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I have participated in quite a few new beta sites and find that many sites have the same arguments each time.

Already with the new Chinese site I have been having an extended discussion about why software setup questions shouldn't be on topic (the main argument being that the Chinese site is the most likely place for someone to get an answer to their tech support question, despite being irrelevant to everyone else using the site).

I have also been involved in other discussions about 'What is the best X', adding meta tags etc.

It would save a lot of hassle if these types of questions, which have already been scrutinized on SO and other sites, were provided somewhere so that they could be used in lieu of an extended discussion on something that is essentially a bad idea.

Most people when arguing for these types of questions think more along the lines of 'how can we ensure every gets their questions answered' rather than 'how do we build a quality site'.

Alternatively if there were an appointed moderator from the SE team that could look out and participate in such discussions. My opinion is that these are worth stepping in from a SE point of view in order to maintain a level of quality on the sites.

Or... am I being to aggressive about this and should we just let the communities decide? I'd appreciate any opinions.

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If you want to argue that they are irrelevant to everyone else using the site, then they are "too localized." But I don't think software questions about inputting Chinese characters should be automatically blacklisted. I'll post an answer to the "extended discussion" eventually. –  NullUserException อ_อ Dec 28 '11 at 23:32
    
Debating resource questions or IME setup are two topics I've seen come up frequently on the Japanese site. What to do with them has been debated a lot with people firmly divided between allowing a few on the meta site and banning them outright. To a lesser extent I've also seen programming questions tangentially related to Japanese come up as well, but those are usually just closed as off-topic. –  Troyen Dec 28 '11 at 23:51

2 Answers 2

up vote 18 down vote accepted

These "comes up over and over on multiple betas" issues need to be brought to the attention of the community team.

Ideally this sort of guidance should

  1. Appear on the main blog as a reference blog entry explaining the issue (when warranted; most of these are in my opinion). We try to capture the important ones with the "reference" tag like so: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/category/reference/

  2. Perhaps also appear in a detailed "so you just launched a new site, here are some specific things to look out for.." frequently asked questions page that is present on all private and public beta sites. We already have /faq so perhaps /beta-faq?

New sites should have all new, interesting never before seen problems. If new sites are spending a lot of time rehashing old problems and concerns we've known about for a while and have mostly solved, we have failed to properly guide and educate our new communities.

We need your help to identify these common new site tropes and memes so that we can teach others about them, and add them as guidance to the new site recipe as necessary. Don't hesitate to email the address at the bottom of every page and let us know. Nothing pains me more than hearing our most avid contributors are getting sick of rehashing the same issues over and over -- that's not fair to you, and quite frankly it means we aren't doing our jobs properly.

So please: nag us!

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This strikes me as something where a CW question or a shared Google doc might work best? I don't know. –  Pëkka Dec 29 '11 at 20:57

Regarding the specific meta CLU question you posted, I do agree that tech support questions should be off-topic on a language site. However, I do think you could've phrased the question a lot better. Right now, it says:

Computer setup questions off topic

Can we please make sure we close quickly any question asking about set up of software. For example IMEs that are not working.

These are off topic on every other site as they are way too localized.

It reads (at least to me, as an outsider) as if you've made up your mind already and you're admonishing the community for not closing these questions faster. A better argument could've been made by reasoning why these are not good questions, and suggesting that the community should discourage such questions.

Now I don't know how difficult it is to enter Chinese characters in your questions and answers (it could be as simple as touch typing or as crazy as having to look through a font book to select it). However, it seems like a reasonable question that beginners and newbies might have. Since it is off-topic on the main site, why not open up a meta question tagged and keep a collection of troubleshooting/installation help for the most commonly used software & operating systems? That way it is out of view from the general question pool, yet remains where it belongs.

Most people when arguing for these types of questions think more along the lines of 'how can we ensure every gets their questions answered' rather than 'how do we build a quality site'.

