# Are “explain the technology to me” questions on-topic?

The FAQ says (bold is mine):

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

However, there are many questions where the user basically asks us to explain some technology aspect; be it just out of curiosity, or for other reason, but definitely not because there is an actual problem that the person faces.

For example:

These questions often draw lots of votes, both for the question itself and for the answers, and are rarely closed. However I think that most questions like these, where an answer is a wikipedia quote, are off-topic, according to the FAQ.

I think we should either:

A. Amend the faq to allow these questions.
B. Close them as off-topic as they appear.

What is your opinion?

• – Daniel Beck Jan 12 '12 at 16:43
• – Daniel Beck Jan 12 '12 at 16:46
• – Daniel Beck Jan 12 '12 at 16:50
• Could you provide a few more examples? The dial-up question arguably can be about a problem the user faces, which is dial-up being slow ;) – Daniel Beck Jan 12 '12 at 16:54
• @DanielBeck: I provided two more examples from the last week... BTW I didn't suggest dropping the 'actual problems' clause altogether, obviously dropping it will allow for more really off-topic questions. – haimg Jan 12 '12 at 17:11
• If you have a concrete suggestion on how that amended FAQ should be phrased, please post it in an answer. – Daniel Beck Jan 12 '12 at 17:16
• If this superuser.com/questions/52671/… Was On-Topic :-) and learning "How Computers Work" is off-topic. Then I would still be for a SuperUser "over the line" seperation of questions. Everything that doesnt meet the sites definition this week, stays on superuser, but is tossed into a bucket of junk. – Psycogeek Jan 13 '12 at 14:35

First of all, as @soandos mentions, there's this from the FAQ to consider:

However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain __ to me”, then you are probably OK.

I think this is only part of the problem. The reason why questions not based on actual problems are considered off-topic is to get rid of hypothetical questions, or speculative ones. For these, we already have not constructive as a reason for closing.

There's a small border between those questions you linked to being off-topic or not. Asking "Why is dial up so slow?" is probably based on an actual problem (having slow internet connection).

I think the way to go about these is to have the community decide. Questions that could be asked:

• Is the question even relevant for Super User?
For example, do we care about how data travels through the telephone line? Most certainly not. We deal with average and not-so-average computer hardware and software issues. Not more. First, determine whether the question is on topic (users tend to forget this, including me).

• Can the question be reasonably answered?
If the user OP a question that requires a deep understanding of, for example, the ISO/OSI stack, electromechanics, or theoretic computer science, then this is probably out of scope anyway. It'd just provoke extended discussion or inaccurate answers.

• Are possible answers useful for others?
Are they just there for entertainment or are they useful? Do they help to solve anyone's problem? Do they draw traffic to our site for the wrong reasons? Are they going to end up needing to be protected or locked?

At least, that's what I'm thinking about when I see these kinds of questions.

Perhaps a more relevant section of the FAQ is

However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK.

As such, I think these questions are on topic (and always have been).

I think that this ... based on actual problems clause in the FAQ robs us of the real, interesting and answerable questions from the users who actually bothered to read the FAQ.

Since it is clear from the other answers that these questions are on-topic, I think the nice criteria that slhck outlined in his answer should be in the FAQ (in a concise form), instead of the current ... based on actual problems. English is not my strong point (it's not even my second language), but here is my attempt at it anyway:

You should only ask practical, answerable and actionable questions. Chatty, open-ended questions or questions asked just for entertainment diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Original version for comparison:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

• Actionable as in answers allow the user to do something he couldn't or wasn't sure was a good idea? – Daniel Beck Jan 12 '12 at 23:00
• @DanielBeck: Yes. As opposed to the idle questions "I was wondering why xxx" that some people ask when simply bored. Please edit if you know a better word than "actionable" for that. – haimg Jan 12 '12 at 23:05
• Makes sense. I was just looking for topics that might not fit well with that criterion. If you have the time, it'd be great if you could tell me which you consider not actionable and why. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. – Daniel Beck Jan 12 '12 at 23:16
• @DanielBeck: "Actionable" deals with reasons. We don't know WHY the user asked a question (unless he explains, e.g. I was picking my nose and decided to ask...), thus I consider all these questions "actionable", e.g. you cannot close a question as non-actionable. "Actionable" is only good for self-moderation it seems. – haimg Jan 13 '12 at 0:01
• So by doing this change, we'd expand the range of acceptable questions? While currently there are probably some questions that aren't on topic according to the letter of the FAQ, it makes it easier to close bad, really off topic questions because they aren't even in the grey area anymore where it's a judgment call. The FAQ is broken anyway (software-rec comes to mind)... What positive effects do you think this change would have? – Daniel Beck Jan 13 '12 at 0:05
• @DanielBeck: No, we are not expanding the range de-facto, we may be expanding the range de-jure. The "non-actual-problem-related" questions are seemingly allowed, but the highlighted part of the FAQ lists them as disallowed. I want to encourage good on-topic answerable relevant questions, even if they are not about an actual problem, by changing that sentence, and bad questions can still be closed as they are either not "practical" or not "answerable" or "off-topic". – haimg Jan 13 '12 at 0:14