I edited this question yesterday as part of a cleanup spree. It had already gotten a fair bit of activity, but someone tweeted a link to it after I edited it, and things really took off.

The topic of the question has both social/interpersonal/human-behavior and technical components. The highest-scoring-by-far answer as I write this Meta post is purely non-technical, unless telling readers to see other answers for technical solutions counts. I commented on that answer and one or two others to say that, because we are on Super User, posts should be technical, even if the technical answer is not the best answer. A few people have disagreed with me.

Am I right? Are the other guys? A little of both, maybe?

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Administrative note: I've put a link to this meta question in a comment under the relevant answer and notified the users who disagreed with me. –  Pops Sep 6 '11 at 15:05
    
I think it's a typical example of a "fun" question that could be allowed. Surprised to see no down- and close-votes on it though. –  slhck Sep 7 '11 at 7:01
    
That's cause no one would ever downvote "spicy pictures." –  surfasb Sep 11 '11 at 19:52
    
@slhck - pared down it's a real question - "I have very many files spread over many folders (and perhaps partitions and discs); some of those files are spicy; how do I find and delete the spicy files? Format / re-install is not suitable because of nature of non-spicy files". The gf stuff is a distraction. I agree with Lord Torgamus that it's a shame many answers concentrated on that part, but I also agree with you that those answers that do are fun and should be allowed. –  DanBeale Oct 1 '11 at 19:17
    
@DanBeale Yes, there's an actual problem to solve, and it doesn't ask for an endless list of answers, so I guess it was good to stay after all. –  slhck Oct 1 '11 at 19:22

4 Answers 4

up vote 19 down vote accepted

There is always the chance (as, possibly, with the referenced question) that the question is so far off in asking for technology advice, that the only sensible answer is

It's not the kind of problem you can or want to solve using technology.

In my opinion, this is a proper, useful answer, especially if solid advice on what to actually do follows.


On many topics, it can be a matter of debate whether use of technology solves the problem, or is the best solution. I believe it's a goal of this network to get visitors from search engines, so we shouldn't ban non-technical solutions from this site, giving visitors the impression there is no other option than using technology to the problems they might also face.

It's a site about software and hardware questions. The answers can actually be whatever makes sense.

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For what it's worth, I consider "it is not possible to solve this technically" to be a technical answer (for the purposes of this discussion). –  Pops Sep 6 '11 at 15:48
    
@Lord The most up voted answer (which you call out as non-technical on your OP here) kind of did say that, its first statement "1. Use the other answers to remove horse porn and that icky scat stuff." Which could be reworded to "it is possible to solve this technically, and see the other answers for good ways, however you should also do:" –  Scott Chamberlain Sep 6 '11 at 16:25
    
@Scott, I suppose so. On my previous visits to the question, that bullet point seemed more dismissive than helpful, because it's such a a brief, low-effort mention. To give the answerer benefit of the doubt, though, he might have just thought it wasn't necessary to restate the content of the other answers since they're already right there on the page. –  Pops Sep 6 '11 at 16:50
    
@LordTorgamus How about "I don't recommend trying to solve this (exclusively) using technology"? –  Daniel Beck Sep 7 '11 at 6:14
    
I'm still not 100% on board with this answer, but I can see that I'm in the minority. I guess it fits my usage pattern; most of the time, finding out how computers work is much more important to me than getting the absolute best answer. –  Pops Sep 13 '11 at 12:59
    
The goal is to find the best answer, whatever it may be. The QUESTIONS need to be technical, sure. –  Shinrai Sep 14 '11 at 14:23

Quite frequently the best answer to a problem is user education. Are 1 or 2 employees giving out the password to other people, do you spend spend several 1000's of dollars on a Secure ID system so passwords get invalidated after every use, or do you tell the two people "Hey, you need to stop doing that or you are fired" first and see if the problem stops?

Some times the best solution is not a technical one, and if a person did not ask for a non technical solution you should still give it as it is the best option. In the OP's question the best possible answer would be "Talk to your girlfriend and don't try to hide it."

Sometimes when someone asks you if you should use a glass bottle or a shoe to drive in a nail, you need to hand them a hammer.


To answer the main question

...because we are on Super User, posts should be technical, even if the technical answer is not the best answer.

I agree that questions must be technical on SU, but answers do not need to be if they provide the best solution.

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I don't know.

The FAQ says "questions about" - and nothing about answers. I think letting the metamoderation system handle how answers should be treated in this specific case should work.

I think questions absolutely need to be technical in nature, but if one of many answers happens to be primarily social, and works in that specific situation, it should stand. If some future reader needs another answer, its there.

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To restate, my basic feeling is that posts on Super User must be technical to be on-topic. If a solution isn't technical, it doesn't belong, no matter how good it is.

I would say that it's very much OK to mention non-technical solutions as part of a technical answer, but the technical part has to be there*.

In the specific case of the question that led to me posting here, the non-technical solution might work for the OP, but it probably won't work for everyone. It might not transfer well to a future reader who wanted to do the same thing for different reasons. A technical solution would be more enduring, and it's the kind of thing people are trying to find when they come here anyways.

* Wording stolen from Jeff's answer to another question I asked.

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Software recommendations are more enduring than basic relationship advice? –  Daniel Beck Sep 6 '11 at 15:30
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What if the next visitor to that question isn't there because of a relationship? Perhaps a family member or boss has asked him to clean a hard drive. –  Pops Sep 6 '11 at 15:35
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To steal a page from the blog post I linked to in my answer. If someone came asking how to store a object array in to a single cell in SQL, would you be against telling the person to re-design their tables as someone else may come along that could not redesign the table and the answer would not help them? –  Scott Chamberlain Sep 6 '11 at 15:39
    
@Scott, I would say "You should really consider redesigning your table for reasons x, y and z. However, to answer your question, you can store it like this: ..." –  Pops Sep 6 '11 at 15:42
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The context to a question is important iff the user added it to the question. Take out the part about the girlfriend moving in, and it's a different question. Then you're right. Quite often I have to ask What the ... do you want to actually accomplish? to find out that the user's issue is something entirely different, so we can guide him/her towards better solutions than would have been possible in the framework of the original question. These are still technical, but often don't answer the question as it was actually stated. –  Daniel Beck Sep 6 '11 at 15:46
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If the question is legitimate and the best solution is non-technical there is no reason to force worse technical answers... –  Lukas Sep 13 '11 at 10:39

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