know what those are, no need for explanation), we immediately vote to close for "unclear". We add a link to the guide, asking for clarification. If it is made better (so that others can learn from it, because personal id questions are offtopic imo), we can reopen. If it's an obvious rock (selenite, agate, chert, etc) we might ID it in the comments. Just to be nice and useful.
  2. If it's a good question, we don't close it, and we answer it. Are we happy with this?

Can the mods add a preset comment to the vote to close menu to make it easier for us to do this?

  • $\begingroup$ About point 3 wich is important this is no how it works Gimelist. It works with the hole site page rank wich is as high as can be wikipedia's one -rounding it 99, the maximum-. They are all redirected here but they could find with that off-topic request the site is not answering so they migth move to another one $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 6:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm conflicted; I think rock identification is a perfectly good use of this site (provided they are asked well, and provided that people are prepared to respond) - but the quantity does seem to be overwhelming other content at times, and most of them are not asked well $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 14:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My experience with identification requests on other sites is mixed. They're always fun ("Hey, what is that?"), but often the body of the question is just a picture, so they're virtually useless textually. Any such questions should always have a critical textual analysis of what they are looking at (who, what, where, see, smell, taste, etc.). The problem is getting new users to do that. They won't. $\endgroup$
    – user14070
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 20:33
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ +1 Just look at the amount of meta questions about rock ID questions - it just does not seem to work. I keep commenting about the guide, but there will come a time that I also give up. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Gimelist I just wanted to let you know, I've modified my answer becase I realized some of these really are off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Related: earthscience.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1673/6 $\endgroup$
    – gerrit Mod
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 16:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Point 7: Rock id questions are very specific by nature and unlikely to build a searchable repertoire, even more so when they follow the trend of failing to describe the rocks accurately. $\endgroup$
    – kettlecrab
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ What a poor decision,based on only 11 upvotes. I voted down and to do it at the end of July? also. I hadn't been on the site for awhile largely because of the complaining about identification questions and than some many questions were put on hold with in a day of being asked. Too much personal preferences being expressed and not enough actual science went into this decision (based on the anwesers below). This whole situation has soured me on this site. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @GaryKindel not 11. It is 15 (+17,-2) upvotes, which is as good as it gets on a site as small as ours. What's wrong with July? And if you had any "actual science" to contribute to the discussion, where is it? Because the discussion here and the other post I linked to in the beginning of the comment outlined in a very clear way what are the problem, what was done to try and improve the situation, how it did not work, and the resulting decision. Those were opinions backed by solid arguments. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Commented Aug 12, 2019 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ Gimelist, please un-accept my answer here and accept @gerrit's instead. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 19:46

6 Answers 6


We tried a custom off-topic close reason, but community consensus was that it was not enough.

Therefore, as of 2019-07-30, rock identification questions are off-topic.

(old answer)

On Graphics Design, there is a custom off-topic close reason that is regularly used for their font-identification requests. We can do similar for our rock identification-requests. For example, see this question on Graphics.SE, which is closed with the custom close reason:

"Please review our font-identification, critique requests, or style-identification requirements and provide the missing information so that your question is both answerable and useful to others."

I propose we add something similar:

Please review our rock identification guidelines to provide the missing information so that your question is both answerable and useful to new users.

The only limitation here is that it's "closed as off-topic" rather than "closed as unclear". I'm not sure if we can add a custom "closed as unclear" reason, but at least with a "closed as off-topic" post linking to the rock identification guidelines, it should be a little less work for those of us with the vote to close privileges (500 rep as long as we're in beta) to quickly close those poor questions such that the better questions are shown more prominently.


I'm in agreement with much of what most people (@Gimelist, @Jan_Doggen, @Semidiurnal_Simon, @ JeopardyTempest) have stated here.

In many ways I'd like to see such questions made Off-Topic because there's more to earth science than identifying rocks.

If the posts have no picture or a poor quality picture, if there is not enough useful detail in the question & the rock identification guidelines are not followed I am now considering voting to delete the question.

My logic is if such questions are ignored or a very hard line is taken with them, then hopefully people will stop posting such poor quality questions.


I'll be honest... I too have been thinking about making a similar post. I've always tended to support such questions being a part of our community, and tried in the past to improve their quality. But it seems to be only spiraling downward:

In the last 24 hours 5 of the 12 questions with activity are rock identification questions. They include 1 with no details, 3 others with just ~1 sentence of very basic details, and just 1 question with specifics along the lines requested in the guide. Included in them are the perpetual hopes of having found a meteorite or gold.

