21

I am a moderator on Web Applications, and I would like to address the points of this Web Apps Meta question to a wider audience, because we get more than a handful of questions on these topics that have been originally posted on SU and which are either migrated or re-asked on our site.

I'd like to open a discussion as to how EC2 and AWS questions should be treated in the future.

From the tag wiki for (On SU)

Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) is a web service that allows users to rent virtual computing capacity on which they can run their applications. Because EC2 is a web service, questions should be asked at https://webapps.stackexchange.com/ as they are off-topic here.

From the tag wiki for (On SU)

off topic. Questions regarding this should be asked at [webapps.se].

Around probably four years ago, our focus began to shift away from any software that was hosted "in the cloud" to those that specifically behaved like applications. From our help center:

Using Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Google, or any other website which behaves like an application

While I am not an expert in EC2/AWS, it seems to me that these questions fall under the hosting umbrella rather than something that pertains to (as I tend to emphasize when interpreting our close reasons) end-users of applications such as Facebook and Gmail. We certainly would welcome questions about the UI of any front end that Amazon would provide, but I think that it's time to decide where the vast majority of the hosting-related questions belong.

These questions are certainly IT related, but they don't always have a ready home, and I think we should definitely determine how to divvy them up or distribute them in the first place.

At a bare minimum, I think this slightly misleading information should probably be removed from the Tag Wikis for the time being.

  • 2
    I agree the pointer to webapps should be removed from the tag wikis. As someone who uses EC2 quite a bit, I agree that there's no way I'd (as an experienced SE user) ever ask my EC2 question on webapps. I'd either ask it on unix.SE, Super User or Server Fault depending on the exact nature of the question. For instance, "How do I install Apache on Ubuntu on EC2?" is a unix.SE, Ask Ubuntu, or Server Fault question (or even SU). "How do I use ffmpeg to convert an AVI on Amazon Linux on EC2?" boils down to an ffmpeg question that'd be well on-topic for SU or unix.SE. It really depends. – allquixotic Dec 23 '16 at 8:46
  • 3
    I think the problem (which isn't going to go away, ever, unfortunately) is that people who don't know the IT technology sites' topic domains very well are going to just ask their question on the first site they land on, which, let's be honest, will probably be Stack Overflow. But if their question is specific to EC2 (managing instances, using EC2 APIs, setting up SSH keys, etc.) then it probably belongs either on Server Fault, or, in the case of using AWS APIs, on Stack Overflow. Try explaining these two comments to a new EC2 user to show them which site they should ask on! Sheesh! – allquixotic Dec 23 '16 at 8:48
  • 2
    Another problem is that many questions don't boil down to the actual topic that's relevant to the question until you actually know what you're doing. For instance, "How do I install Apache on Ubuntu on EC2?" is almost guaranteed to be completely orthogonal to the fact that you're using EC2; it's like saying "How do I open the gas tank on my Ford Taurus in Canada?" -- well, the same way you'd do it anywhere else, dummy. :-) But people often don't know which parts of their environment are relevant vs. irrelevant, so they direct their question to the wrong place. – allquixotic Dec 23 '16 at 8:50
  • 1
    These were my feelings as well, but I couldn't really pin down where the questions would belong. All of this info is super helpful and should probably go in the Tag Wikis both here and on WA. – jonsca Dec 23 '16 at 8:52
  • 1
    The "boiling down" issue is true about a lot of topics on SE in general, for sure. – jonsca Dec 23 '16 at 8:54
22

Converting/distilling some of my comments into an answer...

Yes, we should update our tag wikis to not unconditionally point people at webapps.SE when they have an AWS or EC2 related question.

But where do we send them instead? Actually, the answer to that question becomes more like a long switch statement (in a language such as C or Java), where the condition for each case is quite complex (and, indeed, overlapping; have fun with that!)

At the risk of oversimplifying, we have the following technology sites that are potentially relevant to users of EC2 / AWS in general:

