Let's completely ban rock id questions, and delete the old ones.

Here's why:

  1. These rocks are of interest only to the person who opened them. They can rarely be used as a reference point, which is what other questions on SE can be. Individual questions cannot be found, and once a question is answered or forgotten, it ceases being relevant to anyone.
  2. The vast majority of rocks are of very poor quality. After introduction of the guidelines etc, only a handful of people actually improve their questions in a way that they can be answered. Although well meaning, this is useless.
  3. Many high-rep old-timers are becoming less active, including myself. I can only speak for myself, but I guess this is a factor in the disappearance of others as well. When I go on ESSE this is what I see:

enter image description here

enter image description here

Eight out of nine questions on the first two pages are rock id question, and I could not care less about them. Obviously, I am not the only one, evident by the lack of upvotes on these questions. For someone who is genuinely interested in earth sciences (other than plain rock id), seeing this is a sure way to make them not join the community. I joined the community a long time ago, when things were interesting here. This is not the case. I am slowly becoming more detached. I believe others are.

Let's stop this.

We should also delete the old questions. Here's why:

enter image description here

The several top results on Google are from ESSE. As long as it exists, it will draw more people to here.

Another aspect raised in the comments, this also pollutes our review queue. I don't review any more precisely because of that. It's taking the 80% rock-id questions I got on my feed, and concentrates them even more to 90%. The end result is a website with lots of poor quality questions, that no one reviews, driving good users out, and no one is left to answer whatever kind of question.

  • $\begingroup$ meta.stackexchange.com/q/330998/486893 $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 17 '19 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ On a possibly-related topic, I've been prompted twice now to help review questions that are candidates for being closed. Every. Single. One. of them was "Help identify this rock". After clicking through ten or twelve (each time), I gave up; I don't know much about identifying rocks, and I don't know what makes a good or bad rock-id question, so I don't feel like I should contribute an opinion on those questions. But they essentially constitute a denial-of-service attack against any Earth Science questions on which I could offer an opinion. $\endgroup$ – jeffB Jul 19 '19 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @jeffB indeed. I know a lot about identifying rocks, and I got tired of reviews. I'm sick of seeing the same thing over and over again. These questions are slowly turning ES.SE into a wasteland. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Jul 19 '19 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ This would not be a trouble at sites as worldbuilding, but how much geologists with +500 rep daily visiting the site are available to close (by technical reasons) those questions? $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 19 '19 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ I added the featured tag to this question to get more exposure. The proposal has my sympathy but as a potentially major step it needs careful consideration, so let's discuss it for at least two weeks to see if there are objections. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 19 '19 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose that if there's going to be a mass purge of questions based on a tag, then we need to go re-tag the few we know of that are more than just "what's this rock in my picture". $\endgroup$ – Spencer Jul 24 '19 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ It is understandable why someone may be truly curious to identity a given rock and/or mineral and use this site as a means of acquiring a usable answer. To that end, most such questions are indeed very cluttering to this StackExchange account. If possible, all such identification questions should be tagged properly, consolidated, and masked by one link from the seemingly smaller, more interesting geology/geophysics questions that are out there for us to find, answer, or learn from. I'm not sure if this is workable solution, but I'd like to see identification questions hidden or reduced. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Benton Jul 30 '19 at 4:23

This is now live.

As of 2019-07-30, rock identification questions are off-topic on Earth Science Stack Exchange.

Please redirect any discussion on the practicalities of implementing this ban to that question.


The high flux of low quality questions has put the community under stress and that can lead to loss of active users which is of course very bad, while the value added to the site by "what kind is my specific rock" questions with answers of the form "it is X" is almost zero.

If the Q rate were low and the community willing (an example of that kind of thing here) and the OPs quickly responded to requests for more information, that would be nice, but the reality is exactly opposite.

For the sake of community morale and answer pool value, maybe "what kind is my specific rock" questions per se should be strictly off-topic and/or banned as was done in Movies SE.

Users serious about getting Earth Science answers about a specimen beyond its name will find a way to edit their question and save it from closing or re-open it. If the off topic-ness blurb in the help center includes wording that questions that include specimens but are about something germane to Earth Science are still on-topic, then it can be pointed to in helpful comments or the close reason itself, stated in a radio button option in the close menu.

It seems this is called a "custom close reason" and it worked quite well in Space Exploration SE:

The mere presence and visibility of a custom close reason has a big side benefit, it educates and reminds the community of the specific nature of the policy. Anyone reaching for the vtc buttons will see it and be reminded that "what kind is my specific rock" questions per se are explicitly off-topic and see the "please edit your question to..." recommendation to add some Earth science.

