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On the example questions on Area 51 proposals, it is not uncommon for the authors of such questions to remark specifically whether they are intended as an on-topic example or off-topic example.

While I understand the sentiment behind the comments, especially if they being downvoted as "not a good example", I think that these comments are not particularly useful and detract somewhat from the purpose of the example questions.

The power of voting on the example questions is that people decide for themselves whether they think it is on or off-topic. What the author thinks it is is largely irrelevant, and for that reason I would (in most cases) classify these comments as noise. Not only that, if these comments influence the vote in any way, it detracts from the usefulness of the voting.

I am not completely sure why, but I also feel like I am less likely to vote on example questions that have these comments.

So are these Area 51 comments helpful at all? And if not, can I flag them as noise?

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closed as off topic by animuson, Toon Krijthe, jonsca, Rosinante, Pops Sep 12 '12 at 15:15

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Note that, in the first example you linked, the author of the comment did give his reasoning for the off-topic nature of the question. So did you, in the comment you left on the web design question. Comments that give reasons for their on-topic or off-topic assertion are useful, IMO. –  Robert Harvey May 25 '11 at 5:36
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A better example of what to do (imo) is the comment I added to my own question here: "This one's to test the boundaries—is it on or off topic?" In that case, I honestly didn't/don't know if the community wants it to be on or off, and that's a big part of what Area 51's Definition phase is all about. –  Dori May 25 '11 at 5:50

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In short: Let the community decide for themselves what they consider on-topic and off-topic questions for the site. That's what this process is all about.


Questions are intended to establish the question scope for a site, not illustrate someone's predetermined idea of what that scope is.

If you need a comment to illustrate whether a sample question is on-topic or off-topic, it is either "Not a Good Example," or it is one of those "edge case" questions.

The edge case questions are the most valuable ones; these are the questions that will best help you establish the overall scope of the website by community consensus. Putting comments on them to steer them toward on-topic or off-topic is rather pointless.

On the other hand, comments that explain why you think an edge-case question is on-topic or off-topic can be extremely valuable.

Example of bad comment:

Intended to be an example of an [on-topic/off-topic] question.

Example of good comment:

I think questions requiring a lawyer to answer them should be off-topic for this site.

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Please - kill them. Kill them with fire. Kill them now.

lolcat

Okay, I'll admit, I do find them useful in one tiny regard: when the original poster thinks it's worth a comment that it's a "great off topic question", then 90% of the time, it's actually NaGE (Not A Good Example).

Personally, I'd like to see the options changed to:

This would be a great question for:

radio button This site
radio button An already-existing SE site or proposal
radio button An as-yet-uncreated Area51 proposal
radio button None of the above

Which I think would help people understand what NaGE actually means.


Edited to add…

One other reason they're a bad idea:

They make the assumption that question voters are too stupid/ignorant to decide for themselves whether something should be on or off topic. And that's never a good way to start things off.

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The reason why people do this, at least in my opinion, is there is a very common misconception as to what should be off-topic, and what should be not valid. Many people confuse these, and if they realize, hey, I should vote this as off topic, not as "Not a valid question", then they will. See this question, if you want to ponder this topic more.

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