  • Super User: A fairly decent "catch-all" for help using applications (they don't necessarily have to be GUI applications; we cover all sorts of console apps, bootloaders, etc.), as well as the de facto "Windows.SE" (for lack of an actual windows.stackexchange.com). So, if you run Windows in the cloud (on EC2, Azure or anywhere else), and you have a problem with, say, Windows Update, a registry setting, or your Active Directory domain, you can of course ask those questions on Super User.
  • Server Fault: A lot of questions specifically pertaining to sysadmin tasks that are completely outside the domain of "regular users" are certainly on-topic on Server Fault, and in many cases the fact that your system is an EC2 instance on Amazon doesn't matter. Whether you're trying to add high availability to a Jenkins cluster or expose a block device over the network using iSCSI, many tasks that EC2 users might need to perform (or AWS users in general) could be covered by Server Fault. This is also the site where you'd probably want to ask most questions pertaining to the AWS services themselves, like Elastic Beanstalk, RDS, S3, Glacier, etc. although a fair number of questions along those lines would get answered on Super User as well.
  • Ask Ubuntu: Obviously, if you run Ubuntu on an EC2 instance, any questions pertaining to software on Ubuntu (especially the main packages, but also any peculiarities about how Ubuntu works vs. other distros when trying to run third-party software) would be on-topic.
  • Unix.SE: If you're using some flavor of Linux or another UNIX like SmartOS, Solaris or a BSD, and you just happen to be hosted on EC2, and run into some question about an application or configuration setting, it's perfectly fine to ask it on Unix.SE (even if it's about Ubuntu!)
  • Stack Overflow: If you're writing code to interface with Amazon's APIs to automate tasks involving AWS (for example, code to send email with the Simple Email Service (SES)), you'd want to get programming help from Stack Overflow, and this would be on-topic there significantly more than the other sites listed thus far. Super User might tolerate it too.
  • Web Apps.SE: Really the only scenario where you might pose a topical question about AWS on Web Apps.SE would be if you have a question about using the (admittedly somewhat complicated) AWS Management Console. This is very much an "end-user" application, in that, the workflow involves putting in your login/password, then clicking through a bunch of links and buttons, entering data, etc. The format of these questions would be no different than a question about gmail's interface.

The problem is that users are generally not clueful enough to really understand where their question belongs. The user is working on a problem that is related to something they're trying to do with a complicated stack of software, usually something crazy like Hazelcast with jHipster on Tomcat on Ubuntu on EC2.

When they think about all the technologies involved, it's fairly likely that they will randomly pick one of the technologies in the stack and try to "blame" that, or just blame the thing they're most unfamiliar with (the "gut feeling" approach). From there, they'll attempt to discern which site on SE is topical for that "thing". If they then decide to blame EC2 for their Hazelcast configuration problem, they'll try and ask it on a site that seems like it might accept EC2 questions.

We can certainly update the tag wiki, but our tag wikis get so few views to begin with that I doubt very many people will benefit from it. The underlying problem is going to remain for a long time.

Sadly, I don't think you'll stop getting off-topic EC2/AWS questions on Web Apps (yes, even ones migrated there from Super User by 10k users who don't understand the question) any time soon, even with a comprehensive tag wiki update.

The problem of knowing what information is relevant to the question and what information is orthogonal is extremely hard, and only a small subset of users are good at slicing and dicing things that way. (Problems that cross-cut the entire stack are relatively rare, in my experience, but they do occasionally happen.) Unfortunately, AWS adds another technological layer of complexity to an already complicated field of software dependencies used by many applications, so this problem is only going to get worse over time as other services start to layer themselves on top of existing AWS services.

It's not going to get any easier to classify these things.

  • It's great to have all of the "rules-of-thumb" in one spot that we can link to, at least. – jonsca Dec 23 '16 at 9:22
  • 2
    I was going to write an answer but I think its redundant. So.. what he says. – Journeyman Geek Dec 23 '16 at 9:42
  • @JourneymanGeek Thanks! I have proposed an edit to remove the referral advice from the Tag Wiki Excerpt(s). Since this is not really my "home site," I don't know whether having the above info from this answer in the body of the wiki would be appropriate. – jonsca Dec 23 '16 at 10:06
  • Feels like it to me. – Journeyman Geek Dec 23 '16 at 11:39
  • 3
    Webmasters is another good target. (Better than web apps, anyway.) Note the number of questions under the tags: amazon-aws, amazon-ec2, amazon-s3, amazon-cloudfront. – ale Dec 23 '16 at 14:52
  • And, not to pick on the good users of SU, but it seems that some people stop paying attention as soon as they see the word "web" and automatically try to send it to Web Apps. – ale Dec 23 '16 at 14:54
  • It sounds like maybe a majority of these questions don't have a clear and obvious home and may be at least marginally on-topic at a number of sites. If we feel that these questions should be provided an answer somewhere (i.e., the subject is not taboo on the SE network), there may not be a practical way to shoehorn them to sites. This is a little like the refugee situation in the Middle East. Maybe the solution is to not worry about what might be the best site for them, and open our borders. Just handle these on the site on which they're asked if they're at least marginally related. – fixer1234 Dec 23 '16 at 17:29
  • 1
    @ale I think we should add some of the above issue to our Tag Wiki and/or your answer on our Meta. Let me know if I can help. – jonsca Dec 23 '16 at 20:24
10

In addition to the excellent answer by allquixotic, I'd recommend everyone considering cloud questions to vote on the Practical Cloud Computing proposal at Area51. I'm not behind it, but I'd very much like to see it succeed - we get a lot of those questions on ServerFault too, and most of them don't really fit there. I'd like to see them go to a good home.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .