When I made an account for the Earth Science Stack Exchange, I came across this meta post: I've had enough. Let's ban rock id questions.

In this post, the author addresses the issue that the website was getting flooded with questions like "What type of rock is this?". The post makes the case for deleting all determination/identification questions as the author argues that:

  1. These questions are only relevant to the OP and are unhelpful as a reference point for anyone seeking to identify a rock.
  2. Most determination questions did not meet the proper standards required for sound determination, despite deliberate guidance. This flooded the review queue to unmanageable levels.
  3. As rock ID questions were outnumbering normal earth science questions, experts/high-rep users were becoming less active.

The post sparked an elaborate debate that led to the decision in 2019 to ban all rock identification questions on the website.

Now, the reason I'm asking this question here, is that the story is relevant for the Stack Exchange network as a whole, as there are many instances of identification/determination questions across the network:

Of course, the relevance of individual questions to individual websites is a matter for the local moderators, and points 2 and 3 (above) will not likely be prevalent across all websites. Yet I wonder, in light of point 1, whether "what is this type of ...?" questions contribute to the mission of Stack Exchange to develop a lexicon of questions and answers that can be a useful reference to anyone interested in that specific field.

Therefore I was wondering:

Do questions about the identification of objects/species have a place in the Stack Exchange Network? And if so, what characteristics make identification questions desirable for the Stack Exchange Network?

  • 4
    Are you trying to get a uniform network wide ruling? You realize sites are responsible for their own scope and are not bothered by what some users discussed on Meta Stack Exchange?
    – rene
    Mar 10 at 18:58
  • 3
    maybe useful to have handy: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/357529/…
    – rene
    Mar 10 at 19:07
  • 2
    No, I don't mean to ask for a network-wide ruling, as I said that the issue of the relevance of individual questions is a matter of local moderation. Who would I be to decide what people can ask on websites that I don't use? What I mean to ask is like: what is the use of identification questions to the Stack Exchange Network? Is it in line with the original philosophy of the network?
    – saQuist
    Mar 10 at 19:07
  • 1
    On some sites, under a specific set of conditions (which is discussed on the individual site's meta), some sites will allow some types of ID questions; and as you have found, some will not. --- The big driver is: how many future visitors would find the Q&A interesting, even helpful. --- That link shows what one site thought would make some types of questions acceptable; to some extent. --- A different site, by necessity, has a different discussion, and ultimately a different ruling; which can change, over the years. - No one answer, ...
    – Rob
    Mar 10 at 19:51
  • probably worth keeping in mind that dis/allowing id questions at particular site is not necessarily a permanent state. One example I am aware of (because it was discussed at MSE) is Anime & Manga who decided in 2016 to stop allowing id questions
    – gnat
    Mar 10 at 22:42
  • 1
    @gnat OP is also referencing a shift in Earth Science's policy from allowing to stop allowing (rock) ID questions. Mar 10 at 22:44

I'm currently a moderator at Biology.SE. We accept species ID questions, provided the asker provides sufficient information to assist in making an ID.

Species ID questions are popular at Biology.SE: among askers, curious people from elsewhere on the network, and a group of regulars who are quite good at ID, especially in their individual fields of expertise.

Species ID (and other ID) questions are not great fits to the generic SE Q&A model. They are quite difficult to index, since the askers (and future searchers) don't know what they're looking for in the first place, and different people tend to emphasize entirely different characteristics. Answers are most useful to the individual asker and not to the broader community; someone interested in species ID more generally would be much better off using a dichotomous key or other ID tool rather than building knowledge from individual Q&As. There is more general educational value in answerers explanations of how they reached a given ID, but this really only reaches people who are curious and browsing these questions, not anyone with a specific species question.

There is also a bit of a curation and moderation mess with respect to those questions that do come up more than once. We have had probably dozens of questions asking some version of "is this a bedbug?" and it's kind of a mess choosing which ones to close as duplicates of other bedbug questions versus answer in their own right. Sometimes, sending a user to a bedbug duplicate leaves them with the original question they had: they're really asking for a personal "diagnosis" of their own picture and don't always easily see the connections with another post even if it contains pictures of the same species as theirs.

That said, our community supports these questions and is welcome to accept those that follow the guidelines for providing supporting info. I personally learn a lot from them just as a curious observer. I don't see any reason to change, so for your specific questions:

Do questions about the identification of objects/species have a place in the Stack Exchange Network? And if so, what characteristics make identification questions desirable for the Stack Exchange Network?

Yes, if you're looking to identify a species, that question has a place on Biology.SE specifically. Those questions are desirable if they include the characteristics described at https://biology.stackexchange.com/tags/species-identification/info

There are entire SE sites that somewhat break the mold of Q&A that Stack Overflow exemplifies (for example, "subjective" sites including Academia, Interpersonal Skills, and Workplace; also, all of the Meta sites themselves, including this one), and each has come to its own understanding of what things to take and leave behind from the original model.

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