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I'm brainstorming streamlining close reasons at Chinese.SE where there are few question styles which are problematic (e.g. "what's a good resource for XYZ?"; "what does this say?"). Some sites have issued blanket bans on classes of questions that were originally on-topic, e.g.:

  1. RPG.SE: [score +11] Game Recommendation questions are banned (January 2012).
  2. Movies.SE: [+48/-104] We are discontinuing support for identification questions (January 2018).

I'm interested in hearing how these changes worked out, although there are too many sites for me to search for individually.

Question: Has your site blanket-banned a whole class of questions that were originally on-topic, and how did that work out?

I'm fairly sure answers to this question could help others decide whether or not to implement comparable policies at other sites. Please include in answers:

  1. the name of the site, a link to relevant meta post, and the date the policy was adopted,
  2. an explanation as to why the policy was adopted,
  3. a description as to how it has since worked out.
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  • 1
    There are a couple sites that went a step further and changed their scope completely: Health -> Medical Sciences and Not Programming Related -> Programmers -> Software Engineering. Jul 12 '20 at 1:13
  • 2
    This very site is also an example: prior to April 2014 it accepted questions specific to Stack Overflow. Unfortunately I wasn't around on this site when that took place, so I can't say much about it. Jul 12 '20 at 1:14
  • 3
    Based on the reception of the ban at Movies.SE, it seems to have gone horribly. Also looking only at the comments, it doesn't seem like it had the support of the majority of community members before it was implemented. Jul 12 '20 at 1:23
  • Finally, there was a similar (but different) change over on Interpersonal Skills in the guidelines for answers. That site used to have lenient guidelines on them, but now requires them to adhere to some citation requirements; there are a ton of past answers answers that wouldn't meet requirements today and would thus be subject to deletion if submitted today. Jul 12 '20 at 2:01
  • 7
    @JasonBassford It was upvoted for several months. It's only the long-term voting that has seen the score go negative.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jul 12 '20 at 3:10
  • 2
    removal of code golf at Stack Overflow in 2014 and of identification requests at Anime & Manga in 2016 probably qualify
    – gnat
    Jul 12 '20 at 8:14
  • @SonictheMaskedWerehog as far as I remember coding help was off-topic at Programmers / Software Engineering from the very start. It was only in 2016 that diamond moderators were officially encouraged to close and delete such questions on sight (prior to that, their approach was to wait until regular site users take care of these - similar to how it works at Stack Overflow)
    – gnat
    Jul 12 '20 at 8:19
  • 1
    Code Golf is another example. We've banned several classes of questions over the years. Jul 12 '20 at 11:45
  • 2
    There's a bit of discussion over chat about how this question polls for a list. I feel like we could refactor this post without invalidating the answers at present to be more of a "how do I" type question. Of course, as always, poster's preference takes precedent here, and it would involve significant changes.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jul 12 '20 at 13:17
  • Ehh... the link on RPG.SE banning game rec. links to Card & Board Games's meta post. We banned them in 2015, threw tool rec. with it and also banned designer reasons too (at least). Jul 12 '20 at 23:53
  • 2
    I think I've seen a site ban rock-identification questions as well. It turns out to be on Earth Science: earthscience.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1768/…
    – Luuklag
    Jul 13 '20 at 7:09
10

Sports SE - a successful change of policy and removal of the questions/tag involved

Sports SE disallowed autograph identification questions by meta consensus in February 2018.

The community generally agreed to close on sight. Despite the suggestion, this was not added as a site-specific/custom close reason. This reduced the number of new questions to some extent, while Roomba and independent user voting led to gradual deletion. New questions continued to trickle in (likely fed by Google indexing the site as a source for AID support), so the operation shifted to deletion of all remaining closed AID questions was proposed in March 2019 and finally carried out in March 2020.

This resulted in the total removal of the tag by April 2020, and there have since been no new questions of this type.

