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I've been a little disturbed at the amount of questions being asked that fall into this format. The one that really "pushed me over the edge" (the edge of making a comment about it; I'm not raging :) was the ban alcohol one.

Some background, I come to this SE through StackOverflow (SO). I wasn't involved in the initial SO beta, nor have I been much involved in the meta discussions there. I'm going to draw several parallels between the two sites, as it's the most relevant source I have as far as structure/intent if not subject matter. I apologize if some of it may be hard to understand for non-programmers.

SO addresses "programming" questions. Food and Cooking exchange addresses "food and cooking" questions. These are both ridiculously broad topics. SO intentionally doesn't have a list of "acceptable" programming questions. As far as I've seen there aren't debates as to whether assembly programming questions should be allowed. How are alcohol related questions any different? I've seen other comments that indicate that even "drinks" related questions should not be allowed. What? Should we have a non-alcoholic drinks exchange and and a separate alcoholic drinks exchange? Some have said "well pairing is borderline, but since it's so close they should not be allowed" as well. What? Is FoodPairing exchange the solution to that?

This site is not even a week old. We shouldn't be putting effort and time into drawing giant X's through broad subcategories with a Sharpie. We don't even know that this exchange will have enough sustained traffic to even live past public beta.

In the 5 days since Food and Cooking launched, the community has generated 245 questions (242 answered!), 721 answers, 229 users, and 1,270 views per day.

This is great! Yet, in the grand scheme of things it's not that much. Should we be alienating potential newcomers who will inevitably ask questions that you may think should not be allowed? Personally, if I came to a site and asked a reasonable concrete question, and it was summarily closed I'd simply think 'screw that' and not come back.

No, I'm not suggesting we pander to every newbie who comes along asking what I arbitrarily consider universally stupid questions. Examples: "What is the best salt?", "What is your favorite soup?". Those questions are clearly in the subjective or not-a-real-question categories, and should be closed as such. Yet even still someone should comment on why it's being closed, specifically. Reasonable people, people whom we would want to have be a part of this community, would understand that and rephrase their question appropriately or learn not to ask such a thing. What reason can we give to someone for closing their question as off-topic because they asked how to make a mojito?

It's alcohol related. Alcohol isn't a "food", nor is it "cooking". Plus 3 or 4 people in the early beta decided they should summarily ban it. Maybe one day there will be a MojitoExchange, if so, then you should ask there. Until then, Google.

No, that's clearly absurd.

In closing, I think the de facto regulators need to ease up. It's way too early to start slapping all this "xxx is not allowed" crap all over the place. Let it evolve. Use the objective reasons to close a topic such as "not-a-real" or "subjective-and-argumentative". The "off-topic" reason is itself subjective, and should be used with restraint and consideration. It should preferably only be used if a problem exists that needs to be addressed, or if the question is objectively off-topic.


TL;DR - RELAX

  • so that's a meta-meta topic? – Stephane Jul 18 '10 at 8:33
4

Notice the highlighted link at the top of your browser window, just above the question title and below the temporary logo. It says Take ownership of your community — Read The 7 Essential Meta Questions of Every Beta. Click on it. Now read #1.

For those too busy to click, here's what it says:

1. Are questions about [subject] on or off topic?

The single most important design element of a new Q&A site is the questions on the front page. They become the de facto definition of the site, trumping anything defined in Area 51 or the FAQ.

You should actively watch the earliest questions with an eye for quality and purpose. Ask yourself: “Is this the type of question we want on this site? Is it pushing the boundaries of on- and off-topic questions? Are we opening a can of worms?” Talk about these issues in meta, early and often. They are the key to establishing the boundaries around your site.

In other words, the team considers these questions to be the single most important questions to ask right now.

No, I don't think we should ease up. There aren't really even that many; I think I count 3 or 4.

