On the religion and culture stackexchange sites, many, many users will initially ask a question in a place that's kind of off-topic there, but are fully on-board elsewhere.

Christianity.SE, for example, gets a lot of general philopsophical questions that would be better on Philosophy, historical questions that might be better on History.SE, and hermenutical questions that are better on BH.SE. It is, however, unreasonable in my mind for a user with a question to be required to have domain expertise on which sub-site each has. Indeed, even amongst users with a high amount of knowledge, there can be disagreement.

Likewise, I wrote a fairly exhaustive answer about all the places economics questions would fit, but as just about every one of those is in beta, the user would have to be very saavy (or would have to find that post) in order to nail it every time.

That said, recommending that a question be moved is much harder than it needs to be. I have seen business rule logic that says, for example,

  • migration paths only exist to graduated sites (ergo politics, money, history, and quantitative finance wouldn't qualify)
  • migration paths seem to be limited to 5.

Anything not on a migration path requires a moderator (and not just a high rep user) to get involved.

So, what is the reasoning behind this? Note, I'm not asking for a solution (although the obvious solution would be to allow migration paths to any established site, beta or not, i.e. a VTC as off topic b/c it belongs on another site should allow you to pick any other site) - I just want to understand the business purpose in restricting migration paths to a small, predefined number for everyone other than a mod.

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    I think there was experience of a lot of bad migrations; for example Programmers was used as the "toilet bowl" for Stack overflow, which was obviously not desirable – Richard Tingle Oct 28 '13 at 16:15

In addition to what Mad and Kate state, I would note that migrations - particularly those driven by vote - are not actually a particularly good way to handle confusion over the scope of related sites.

Think about this: it takes 5 people to vote to migrate a question. At which point, the destination site gets to decide whether or not the question is appropriate, potentially rejecting it. If there are multiple potential candidates (as in your economics example), chances are good that the folks on the originating site will get the destination wrong, but even if they're familiar with the options and make the best possible choice...

The question still wasn't written by someone familiar with the site where it ends up posted. They had no opportunity read the Help Center or About pages, or even to see existing questions on the site! The question probably isn't well-tagged (indeed, the system will automatically reject questions that have no valid tags on the destination), and very possibly missing details that are important to the folks who would be most likely to answer it...

Oh yeah - and users don't get migrated. They get notified of the migration, but they still have to go set up an account on the destination site before they'll be notified of any comments or answers left on their question post-migration. So requests for clarification often go unheard. This is never fun for anyone, but it's particularly harsh on a small and growing community still trying to establish their scope and standards for quality - for this reason, we do not create default migration paths to beta sites, and strongly discourage even moderators from migrating to/from sites in their formative stages.

Don't get me wrong - migration is great for questions that are detailed, clearly-written, potentially well-answered, but simply off-topic for the site on which they were asked. For example, Stack Overflow gets a bunch of questions on various tools and techniques (particularly those related to Unix/Linux) that have nothing to do with programming but get answered anyway simply because there are a ton of folks on SO who happen to be familiar with the topic - migrating these to the appropriate sites is beneficial to both communities.

But in most cases, it's more effective - and certainly more expedient - to skip migration entirely and just vote to close as off-topic while leaving a comment directing the asker to a more appropriate site (or sites...). This gives the asker a chance to create an account and familiarize himself with the community and their scope before throwing his question up, and also tends to weed out some of the folks less willing to put any real effort into addressing criticism.

Could we improve the process of migration? Absolutely! Right now, it's an either-or decision, even when a migration path does exist.

  • There's no easy way to say, "this question is off-topic but belongs on SiteX but could use some work before it goes there" - you're stuck writing that comment from scratch (or perhaps using a canned Off Topic reason in a handful of common cases).
  • There's no way for a high-rep user on another site (Kate's example) to say, "yes this is off-topic here, but I'd love to answer it over yonder" - you're stuck either commenting and hoping for the best, or flagging for moderator attention.

That said, we have some fairly simple tools that can be adapted to a great many different scenarios - while not perfect, this flexibility offers just about anyone with knowledge of the system the opportunity to be influential. Generally-speaking, I prefer this to an alternative that pits high-rep users on different sites against each other with the folks asking (and answering) caught in the cross-fire.

See also: Respect the community – your own, and others’

  • What can we do to request which of the chosen sites appear here? I would vote for unix.stackexchange.com over say TeX or Sharepoint (really?!). – Burhan Khalid Jun 1 '14 at 9:08

Most users don't know enough about the target site to judge whether a question is suitable or not. Limiting the number of migration paths to a handful of sites that have an established history of successful migrations (by mods) reduces the number of bad migrations.

Limiting the migration paths makes sure that only sites that are close to the source site in scope are possible targets. This makes it more likely that the users migrating know the scope of the target well and that they can judge the quality of the question. Requiring a proven migration history also helps to establish only targets that are actually useful.

Migrations just don't work as well as one would like, and I suspect that this is somewhat inherent to the system and not something that can be fixed without changing it completely. Migration is often seen as the "nicer" alternative to closure, and that often leads to questions that just should be closed to be migrated instead. Migrating crap wastes time on both sites and should be minimized. The users that decide on the migration are also in most cases not users that know the target site very well, this is a huge problem for any site with a non-obvious scope (I could guarantee that a migration path to Skeptics would be a disaster for that reason alone). There is also some bias in the quality of the questions that are migration candidates, users that post completely off-topic questions on a site usually also post extremely crappy questions in general.

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    "Don't migrate crap" should be the first rule of migrations (if it isn't already). – user213963 Oct 28 '13 at 16:20
  • @MichaelT: It is, according to Jeff. :-) – Jamal Oct 28 '13 at 16:21
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    Sadly this doesn't stop the comments left against off topic questions of the "This belongs of Superuser / StackOverflow / Server Fault..." variety - something arguably worse as it encourages the poster to cross-post to that site and get downvoted/deleted into oblivion while arguing 'but they told me on site X to post it here!!!'. – JonW Oct 28 '13 at 17:24

There are two major reasons:

  • Nobody happened to think of that path yet
  • That path was tried before and it ended badly

People on SO, for example, might think they recognize an obvious Server Fault question. But they might be wrong - I have been, for example. Some migration paths (most famously SO to Programmers) have actually been removed because the questions being migrated just were not on topic for the target site.

I have argued in the past that you should be able to migrate to sites where you have enough rep, since you would then presumably know the norms of that site. But it hasn't happened, to my knowledge.

And because some migration paths end badly, there is now a bit of a barrier to setting them up even if someone does happen to think of them.


I understand the reasons behind limiting migration paths, but I propose the improvement dealing with that considerations:

  1. The number of migrations paths should be defined by the moderators or SE team, individually for each site. It should be possible to define more or less migration paths.
  2. Some migration paths should require some amount of reputation on the target site for someone voting to migrate. There could be 2 threasholds - one for initial vote to migrate, the second to confirm the migration path someone has proposed for the question
  3. There should be possibility of defining migration paths between 2 beta sites.
  4. As exception, there should be possibility of defining migration path from graduate site to beta site, but it should always require high reputation on target site (at least 1000, could be more).

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