In the event that a new user joins the site and may be frustrated by the question being off-topic, there isa Sports Meta question that helps direct them elsewhere.

Significant factors in the successful outcome:

  • The identification of a specific type of question and specific issues with it was possible in the first place, that is, a person could very clearly separate "the problem(s)" from "everything else"

  • "Lower level" solutions had been mooted and implemented earlier, and found to have no effect

  • The core of active users was neither too big to reach a useful consensus nor too small to usefully act on it

  • That consensus was reached quickly, a direct solution could be determined and applied, and the community and moderators acted on it from that point forward

  • The solution is sufficiently permanent that the problem is almost certain not to arise again, and any reoccurrence is further mitigated by a meta post redirecting potential issues away

9

On Movies & TV, the ban on identification questions has worked out rather well. The final announcement you link to links to the last big discussion about the topic that it was based on, but it has been a highly controversial topic since the early days of the site and the questions and the problems they posed only went worse with time.

The community grew wearier and wearier of the questions, while the topic attracted more and more of them. It was less of a theoretical consideration than a practical problem of site deterioration that we faced. There were previous attempts at getting rid of the questions, but we didn't go about it in a good way, being forced into a plain voting poll, which is not really a good way to go about things in meta discussion.

So at some point another concerned user started the discussion again and this time it was an actual discussion asking for input. And that input was quite unanimous, together with the questions getting scrutinized more and more over time. In light of that, it was apparent that the community finally had to and wanted to make a stand on the topic, using Anime.SE's previous ban on these questions as somewhat of a guideline.

It has since played out rather well really. What I'm most surprised of is that it really had an immediate impact on the questions asked daily. The ratio of ID questions dropped from many per day to about 1 per week rather quickly. What definitely helped was the support from SE that we got, not only technically in cleaning up, but also morally in standing behind the decision. This made everything a lot easier. However, I'm not sure how that would work out today, both regarding the existing CM manpower as well as the company's overall ideology, given that this was pretty much a quality over quantity initiative. What you sure want to do is close, and possibly also lock, all the existing questions, otherwise it will create an inconsistency that's just confusing. If you need automated SE support for that depends on how many there are, but it helps a lot.

But of course it didn't go without bumps either. While we discussed the topic extensively, there naturally were people who only woke up to the actual outcome and therefore were rather disappointed about it, but there's only so much you can do to make people care. And changing the status quo is always more difficult than leaving it. When people feel they've gotten something taken away, especially if they can afford the luxury of not caring too much about the future of the site, they won't like it and would have preferred a poll to just vote for keeping it. And when you then link every poor soul whose question you close (or who maybe even notices beforehand that it's off-topic) to the final announcement, you can see its score drop to the cellar rather quickly. ;-)

But overall it turned out really well. The questions dropped to a minimum and disgruntled comments on the meta announcement did too. And the site is very much better for it. Of course it didn't solve all the problems, but it solved the one most threatening to the very future of the site.

3
  • 2
    "when you then link every poor soul whose question you close to the final announcement, you can see its score drop to the cellar rather quickly" - actually no, that's not a generally observed phenomenon. Other sites have meta posts linked prominently in close reasons (one, two, three, all from sites bigger than M&TV) with positive scores and a scant handful of downvotes, despite the hundreds of questions closed with those reasons. Jul 12 '20 at 18:36
  • 3
    It's also not really plausible to blame the meta downvotes and comments on disgruntled people whose questions got closed, since most of those (AFAIK?) are new low-rep users who can't downvote or comment anyway. We may as well come out and admit that it was the handful of users most highly active in meta/moderation who supported the ban, while the wider community actually opposed it once they discovered the meta post after the Christmas/New Year holidays. Jul 12 '20 at 18:42
  • @Randal'Thor - Agreed. The meta scores for the post announcing the removal are strongly against the action but there's no 'sour grapes' posts stating that people have downvoted for personal reasons.
    – Richard
    Jul 14 '20 at 8:34
6

Not sure if this is exactly the situation you describe, but here is a possible example:

On Mi Yodeya (Stack Exchange site about Judaism) there were a number of questions about random facts about certain books (e.g. number of words per page, number of pages per chapter, etc.) In January of this year (2020) there was a Meta post to discuss whether these questions should be deemed off-topic. The highest scoring answer distinguished between several such types of questions, arguing that a particular subset should be off-topic, and listed 12 examples of questions in this subset.

