The explosive growth of Stack Exchange sites is making things really kind of difficult at times.

For example: I'm trying to get help with working with Shibboleth on Ubuntu. Does that mean I should be asking on SO (for the Shibboleth), askUbuntu (for the Ubuntu), Server Fault (since I'm trying to set up the Service Provider security) or Webmasters (since ultimately this is a web application)?

It's hard enough framing the question without worrying that the response will be "wrong site, go ask on xxxx."

  • Even harder when you give no details to better direct you – random Jan 5 '11 at 23:54
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    i think the point is more that the balkanization of Stack Exchange is not actually helpful in a lot of situations - there are many times when there are problems that could (and should) be in two or three or more of the SE sites... – HorusKol Jan 6 '11 at 0:07
  • Reading the FAQ for Server Fault, knowing more about who you are greatly details the kind of questions they go for – random Jan 6 '11 at 0:31
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    You should ask on shibbolethonubuntu.stackexchange.com of course. – Oystein Jan 6 '11 at 14:59

Good troubleshooting techniques require the ability to break the problem up into smaller chunks that involve as few dependencies as possible. For instance, your example indicates that the root problem is "get help working with shibboleth" - all else is irrelevant unless you've already determined that it's not working due to, for install, Ubuntu.

In this way, a good troubleshooter works through their problem one part of the stack at a time until they find the root cause.

This may involve several questions on several different sites.

So we expect users to choose one site that they believe is best suited to the problem. The active users of the site will triage the question and migrate it if necessary. If it's too broad, as in your example, then they will generally ask a few questions that will help the user figure out how to troubleshoot the problem and get it to the point where they know who to ask.

So no, I don't think this is a problem. However, if you can point out several examples where this is demonstrated then perhaps we can discuss it more specifically.

  • I like "...works through their problem one part of the stack at a time". – tshepang Jan 6 '11 at 2:46

The primary question you should be asking yourself is "which of these communities do I feel I belong to?"

Your answer to that will determine which site best fits.

Based on this


I'd say the answer is pretty clearly Server Fault, since I can't imagine anyone but a sysadmin working with this tool. The OS itself is totally irrelevant, unless you have some deeply technical OS specific problem.

Not understanding which site fits, just says to me that you haven't done enough research before asking, and if you want a good answer, you have to do some work to make sure your question has been properly researched.

That said asking on meta is a great start and puts you well ahead of many others. :)

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    thanks - the thing for me, though, is that I feel I belong to a number of those communities - as I deal with the sysadmin, application development, web development, and design of sites. Life was simple with just SO. – HorusKol Jan 6 '11 at 0:41
  • I'd just like to add that I have been working on the problem through this morning, and pretty much arrived at the same idea of using SF for my particular question. – HorusKol Jan 6 '11 at 0:48

Knowing something about Shibboleth, and having some friends that I can turn to when I have Shib questions, I know that what you described in the OP here was not a single question.

A general resource that I might turn to (my group of friends) is http://groups.google.com/group/science-federation/ and they've got some third-party commercial stuff that they're trying to standardize their shib installations around. Just an idea.

If you're setting up the shib provider, that's fine. Goto SF. They'll be able to help you better.

If you're trying to write some code around managing things using shib, then probably start on SF and get migrated away. (it'll make more sense at the time)

If you have Ubuntu specific problems (since shib generally runs on Linux systems) then the SF team will push you in that direction.

I don't see that this has anything to do with the webapp site atm, but feel free to correct me where I'm wrong as you develop things in the future.

Hope all this helps and wasn't terribly too late.


There's nothing wrong with asking a question on more than one site, as long as the question is a targetted to that site. Deciding which site(s) to ask will help you better target your question -- for example, the Ubuntu folks may know more about the OS, while SO denizens will be better able to address the programming aspect of the problem.

However, you'll want to target a site to start this all out. All other things being equal, I'd personally start with SO or SuperUser, since those sites are so heavily trafficked.

This is going to be more of a problem with newer users, obviously, and the problem of routing questions has come up before.

For now, I'd simply start with the more general of the sites that apply to your question and add satellite questions to specialty sites as the problem is clarified, or as you find gaps in the answers you receive.


You say too much overlap, then mention a problem that itself covers many areas. It's not the fact that the websites overlap that causes you an issue, and in fact this helps you because your problem might be suitable on several sites.

The problem of a given question being relevant on many sites is not a new one at all, and it's one I've written about many times.

Unfortunately, you propose two problems (sites overlap, and some questions belong on multiple sites) but you don't offer any suggestions. About the best we can offer is that you pick a site that you feel is best for your problem, or a site you feel fits your field best, and submit your questions there. The experts in the community you choose will help move the question to the right arena if needed.

But the important thing to remember about why these sites are successful is that they attract and keep experts. If we start allowing off-topic questions on a regular basis without moving them, the experts will eventually leave due to a poor signal to noise ratio.

So while balkanization seems to be a bad aspect of these sites, it's necessary to cultivate the community of experts that make these sites so useful. The overlap actually helps tie the communities together.

  • Posted as a separate answer as it's a different approach to the problem. – Pollyanna Jan 6 '11 at 4:12

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