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

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.

The Super User FAQ

Just how strictly is that enforced? Does that exclude questions asked due to curiosity, for example where the asker wishes to know how or why something works? Do we want those types of questions? If yes, should we amend the FAQ?

At the moment, there's quite a few questions asked due to curiosity. One way to put it:

the 'problem' the original poster faced was a 'lack of understanding'

Some of our highest voted questions were born of curiosity:

I personally think that discriminating by actual problems that you face is rather broad and could exclude a sizable chunk of our questions.

And our users have conflicting opinions too, as evidenced by the answers to this question.

So, how should we deal with these?

  • How do you propose we deal with these? – Ivo Flipse Jul 25 '12 at 11:14
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    @IvoFlipse At the moment, I'm more wondering on the community's opinion of those questions. Are they valid questions? They won't need to be dealt with if it's decided to change the policy towards them (and the FAQ). I'll add an answer with my own opinion tomorrow if no one else has done so (with the same opinion). I'd like to keep the question neutral (feel free to fix!). – Bob Jul 25 '12 at 11:17
  • My biggest issue with these questions is that they invite everyone to share their 2 cents and we end up with a long list of possible explanations, anecdotes or whatnot. Even though some of these questions have a clear, technical answer, which perhaps wouldn't help anyone solve direct problems, but at least teach you something about computers. I'd be very much in favor of a solution that keeps the question, but makes it so it doesn't invite to an endless stream of answers. – Ivo Flipse Jul 25 '12 at 11:19
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    However, I don't think we need new rules, we just need to decide how we, as a community, want to enforce our existing ones. – Ivo Flipse Jul 25 '12 at 11:21
  • @IvoFlipse Whichever way this ends up going, it needs to be spelt out. The current policy towards these questions is not clear. They appear to be disallowed by the FAQ; they are sometimes implicitly accepted, especially when popular ("depends on the mood of the crowd"); they are sometimes closed/deleted. Depending on the interpretation, there are also a whole lot of these types of questions popping up everywhere. I would say that the only other major type of questions are the 'help' ones, which are often very localised! – Bob Jul 25 '12 at 11:28
  • I think a question I asked a while ago is quite related, and there are several older similar linked questions linked there: meta.superuser.com/questions/4046/… – haimg Jul 25 '12 at 13:47
  • @IvoFlipse Don't we have this boilerplate text that encourages answers to have factual references, etc. like they use on Skeptics? Can't we use something like this and be a little more strict when deleting answers for these kinds of questions? – slhck Jul 25 '12 at 17:15
  • @haimg This is pretty much a duplicate then! Your question didn't come up in searches for whatever reason :/ – Bob Jul 25 '12 at 21:45

I strongly agree that we need to fix the FAQ to clearly indicate if we allow curiosity-based question or not.

My opinion is that we should focus on question based on actual problems that you face.

Questions that don't follow this rule are often rather bad (I'll try to find some examples later), but even the good questions get answers that are more suited to be wikipedia-articles or essays/blogposts 1 than answers.

1(Perhaps rework some of the more popular ones and post them on our blog?)

  • Do you suggest that the above questions are then off-topic? – James Mertz Jul 25 '12 at 14:45
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    @KronoS - Yes I do – Nifle Jul 25 '12 at 16:47
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    I disagree with that... I feel that some question should be allowed as they're informative, and useful to know in some cases. Of course it could be that I feel this way because one of those epic questions is mine :P – James Mertz Jul 25 '12 at 16:54
  • @KronoS - I wouldn't be upset if they where to stay. But I DO think we have to make it clear one way or the other. – Nifle Jul 25 '12 at 17:13
  • @Sancho Hence another part of the question: Do these questions have value? Do we want these questions? And if yes, should we amend the FAQ to make that clear? The FAQ is not set in stone, it's just not easy to change. – Bob Jul 26 '12 at 0:01

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