Now it's true that none of those 5 questions were actually asked in that window... 2 are bumps, 3 are new/edited answers. But it honestly seems common to see like 25-50% of the recent questions are identification-related these days.

At Sports SE (which I do occasionally engage in) we had a similar issue. Autograph requests were welcomed, and there were similar guidelines. But just like here, the requests gradually picked up, the quality fell off, and eventually they revisited the subject and decided it was off topic about 8 months ago. Activity there doesn't seem to have dropped significantly since (though wish we had access to better graphs on question amount/site traffic!)

In both cases people seem(ed) more and more to be using the community to casually benefit their own situation -- either their curiosity, or at times either economic potential (wondering if their specimen has value). That people want specific answers on their rock rather than reading through the details of other similar ones seems to go directly against the goal of a site where questions are supposed to be relevant to others.

Most users who ask such questions don't seem to be engaging additionally here or elsewhere on StackExchange. And the view count of such questions also generally seems low.

I'd still love it if somehow we could set it up so that mineral questions could perhaps

  • only be seen by reviewers first rather than making the full question list, so people will be discouraged from asking bad questions or
  • only be asked by people who have already engaged on the site or
  • default to a more interactive/helpful guide to try to help them answer their question without asking

But it doesn't seem the SE software really offers a foundation to make any of those happen easily, and there are much bigger needs from programmers that haven't been met around the site.

Those who are giving good answers to those questions are true troopers, and I wonder if maybe we should hold out because their passion is helping a few, and we're at least gradually building a larger set of topical answers in the field that a few others may use. I think Gary Kindel is another user who seems to give great answers to a LOT of those questions, and needs a large voice in this. If there's still the passion from enough so that most questions get answers (or closed), I would love to hold out at least a little longer to build a larger repository - I'm still hopeful some sort of greater tool could gradually come from the information built in a place like this. But unless enough of the active answerers sound interested in keeping going, I unfortunately think I need to support the change to it being off-topic.

  • $\begingroup$ I believe I've seen there are sites where people can pay to get answers to their personal scientific questions recently popping up. Direct them there. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps we could come up with a series of guides to identifying rocks that we could direct people to when telling them that such questions are now off topic. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ I don't teach these days, at least not regularly. Will be interested to see what your app is if/when I ever get back to the world of smartphones, but hoping you do something creative with it :-D $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 16:18
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Universal_learner... let's keep these comments to central subject of this post (possibly switching Rock ID posts to being off topic). If you want to discuss your app idea more with folks, perhaps a central chat location is worthwhile. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry. I think the solution is to contact the site. So if the tag is selected the new user receives an alert that points to that, or other guide. We need stack's help. We are victims of his page rank. $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 23:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you hit the spot with the issue of personal benefit and relevance to others. Most questions are useful to people other than the OP. For rock-id questions, no one actually cares. eg you can google the your question and find an answer here, but you can’t google-images your rock and end up here. So these rock-is questions are of little value. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ I'm changing my vote and upvoting this. The number of ID requests keeps increasing and 90% of them have insufficient information. Let's get rid of them. I have also commented for the last time (pointing to the guide) on such questions. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 9:35

Seriously, everybody, this is obsolete

The proposal I put below served as a good stopgap, but a decision has been made and we have a custom close reason for subpar rock identification questions. Please use that instead.

Not "off-topic", but "unclear"

Although I think making all rock-identification questions off-topic is heavy-handed, we can always VTC bad rock-identification questions as "unclear", because, after all, that's what they are.

@Gimelist is asking for a policy change. The change in policy we can make is, Shoot first and ask questions later.

If a rock-identification question appears without the necessary details, immediately vote to close it as unclear. Don't wait for edits or even responses to your comments.

Even when a question is on hold, we can post comments welcoming new users and asking them to improve their question.

If the question is improved enough, it can be reopened.

If it isn't, it never gets reopened.

That's the way VTC is supposed to work anyway.

Even if an outright ban were instituted, the result for "bad" questions would be the same: closed.

As regards Google results weighting, I certainly hope that SE prevents search engines from indexing closed questions. If that's not the case, even an outright ban isn't going to improve matters.


If people are trying to learn something about geology, that's not a bad thing, even if they ask poorly. But I definitely see handicrafts as beyond this SE's scope.