But please don't delete my rock-id question just yet, to which (it seems that) the lead author of the paper in Science chose to join in order to post an answer! What kind of rock is this being eaten by a rock-eating worm?

By the new guidelines it would be put on hold with some advice that it needs to be about Earth science. As an engaged user, I would quickly modify the question to ask more about the specific nature of the rock that allows it to be edible by worms, which it seems is a geological process. As a byproduct we'd also find out what kind of rock it was, but a lot more would be learned and the value to the site would be improved.

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    $\begingroup$ I reviewed all the questions and indeed, yours was nice and an exception. I like them when photographers are good (1:34). Also that question has a link to press and it is something we don't want to delete. Gimelist want to delete everyone, but understand his desperation. mods decide we voted them $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 27 '19 at 22:29

I agree, as everybody is loosing at ES with the tag. The main issue is questions on the list are discouraging Scientific users to come to the site. The site is loosing reputation.

I tried to show them an example of a geological id question, but I am skeptic those users are going to contribute with anything scientific.

  • If they don't provide info, answering only produce 1. Mistakes in the identification. 2. Sends the message Ok, let us a picture, we will answer your rock is a chert or a sandstone.

  • For those who try to provide info of an interesting piece (uncommon), I can't be sure if they test the rocks propertly (rocks are much more common than well crystallized minerals or fossils). Also, in many cases to correctly identify a rock microtexture is the key; a magnifying glass is needed. In some cases, you need to observe it at a microscope. They are not going to provide a picture using a magnifying glass (I tried it with my rock and it is hard, my mg was too little), neither from a microscope: a sample costs 20$ and nobody has a petrographic microscope at home. Well, maybe a student. It would be nice they send us pictures of the thin section, but if I were a student I will ask it on a forum of geologists.

So, this is what we, scientists, have become in many cases:

enter image description here

Stack neither wins anything, you can see all of those users with 1 point and no activity at any other stack site, some of them angry as we closed his question, no longer visiting the site.

We, ES, neither want a user that is not Scientist, neither a student, neither a curious asking good questions.

The initiatives are not going to solve the issue. They will continue posting a picture. We will ask for info. They will scratch the piece with a knife (we will finish by scratching a valuable fossil by the way) and they will give us coordinates. We will have to edit tons of posts. Close?, wait?, after the edition no?, reopen? (It looks a Marx Brothers film).

To edit every not closed question will only talk out a few portion of the users. Google combined with a 99 page rank is a powerfull tool I would like to profite from my website, but a weapon spamming us here.

It is impossible for us to do inverse SEO (Search Engine Optimization), so I agree to close the tag migth be the only sensible thing we can do.

My sugest migth not be a good idea for the site/system, but to discuss at Area51, given the input of questions, to open a site to identify fossils, rocks and minerals (maybe to extend it to archaeological id-requests). If open the system could migrate our questions not loosing the potential users and put some order there (list of Geological Surveys with available geological maps by country, clear we need location, good picture of the piece and of the outcrop, example of questions and advices for minerals, rocks, fossils, paleolithical tools,....).

If not I also think the system should close the tag for the good of ES.

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    $\begingroup$ I read through your post again and I'd like to double check: is "...to close the tag might be the only sensible thing we can do." the conclusion? In that case, it seems that we agree? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jul 27 '19 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh I would need to have access to mod tools to answer that. There is also the no follow html tag. I find great guys gerrit casey...., they will do the best for the site after reading the opinions. $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 27 '19 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh to close the tag well I don't know what exactly that means. But a serious site don't let Google spamm his homepage wich I think is the agreement. $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 27 '19 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh It is the same if your site is being atacked by spam bots. Google can't do anything neither, but provides tools to avoid this so mods will resolve it. $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 27 '19 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, I'm not very chatty and I don't know much about how the internet, google, or stack works. My comment quoted a phrase from your answer, and I simply wanted to confirm with you that it was a good summary of your conclusion. That's all I was asking. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jul 27 '19 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ @uho yesterday I was with friends sorry and I sometimes don't understand well things in english. Yes it is a summary of my answer. I think it is the only thing we can do. I guess it is the agreement of most of users too, to "close" the tag. What does it mean technically? I don't know. But others sites solved the issue with similar questions. $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 28 '19 at 9:41

I agree the situation is insupportable. However, since I know nothing about how high-level moderation works, I'd like to know the specific technical steps that would be taken to "ban" rock ID questions that would make the situation better than it is now.

As I stated in an earlier version of this discussion, I have no problem with an immediate VTC of any bad rock ID question (nearly all of them). The close reason, mentioning the Rock ID guide, is good enough to make any comment superfluous.