I agree that there are a lot of users who are reluctant to close and want to let anything and everything live, despite it not being a worthy question. In such cases, it is important that the pro-tem moderators (if they're appointed) take a hard stance where the community is unwilling, yet be open to concerns and differing viewpoints from the community and be ready to reverse their decision without feeling snubbed.

A few things that I've learned from moderating two beta sites (and from mistakes made) that might be relevant to some of the issues you're facing on CLU are:

1. It is probably better to have the discussion again or recap the policy on your meta

Every country probably has a law saying robbery is a punishable offence. Yet, you don't point to country B's laws to prosecute a crime in country A. If you're a newly formed country, you adopt (and modify) laws and policies from the most appropriate country, and form new ones of your own as and when required (and ignore ones that don't apply).

The same applies to beta SE sits. I know that similar questions have been hashed elsewhere, but I do believe that instead of just pointing users to links elsewhere (even if it's the SE blog) and closing the discussion, a short recap of why it is a bad idea, a couple of quotes and relevant links will go a long way in reassuring the community (especially those users that don't identify with any other community or have never been a part of SOFU history).

Focus on the reasoning rather than the conclusion. Most sensible communities will arrive at the same conclusion given the same reasoning, and you won't look like an ass. I personally would hate to be told bluntly that I can't ask a question on site X just because some chap didn't like such questions on site Y.

2. Compromise and adapt to your community's needs

Expanding on the "adopt and modify laws" part in the analogy above, it is important to understand the community's needs and do what's best for your community, despite what others do in similar circumstances.

For example, Apple.SE openly allows shopping questions and anything that makes them smile or catches them off-guard (despite criticism from experts who are less inclined to participate because of these) . However, such questions are insta-closed + deleted on Super User (which is where the whole "no shopping recommendations" policy started). On gardening.se, we allow plant recommendations (which are akin to shopping questions), provided the requirements are narrow. Recently, we were faced with a couple of shopping questions (one of which was yours). While they were closed initially as per general policy, I believe we managed to come to a compromise on such questions (going by the upvotes & comments) and one of them (yours) was reopened immediately.

So the message here is that some communities have slightly different needs, and so engaging in a discussion might help reach a compromise.

3. Develop a healthy chat culture

One of my suggestions in the gardening meta post was to open a specific chat room for a specific purpose. While I've been suggesting this to people for off-topic but useful questions, I was skeptical about it until I experienced what it could do, given an active chat room.

Recently, I happened to be chatting in the mathematics chat room, when a user posted a request asking if someone could plot a graph for him, as he was away from his software. I saw that and started to open up my copy of Mathematica. But before I could get around to it, he already had two responses! I've had similar experiences in other chat rooms too (especially with users dropping in to check if a particular question might fit in), but this was an example that was recent enough that I could easily remember and grab from the transcript.

Now did the asker's reputation in the community factor in? I don't know. But I certainly am impressed and certainly believe that given enough activity, chat is a good option for off-topic questions. Take this opportunity to cultivate an active chat room when it's young. It gets a lot harder as the days go by.

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There are several input methods for Chinese characters, the most common for someone who has a Western keyboard is to use Pinyin romanization. Since questions on that aren't about the site itself, I don't think it should be on meta. –  NullUserException อ_อ Dec 28 '11 at 23:35
    
Just want to point out that the question is not about how to use and IME, but with people who are having trouble getting them installed or having bugs. My question was written in that tone because it was like, can everyone just jump on board and help close these quickly. The problem as I was trying to indicate above is it is VERY hard to find a group of core users who already have experience to begin moderating from the get-go. So it was like, hey guys who know whats going on, lets get these closed quickly. Otherwise it becomes long and drawn out (like it is now). –  xiaohouzi79 Dec 29 '11 at 9:03
    
Further to the above, it's even harder when there is only 2 or 3 guys and we are all in different time zones to use chat. The two people that posted these questions already have more than one 1,000+ account on the SE network, I thought they would understand that asking personal tech support questions is not a good idea. –  xiaohouzi79 Dec 29 '11 at 9:05

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