Here is an example of the style of question which I am referring to from outdoors.SE.

Are questions such as these on-topic here? What difficulties might this type of question present?

One major difficulty that I can think of is that amateurs might post some blurry picture of a wind and water worn rock which will render it practically un-identifiable. If we decide that these questions are on-topic, how will we deal with this situation?

  • $\begingroup$ Note that we have our own example here. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 22 '14 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ As I noted there, I think the big problem with questions like these is that there's no way for the questioner to know whether they're posting a duplicate - all the information is visual, and therefore almost impossible to search for (basically, the user is asking for the appropriate search term - the name of the rock). The built in duplicate-detector won't really work, because it doesn't show images, and most people aren't going to check every "what's this rock" duplicate manually before posting theirs... but it's certainly on-topic here... seems like a bit of a conundrum to me. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 22 '14 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ The question you linked wasn't very well posed, and for that it probably deserved to be closed. I think we should be less worried about duplicates and more worried about getting users to post quality questions that can actually be answered. That is the reason I started a guide for asking such questions. If we intend to be a community which invites amateur earth scientists, then I think it would be a bad idea to simply ban this type of question since I expect it will come up often. $\endgroup$ Apr 22 '14 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ how could it have been posed better? $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 22 '14 at 22:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @naught101 In my comment I linked to a guide for asking such questions. Following any of those suggestions would have made it a more well posed question. $\endgroup$ Apr 22 '14 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, sorry Chris, I should read better :( thanks for the guide, it's great. $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 23 '14 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ Note that (five years later) rock identification questions are now off topic: earthscience.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1768/… $\endgroup$ Jul 30 '19 at 16:12

If the occasional user comes here looking for that type of help, I don't see any need to create a policy prohibiting it. 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.

As for the blurry, ill-formed questions scenario: The same guidance applies to just about any question on this site — We often say that we are creating a site for experts; but what we really mean is that questions should be posed in a way that would be asked by an expert. If the question is not clear, or if the user does not have a fundamental grasp about what they are asking about, you should close the question as unclear what you're asking with clear guidance to the author to provide some additional details to highlight exactly what they need.

  • $\begingroup$ How would we go about dealing with such a problem after it has become a problem? Also, all of the information in the question is in the provided image(s). How can that be improved upon (aside from uploading better images)? The user fundamentally doesn't know anything more about the question (other than, perhaps, where they found the rock). $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 22 '14 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ I retract the second part of my previous comment - see Chris' guide for how to ask rock identifying questions $\endgroup$
    – naught101
    Apr 23 '14 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ It is an actual problem in practice. We are closing them, but as off-topic. The system sends a closing message pointing to the guide. $\endgroup$
    – user12525
    Jul 14 '19 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ They did become a dominant part of question listings. Therefore they are now off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit Mod
    Jul 30 '19 at 9:31

The question I would pose is, "Why would a professional geologist be interested in this rock?" That would discourage questions about "random" rocks.

Context may well be the key. That is, if a rock (or group of rocks) has historical, archeological, or scientific significance, it may well be worth identifying. On the other hand, I don't see the point of people digging up and posting artistically "interesting" rocks from their back yards, and asking about them.


Rock identification questions are off-topic

As of 2019-07-30, Rock ID questions are off-topic or Earth Science Stack Exchange.

This decision has followed years of tolerating an increasing number of often poor rock identification questions. We have tried to use a detailed guide, a custom close reason when this guide was not followed, but it did not help to stop the flood of poor rock identification questions. Popular community consensus after multiple requests decided to declare rock identifications questions to be off-topic.


I think it is very important to allow and even encourage these questions so we can engage the general public and promote interest in the earth sciences. We won't always be able to help or provide a definitive answer but the process will help people learn about geology.


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