All that's required are 5 such votes and it's on hold. There was a hint in the other discussion that mods might be able to delete questions as they appear. More work for the mods...

With regards to search engines, I think the damage is already done -- the bad old questions are all in the search engines' indexes as well as the Wayback Machine.

Please explain how the ban would work.

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    $\begingroup$ If the old questions can be deleted, they will not show up in search engines (eventually). So it's just a matter of deleting the old questions, and any new questions that pop up until the entire thing subsides. If the amount of work for the mods is an issue, I volunteer to be a mod in the meanwhile just to get rid of the questions. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Jul 20 '19 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ re your comment of closing the question, this does not help in stopping new questions from appearing. People who see this place from a Google search don't go looking at old questions to see how they were all closed, and don't read the guide (as we've obviously seen from our experience in the past year or so). The solution is to just make it all disappear like it never happened, and not tolerate any new id questions whatsoever. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Jul 20 '19 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ Movies and films solved the issue about id this film questions. $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 20 '19 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Universal_learner indeed. For those too lazy to go to their meta and find out what their solution was, I'll paraphrase it here. They banned all ID questions. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Jul 21 '19 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ Technically, we can delete all existing rock ID questions, then ban the tag. There's 466 questions tagged identification-request, most about rocks. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 23 '19 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ On physics SE we found it very helpful to leave the homework-and-exercises tag after banning homework-like problems. The problem is that the homework-and-exercises questions never really abate so we tag them and flag them... the flagged votes help the whole community delete those questions; the tag allows our more prolific users to filter out those questions in their searches and views. $\endgroup$ – CR Drost Jul 24 '19 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit that would be the best solution IMO. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Jul 30 '19 at 4:29

I disagree the proposal on the following reasons:

  1. To make the site successful, we need to be so inclusive as possible (without significantly reducing the content quality).
  2. Currently, there is no site on the SE network, where rock identification questions could be asked. There is no "Geology SE". Earth Science SE can, and should be interpreted to accept also geology questions.

My opinion about the reasons in the question:

These rocks are of interest only to the person who opened them. They can rarely be used as a reference point, which is what other questions on SE can be. Individual questions cannot be found, and once a question is answered or forgotten, it ceases being relevant to anyone.

No, these questions can be very useful for googlers of the reverse direction.

For example, imagine if someone puts a question with the photo of an acanthite, and he gets the answer that it is acanthite. Then, it is right that this content will say only that it is an acanthite on that specific photo. But, the whole content will be useful for anybody wanting to know, how an acanthit looks!

Furthermore, recent developments in Artifical Intelligence and Cloud Computing made possible to search the internet for images ("reverse image search"). Effectively, for example google images search, and also various other providers, can say from a specific photo, what is on it. It would not very bad, if people searching by this by their phones/computers would find us.

The vast majority of rocks are of very poor quality. After introduction of the guidelines etc, only a handful of people actually improve their questions in a way that they can be answered. Although well meaning, this is useless.

It should be decided induvidually on the specific questions. If the question is poor quality - for example, its photo is too low quality for an identification, or the text is crap - then it should be closed as "needs clarity", or "needs focus". If not, it can, and should be answered.

Many high-rep old-timers are becoming less active, including myself. I can only speak for myself, but I guess this is a factor in the disappearance of others as well.

This is a simple statistical effect: as the years are going, obviously the relative ratio of the old users of the site decrease. Here is a stat about the attracted answer upvotes by user registration year:

Attracted answer upvotes by user registration year

As we can see, always the recently registered users are the most active, and the relative proportion of the users registered in a specific year typically decreases. But it is not bad - it only shows, that we have more users.

Run also this query on other SE sites - you can also see, that all the SE sites work roughly so.

The important thing, what we should see, is not the relative ratio of the activity of the old users - instead, we should see, and optimize, for the total activity of all users. The stat about it looks quite dangerous:

Number of open, closed and deleted questions by month

It looks that - after an initial burst - the site started to grow. But, also the closed/deleted questions started to grow with it, what practically compensated the increasing popularity, making the count of the accepted questions roughly stagnating! And, since about last summer, the stats get a quickly decreasing direction. I am sorry to say, but imho the site is on the best way to kill itself by moderating everybody out.

When I go on ESSE this is what I see: (image about a lot of rock identification questions)

Go to the site and check the questions. I see the case not so bad. Anyways, if you would close only the really bad rock id questions, would already preserve the balance (the site would not be overwhelmed by crap rock id questions).

Summary: Don't close all the rock identification questions! Close only the bad ones; and use the rest to attract new googlers!

