I would think these devices are computer related enough for inclusion on Super User (I'd even say they were computers). Why are there 50 questions tagged iPod on superuser.com but this one gets closed at not computer related:



Not closed (and not referencing a computer):


It seems a bit ridiculous that if I can work in iTunes, or the OS of the computer my iPod syncs with that then the question is OK.

For example, see http://superuser.com/questions/13281/upgrade-order-for-new-computer-and-new-ipod

Is a question about a computer AND an iPod OK? But a question about an iPod alone should be closed? Seems arbitrary.

Also consider that howtogeek.com includes hundreds of questions on iPods (including iPod Shuffles).


migrated from meta.stackoverflow.com Jul 22 '10 at 17:59

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

You should probably know by now through your various run ins with the community that bringing up other questions as fodder for an argument in favor of another question doesn't get a very warm response. On that note, it should be noted that pretty much everything on here is arbitrary and it has a lot to do with who is viewing the questions and at what time. –  TheTXI Aug 21 '09 at 15:00
But based on your list, there are a couple there that I will probably go in and close down so that the convention is kept (such as the question about upgrading from a first gen shuffle). –  TheTXI Aug 21 '09 at 15:01
it helps if you tag things SUPERUSER that are specific to that site –  Jeff Atwood Aug 22 '09 at 3:00

10 Answers 10

General questions about mp3 players and their functionality (such as iPod and sometimes iPod Touch) I would not classify as acceptable material.

Questions about "smartphones" and other smart devices (such as iPhone and sometimes iPod Touch) I would classify as acceptable material.

This is a pretty broad generalization, but I think it matters a lot on where you draw the line on what classifies as a computer and what does not. So far through the beta we have drawn the line traditionally towards the PC/Mac definition of computer and related hardware, while also including smart phones (what many would now almost call mini computers because of all the functionality like web browsing and applications).

If it is me, I will let most iPhone questions slide (except for ones asking about games), and I would probably let most iPod Touch questions slide as well since it is basically just the iPhone without the phone, so there isn't much difference there in functionality.

A question about an iPod shuffle I would generally not accept on face value unless it was asking something that involved a computer. For example: "My iPod shuffle has stopped being recognized automatically by Windows. What do I do?"

Obviously there's a justification, but what you said comes down to yes on iPhones, maybe on iPod Touch, no on other iPods. I can't imagine how a normal user on superuser could expect to understand that (without 5 paragraphs like you wrote). Consider also that there are hundreds of posts and issues on HowToGeek about iPods (including iPod shuffles). –  Michael Pryor Aug 21 '09 at 15:27
I'm not trying to start a another war here, but WTF does the content on HowToGeek have to do with what is permissible on SuperUser? If there is a large enough community outcry about what I am suggesting, then perhaps Atwood could give the O-K to loosen the definition, but I'm just operating on what I know at this point. –  TheTXI Aug 21 '09 at 15:44
@Michael: If there are already hundreds of posts on HowToGeek about it, then why don't we add "closed as belongs on HowToGeek" and call it a day? Isn't that the point of the League of Justice? –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Aug 21 '09 at 15:46
I agree with these distinctions. I agree that the iPhone is a gray area, so it really depends on the question. The more computer hardware or software related it can be, obviously, the better. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 22 '09 at 3:01
I would call them nanocomputers because desktop computers and laptops are microcomputers. But I think that the application of SI prefixes to computer hardware market classifications is probably the wrong approach. It's gone mainframe->mini->micro, what's the next step? It needs to be short, sweet and catchy and should capture anything from about watch size to Palm Treo size. –  Omnifarious Sep 5 '09 at 16:05

I've built an iPhone/iPod Touch Q&A StackExchange site so all these questions are first-class citizens there.

I hope it helps!

why the downvotes? this is on topic and a valid answer –  Jeff Atwood Nov 3 '09 at 3:04
Thank you Jeff :) I'll be bringing some good news for iPhone/iPod Touch/mobile owners very soon.. –  fandelost Nov 6 '09 at 16:05
Meh, it's been disabled. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 8 '11 at 15:06

I'm very, very late, but here's my $0.02:

The only reason computers are mainstream is because of peripherals.