  • So, where do we draw the line here. do we consign every post related to beverages to the digital dustbin, unless the post is related to using said beverage as an ingredient? – Pulse Jul 15 '10 at 2:19
  • @Pulse: Shouldn't we talking about that in the [alcoholic] beverages discussion? – Aaronut Jul 15 '10 at 2:49
  • @Aaronaught Fair enough, that is the most appropriate thread. – Pulse Jul 15 '10 at 3:14
  • @Aaronaught: Hmm, yea I saw that immediately after I posted this question. I'm debating removing this question, or significantly modifying it. I think my issue is more with the approach we've been taking. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 13:54
  • @hobodave: What is it about the current approach that you take issue with? – Aaronut Jul 15 '10 at 14:20
  • @Aaronaught: The approach taken by the alcohol topic was just meh. Not many had read the topic. The leading answer, yours I believe, was well put and had 7 up votes. The counter argument at the time, which was rather weak, had 2. This doesn't indicate to me that the community found it to be off-topic. Plus, when questions were closed, no reason or commentary referencing the meta were given. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 14:54
  • Also, several of the reasons given to consider it as off topic were weak or invalid. "Easy to google", "Few questions asked so far", "No. Explain why it should not be off topic." (paraphrased) – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 14:56
  • @hobodave: Then again, you didn't exactly provide clear rationale for why it should be on topic. It's no more valid to claim that "None of the reasons for this subject being off-topic make sense; therefore it should be on-topic." That's not exactly how it's supposed to work; if you look to the Area 51 definition phase as an example, it's not enough for a question to simply not be voted off-topic - there should be a sufficient number of people who specifically want it to be on-topic. – Aaronut Jul 15 '10 at 15:19
  • @Aaronaught: I did provide clear rationale in the only answer that I gave on the topic. One of the comments was "well put". It's received several up votes, and additional commenters have indicated agreement with my reasoning. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 15:22
  • Additionally, I never stated anything that was intended to be interpreted as your paraphrasing "None of the reasons for this subject being off-topic make sense; therefore it should be on-topic.". I gave specific examples of what were invalid reasons. I also gave specific examples of valid reasons, and indicated my disagreement with such. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 15:24
  • @hobodave: You received "well put" comments because people agreed with you. However, your entire post was addressing your grievances with the people wanting to exclude the topic and their reasons; you didn't include any reasons for inclusion. I'm detecting a double-standard here. – Aaronut Jul 15 '10 at 15:38
  • No double standard. "I've grabbed 5 dead-tree cookbooks off my bookshelf and flipped through. Four of those five include either a section, or at least a few scattered cocktail recipes." and "Food & Drink in most cultures throughout the ages are strongly coupled." were the reasons given in my answer. I also didn't parrot other reasons that users left as answers or comments, but used the voting and comment mechanisms to indicate my agreement. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 15:43
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The issue of "alcohol discussions" aside...

It should preferably only be used ... if the question is objectively off-topic.

That's what the “Should xxx be allowed?” -questions are about: objective clarification about the scope of the site.

In a meta forum set up specifically for asking about the community, suggesting that we not even have the discussion, seems a bit bizarre to me.

If you don't agree with the answers in the discussion, argue with the answers. But why suggest that we not even have the discussion?

  • +1: Yea, I think my question should be deleted or revised, I just haven't had time today between work and brief comments. The problem I wanted to convey was the subjective determinations of off-topic being acted upon without a clear consensus. I don't mean to say that we shouldn't discuss it at all, but that we should broach the topic of banning things that are subjectively off-topic carefully, and even more carefully act upon them. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 17:29
  • I just read your answer here: meta.cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/49/… and I think the point you make in your Caveat of a Moratorium is well made. I think my question would be better stated as a caution against having a knee-jerk reaction to questions of a topic that is subjectively off-topic. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 19:24
  • @hobodave: I do understand the "cautionary" aspect of your question. It is a bit bizarre that users are asked to enforce rules while they are being defined, but that is EXACTLY why this is called beta. We're in a bit of a wild west territory where once-valid questions will be closed in the future and visa-versa. It's the nature of being a "founding father:" blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/07/… – Robert Cartaino Jul 16 '10 at 4:36
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We're encouraged to spend time thinking about the boundaries. Yes, this is a broad topic, but the original thesis of the founding fathers of SO was that, without boundaries, the site will degrade into mush. This thinking is intended to feed the faq.

Personally, I have no problem with drawing a line here. I agree with you that Alcohol is a Food and gets used in Cooking (just talk to all those ancient Egyptians who got much of their caloric input from beer), but I also see no reason to include cocktail questions.

Sometime pretty soon, FAQ questions will emerge. They will use the results of these questions to draw some lines. Some hard and bright lines, and some mushy ones.

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