So, I'm going to change my stance and say that stones have been altered or "enhanced" by humans, or otherwise worked into products for sale, should be off-topic and terminated with prejudice.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The thing is, before they get on hold, and even once they are on hold, they fill the active list. You're right, even if the policy is changed, it will take time to change that (I believe users above some giant number may be able to directly delete, as well as the three moderators, but that's for special circumstances). But if no one is having success posting questions, eventually the site will lose a reputation as a site where they can be posted. There are no questions at Sports SE listed since the autograph policy change (vs looks like 22 still remain from the previous 20 months). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 20:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So I'd argue it can improve things. No one active will vote for or view such questions except to close them. The question suggestions will say [closed] around every question, adding another potential hint. And of course any places where people say "oh, Stack Exchange is a good place to ask to find out what that is"... will no longer say that. No idea about Google... figure it'll gradually change to match traffic on the topic. So I don't know whether we want to make them off topic (yet)... and your answer is a good intermediary (+1)... but I think the argument it won't change much is wrong. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ A picture and coordinates of the outcrop would limitate a lot valid questions. Field is not your street adress and we are trying to do Science rigth? $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ I am too for an option that leave us not waiting with zero chances for their badly written info. They are going to start to ask for value of every stone if we don't stop it. Then we'd be doing jewlery tasks at a bad entreprise $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 13:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JeopardyTempest Just so you know, I've altered my stance (and answer) a little. $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @UniversalLearner Does my edit fit more in line with what you're thinking? $\endgroup$
    – Spencer
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 15:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure we've seen many ID questions leaning towards jewelery, intentionally modified specimens, or clear intent of sale (though many do ask the blurry question of if their rock is valuable)? So doesn't seem a significant issue at this time... and if it became one would probably warrant its own Meta clarification post. But on the topic of rock ID questions as a whole, I agree with your central premise (just a bit of disagreement with your tangential thought about how well a policy change would lead to improvement). Still sounds good. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yes if they follow the guidelines we establish we can of course answer and do some geology. $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure if a non natural origin means off-topic. I guess practicaly always yes because we are all here to do geology, but sometimes that migth not invalidate the question. eg we can talk about origin of greek's marbles in a Cenozoic context in this post about a construction rock if the guy accepts my edition -not taking Jan Doggen's etc time-, returns to the greek place and make us a picture of the outcrop (or the temple a picture of the temple would be nice :) but that overlaps history) earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/15397/… $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ but not without commenting - I read that implicitly in your text, but I notice a tendency over the last week to just VTC without commenting. Only VTCing will leave a lot of askers in the dark. At least pointing them to the ID guide will give them an idea how to improve the question and fits better into our Be Nice policy. See Meta question about comment text here $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    Commented Oct 22, 2018 at 7:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Jeopardy Tempest exactly, it tooks some months, it was a big issue. Apparently we are solving it $\endgroup$
    – user18261
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 20:03

I totally understand Gimelist's desperation as my first view comming to the site some months ago was: "What? I didn't realized stackoverflow has this project where good geologists write about geology concepts quoting sometimes papers?"

So spam matters in my point of view.

In adition to Spencer's answer I guess we should start to shot.

Tarantino would say we are a lot talking while action has not started.

The warning

Please follow this guide and add some info or your question will be closed as unclear or off-topic. earthscience.meta.stackexchange.com/a/125/12525

The final act

To close as unclear or as off-topic (a background task that should be done by all not only by Jan etc):

--> Click on flag

--> Tick on should be closed.

--> Chose unclear or off-topic

About the guideliness, the poster of the guide left it in wiki mode and I think it needs a revision. Personally, because of this post where Gimelist, bon and me even searched at Irish Geological Survey and the guy disapeared I am not going to expand comments if they do not provide coordinates and I am not going to answer if they do not provide a picture of the outcrop and a medium quality picture of the piece with scale. If he is not giving life proofs I will just vote to close it too. I could waste my time and fall at the diagnosis.

  • $\begingroup$ Personaly I agree most of them are unclear truely. It is not clear; if a geologist ask me for an "stone" he provide info so the question is clear -geological unit etc- We need to have an standart to close them and pray to see if the flood is stoped by itself. I agree manufactured pieces would be off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 19:40

I'm against restricting identify this rock questions. First, it is good public outreach. Yes, it can be a pain when the questions (and photos) are unclear, but you can't really expect the public to know enough to ask a good question. That's why I would like it if we could pin the faq to the topic page. Even if they can't provide enough information for a good answer, that in itself is educational.

There have been cases where I have learned something from these questions and seen some cool specimens.

Bottom line, you don't have to answer or even read the questions if you don't want to.


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