If the only thing a computer could do is run programs, there would only be about 850 dorky computer enthusiasts in the world. They would talk about software, and if SuperUser was ever created, they would close questions about ipods as "not computer related". And they would never get a girlfriend.

But, thankfully, that's not the world we're living in. Odds, are, if you are a "computer enthusiastic", you are probably enthusiastic about your computer because of some peripheral that you use:

  • Maybe you shoot and edit video with a digital video camera
  • Maybe you (gasp) rip and mix music on an mp3 player
  • Maybe you put together awesome slideshows taken on your digital camera
  • Maybe you really enjoy printing out pics for grandma on your photo printer
  • Maybe you Skype with a penpal half a world away with your webcam
  • Maybe you watch movies and TV on your media center connected to a television

The point is, super user should be a place where computer enthusiasts can ask questions about their computers and the peripherals that make them enthusiastic about said computer.

I don't think "things that interface with the computer" were really the problem -- those are allowed. It's the "WITH THE COMPUTER" part that people seem to have trouble following the rules about.. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 17 '10 at 9:14

My definitions: If I can hypothetically program it without actually being part of a team dedicated to the project, it's a computer. If I cared to learn Objective-C and pay for a developer license, I could program an iPhone or iTouch, so those are computers. I can't program anything on an iPod without actually joining Apple or subcontractors and working on the iPod project, so my iPod Nano is not a computer. I've got an old HP calculator that would qualify as a computer, since it does run programs.

Since I'm mostly on SO, something is programming-related if I can use it directly to support programming. An editor or IDE or hex calculator or something like that is programming related. I can only use an iPod for programming by playing music as I work; while this is sometimes a very useful function, it's too indirect to make me call it programming-related.

(For programming-related, I also have a mental model of UnbalancedTotals, a StackExchange program for accountants. If I can't see any reason why it should got into SO rather than UT, it isn't programming-related.)

So, a question about an iPhone is computer-related, unless it relates to some restricted canned functionality, like the clock or iPod feature. A question about an iPod isn't, unless it's about using it as a computer peripheral, such as using it for file storage. Of the questions in the original question above, the only one I'd consider computer-related is about jailbreaking the iPod Touch.

This is in reference to SuperUser not StackOverflow (sorry, I made the distinction more clear in the title) –  Michael Pryor Aug 21 '09 at 16:42
Yeah, I got a little carried away in my definitions and guidelines. –  David Thornley Aug 21 '09 at 17:59
How would you deal with "canned functionality" like the clock of Microsoft Windows? Why would that be different from the clock of an iPhone, given that you defined the iPhone as a computer in your first paragraph? Or, are you saying a question about the clock on Microsoft Windows wouldn't be welcomed on Super User? –  richardhoskins Aug 24 '09 at 14:06

I am a bit late to the party, however with all due respect to Micheal I fully agree with both TXI and Jeff on this.

If the iPhone question is related to a problem with connectivity or iTunes and involves usage on the computer, I allow it. However, if the question is solely regarding the device or an issue on the device, I am bound to close it as not computer related. It is a very gray area, however we are NOT a mobile phone support group, and although I also use my iPhone heavily for SU/MSO I don't necessarily consider it a computer.

Also it leads to the subject of jail breaking, which I feel is an area SU does not want to get involved in, as is the topic of warez and illegal software activity.

Jailbreaking is not inherently illegal. Many people do have illegal motives for jailbreaking, but others have valid reasons such as video recording/copy and paste (on jailbreak long before the 3.0 firmware release) and themes (still not officially available). The modern jailbreak process works by patching, so doesn't contain any copyrighted code. –  Macha Sep 2 '09 at 16:43

I would say that they are not. They are proprietary external devices. If you are speaking of programming something that could interface with an iPod, that's Stack Overflow related, and if you are speaking of your computer applications relating to iPods, that's Super User related. But hardware or embedded software issues are not.


I am really baffled by this distinction.

I clicked "about:" and it said:

Each website is focused on a specific topic :

Stack Overflow (software development)

Server Fault (system administration and IT professionals)

Super User (computer enthusiasts)

iPods have a lot of functionality beyond music. They have USB-drive mode, support for Syncing contacts, etc. They interact with most of the Apple technology pyramid, and area lso highly compatible with the installed Windows-base.