Looking at those examples you can see that shortly after the Meta post half of those questions (including ones with high scoring question and answers) were closed. In my experience as an active user there I have not really noticed new questions of this type asked since then.

5

On ServerFault, we have 3 types of questions that are banned (each of them has a custom close reason), they each have a different history and background.

The first two types have been banned for a long time so they don't really fit the "originally on topic" aspect of the question, but there was a time early on when they were on topic and there was substantial discussion about whether to ban them.

Questions should demonstrate reasonable information technology management practices. Questions that relate to unsupported hardware or software platforms or unmaintained environments may not be suitable for Server Fault.

This one covers (mainly) questions about out-of-date platforms and technologies. Questions about NT Server 4, support for Windows XP, using a Rasberry Pi as a web server, etc.

Questions on Server Fault must be about managing information technology systems in a business environment. Home and end-user computing questions may be asked on Super User, and questions about development, testing and development tools may be asked on Stack Overflow.

This one is pretty straightforward. Questions about consumer-grade equipment are off-topic, even if used in business.

For both of these, when the custom close reasons were first set up, there was a good consensus to get rid of them, and whenever the close reasons were updated to make them clearer, there was still broad support for leaving them off-topic. Because the close reason was revisited and improved a few times, it's a nice, short explanation and generally satisfies anyone who asks "why isn't this on topic?"

Unfortunately, the improved/nicer closed post notices that were implemented recently hide the close reason from anyone whose rep is too low to vote to close, which leads to confusion:

https://meta.serverfault.com/a/9657/6177

The other type of question that's off topic is control panels:

Questions involving web hosting control panels are off-topic because they customize their systems so that standard system administration methods no longer apply. Some related topics may be asked on Webmasters or see Where can I ask questions about web hosting control panels?

At the time this was implemented, cPanel and other control panel questions were a plague on the site: there were lots of them, they were usually unclear, often went unanswered. There was almost unanimous support for getting rid of them.

The only controversy with this was that a moderator election was held shortly after this was implemented and one of the new mods took it on himself to get rid of tons of these. This was widely supported by the community (doing so was part of his election platform), but the way he did it bothered a staff member, and then the staff member's response pissed off most of the community.

0
3

On Web Applications questions asking for web application recommendations that included a description of the research efforts were allowed but nowadays they aren't.

One of the arguments is that Software Recommendations was launched and they were better prepared to handle those kind of questions.

Related discussions

2

My other site was a reason for an entire class of questions being banned (November 2010) across the network. There were refinements over time but...

You're literally talking about a reason we use

Questions seeking product, service, or learning material recommendations are off-topic because they become outdated quickly and attract opinion-based answers. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve. Share your research. Here are a few suggestions on how to properly ask this type of question.

We also found a compromise to allow for the ways to include recommendations in part of a question though.

We also, if memory serves, refined and worked on how best to balance long term relevancy with short term usefulness on the matter. This was over a period of time, and hard to pin down as such when exactly we did that.

1

Some of us at the GIS Stack Exchange have been keen to redirect questions asking for:

  • software recommendations to the Software Recommendations Stack Exchange
  • hardware recommendations to the Hardware Recommendations Stack Exchange
  • open data to the Open Data Stack Exchange
  • code reviews to the Code Review Stack Exchange

At best our efforts have received a mixed reception as you can see by the links to GIS Meta Q&As below.

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