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    $\begingroup$ I think there is no correlation between the banning of rock id questions and the drop in number of questions (your last graph). Two reasons: (1) The ban occurred in July, the drop occurred in late 2019 (exactly when a massive shitstorm happened across the network); (2) There were less than 400 rock id questions over the entire lifespan of the site, which does not fit with a drop from ~100 to ~50 questions per month. The trend seems to be going up again, so I wouldn't be too worry. I think which should seek question quality over quantity, and most rock id questions were of very poor quality. $\endgroup$ – Jean-Marie Prival Jul 23 '20 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Jean-MariePrival The again upgoing tendency of the last some months is imho not enough yet to say it for sure. The SO has broke its records in new question/months, but most of the new content is crap. I have no idea, what will happen on smaller, non-IT sites. We will see that in some months. Note also, the company decision-makers seem to have troubles to understand that they are not only the Stack Overflow. Possibly a randomly selected SE employee has only cloudy ideas, what the SE site network is et al, (s)he believes (s)he is working for the Stack Overflow. $\endgroup$ – peterh Jul 23 '20 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ This also means freedom for the Earth Science SE community, but also the lack of care from the company. $\endgroup$ – peterh Jul 23 '20 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ @peterh-ReinstateMonica There are no good rock identification questions. Maybe 1 out of 20? The site has become much better since we banned rock id question and I am much more engaged. I don't post that much because most questions aren't related to my topic of knowledge, but I'm here almost on a daily basis. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Dec 15 '20 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ There needs to be a place for rock id questions? Then go to Area 51 and suggest a rock id site. Rock id is not in the scope of earth science. Unless there's a scientific question there of course. But usually there is nothing scientific about "what's this black rock", often accompanied with a blurry photo. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Dec 15 '20 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ Are we moderating ourselves out of existence? Could be. But that's only because people are not asking earth science questions. Not because we banned rock id. Because otherwise, this will be a rock id site, and I wouldn't mind if it dies. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Dec 15 '20 at 3:16
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, we are obviously not moderating ourselves out of existence, because the site is great now and I'm loving every second. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist May 9 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Gimelist Check an accepted question/month stat. $\endgroup$ – peterh May 9 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ (1) The enjoyment level of the various users here is not quantified by stats. (2) I didn't check, but I do seem to remember that rock-id answers were rarely marked as answers by the OP. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist May 10 at 4:18

Gimelist, Your argument against Rock Identification questions may be reasonable, but let's not forget Earth Science is a BETA Site. Banning Rock Identification questions could lead to Users leaving the site to ask elsewhere, and Earth Science is struggling as a BETA site.

Until Earth Science Beta mode is ended, we should not make any large changes on Question qualification again, I understand Rock Identification Questions would be searchable on Wikipedia or Google, but Earth Science's broad name is basically an invitation to Rock-id askers.

So having the Name Earth Sciences and banning Rock-id questions would generally not be a smart Idea. I agree with PeterH's Answers. Gimelist, I understand your arguement.

Maybe we could work out a policy that could both benefit Rock-id and high-rep People and normal-rep people like you, Gimelist. Obvious Rock-id questions that could be searched on google would be deleted, or other Rock-id question with more of a complicated structure relating to how they think the rock was formed and the rock has special patterns could be up-voted and Answered.

I just do not want Rock-id questions to be completely banned, and I understand High-rep users are essential to the Building of a Beta Site.

  • $\begingroup$ You suggestion is how it is now. If there are rocks with a more profound question about the rock other than "WHAT IS THIS", they are more than welcome and not closed. See this: earthscience.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1767/725 $\endgroup$ – Gimelist May 9 at 12:23

Seeing all the problems with Rock Id questions topic,Please do what you need to with My Rock Id Question..just glad i got some info on the item, 3 months on my own with no lucK. @Universal_learner Thank You for the help and to members who answered just a note on This Topic, Trying to ID my Rock is How I found Your Site, But after joining and Doing the Tour I found Other Exchanges that I joined and will be using for info and questions, The Tour was Part of Earning a Badges, out of habit I explored the whole site, most People do not and would not see the other sites here, Maybe add The Tour to the Sign Up Process, This may turn away people who are just worried about "whats this Rock" and help others who are serious see all the Topics and what the site has to offer and become real members.

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    $\begingroup$ You are welcome and welcome to the site. $\endgroup$ – user12525 Jul 19 '19 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ Hi GuardianV and welcome to the site. There is nothing wrong with a good rock identification question, but on this site, we want to be a Q&A for Earth science. We are getting so many rock identification questions — some good, many bad — but that we are being flooded in them, which is driving away the visitors interested in Earth Science and just that. A site on Earth Science is becoming a site on rock identification questions instead. There may be a good place for such a site, but that place may not be here... $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 23 '19 at 13:24

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