There are a lot of actual models, with a large variety in the continuum of functionality. I'm not really sure how you can simply razor out some models, based on complexity. If we applied that to computers, shouldn't we also start (arbitrarily) deciding that certain parts of PC's are "proprietary", or "external", or "mp3" players. Should we close posts about USB drives (external), MP3 software (mp3)?

In my opinion, iPod posts should be allowed, and we should make sure they are tagged correctly. (Joel has mentioned something like this in the podcast...).

Lastly, I don't understand the how-to-geek tie in. I see them in the footer, but there is no description in about, and from looking at the site, it isn't obvious to me why some content would be in SU and some would be in HTG. The site is completely different, and I don't see how they work together in this sense.

The key here is computer. The distinction was actually made early during the beta's of the site. As long as the question is related to connectivity with your computer it will be supported, however if it is about the iPod itself, or software on the iPod itself, it will not be allowed. –  Diago Aug 31 '09 at 11:43
That does not follow at all what TheTXI said earlier in response to this question. Which policy will be followed? –  tnorthcutt Aug 31 '09 at 14:24
Diago: isn't that what BETA is for? So you can do things and then say: "wow, I'm glad we didn't do that in production." An iPod is a computer. It supports USB, it supports many file formats. I searched on Atari, and I saw lots of questions about Atari, and I'm pretty sure that an iPod is a more powerful computer than that. This distinction is completely arbitrary. You can't gerrymander the discussion of iPods like this. What if someone writes a question about an iPod that is making the "click-of-death sound"? Is it a hard drive that isn't a computer because it is an iPod? –  benc Sep 2 '09 at 8:31
@benc. If you search you will see we actually did answer a question which was a hardware fault, because of the way the question was phrased. Overall this topic is no longer open for debate, and the decision was made during the Beta. –  Diago Sep 3 '09 at 2:31
Well, hell, then why are we even having the discussion? –  Robert Harvey Dec 3 '09 at 5:35

IMHO, the distinction is clear.

"If the question involves a general-purpose computer (e.g. iPhone), it should be permissible, but if it's about a locked-down consumer device, it is not. "

Without this distinction, we will eventually start drifting into the "how to use my smart dishwasher" zone. Strictly speaking, your dishwasher has a CPU of some sort, and is probably a Turing-complete computer...

Except that you can't connect your dishwasher to your computer (at least not yet). –  Robert Harvey Dec 3 '09 at 5:38

I think it's clear that the "consumer gadget" category and "video game" category warrant sites of their own. I understand Jeff/Joel have concerns with a proliferation of sites ("Knitting Overflow") - but it's not hard to imagine the business model for SO/SF/SU scaling nicely to other sites and completely different audiences. Each with their own eyeballs and ad opportunities.

The video game site seems like a no-brainer... with games, platforms, and hardware devices as tags (not to mention things like "cheat", "walkthrough", "easteregg"), lots of opportunity for badge challenges, etc... with fall/winter being the time that a lot of new games arrive (particularly for consoles), the timing seems good as well.

The gadget site may not be as clear because the category is so broad. Digital cameras. PDA/phone devices. Entertainment/media devices... even "smart dishwasher".... so it's possible that a gadget site gets unwieldy and you end up with people asking for a "photography" site, a "mobile device" site, etc.

But even with the possibility for gadgets getting very broad very quickly, I think both sites are worth doing.


Realistically, I doubt your dishwasher is comparable to even an iPod (original). Then again, an iPhone (original) probably has more RAM, storage, and processing power than any NeXT computer, much less most systems that run Windows 95. We'd allow someone ask about Windows 95, right?

I still think the distinction has no underlying technical clarity, unless you think that you can cleanly classify an iPod as not a computer and an iPhone as a computer, when they have so much common technology.

The reason I came back to this meta thread was because someone had an iPhone (the computer to some people), but they could not get it to charge in some docks. The answer is related to the history of iPod hardware (which the Firewire vs. USB power charger transition). This question was closed, but shouldn't be open, because this is a technical problem with making a "real" computer work? And then if you did open it, then the same question, about an iPod nano 4G, would be closed, even though it is exactly the same problem, with the same answer...


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