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I'm asking in general terms, I've ventured out into SE and quickly come scurrying back to SA so I'm not likely to achieve a greater understanding "out there" anytime soon. Is there a "47 Commandments of SE" that SA has to abide by? If rules like that exist, where do I find them? Please excuse the language barrier, I'm as tongue-tied trying to ask this question as a Mongol might be asking about cooking fried chicken in cast iron.

I obviously must get some enjoyment from the time I spend here (see my profile if you don't know of me) but I am still trying to understand what the hell I am doing here and what is this place?

I know this question is ridiculously vague, I don't mean for it to be. Perhaps people who have been here longer than me can help me find the words to narrow the question?

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Have you had a glance at our help page yet?

90% of what's in there is common to every Stack Exchange site. The only part unique to Seasoned Advice is the very first link, What topics can I ask about here? Even the second link, What types of questions should I avoid asking?, is common to all sites.

Of course, different sites may have different interpretations of the rules and guidelines, and that's all up to the community and its moderation. For example, Stack Overflow tends toward not allowing any subjectivity in their questions, whereas other sites, like Sci-Fi, are almost by definition going to tend toward heavy speculation.

We're generally somewhere between the extreme anal-retentive end of the spectrum (called "deletionists") and the anything-goes end (called "inclusionists"). Cooking involves a lot of subjectivity, to the point where some people questioned if a Q&A site on it could work at all (with activity as a metric, it certainly has), but on the other hand we don't want the site to turn into a discussion forum, because there are already plenty of good ones (eGullet and Chowhound, to name the two most obvious).

We were also one of the first Stack Exchange sites, which is one of the reasons we have a "brand name" while most sites don't. So our culture formed around an initial intent to attract the same level of expertise and objectivity as Stack Overflow. Other, later sites have lowered the bar, sometimes to no ill effect (Apple/Ask Different) and sometimes with serious problems (like the Atheism site that was shut down after a few weeks).

I don't know how much any of that helps you; I think if you spend much time on other sites, you'll get an intuitive feel for what's universal and what's site-specific. I am or was once active on 4 different sites and yes, there are major differences in culture, but at the end of the day they all basically work the same way.

You might also want to look at Meta Stack Overflow's [FAQ] tag if you want to see some background information dating back even further than the birth of this site. It's the unofficial meta site for the entire SE network.

As for what keeps you coming, well, that's been answered too!

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In addition to Aaronut's answer which is all great stuff because you mentioned "scurrying back" I assume you have a fear of your question(s) not being received well on another site you're not familiar with? All sites also have a chat room and that's normally a good place to ask when new if a particular question is likely to be well received / on-topic etc if you're not clear after reading the help page for that site.

But otherwise I think the best thing to do is to lurk a bit on any sites for topics you might be interested in. You'll always get a good feel for the culture of the site by looking at the questions closed / downvoted versus those with a lot of upvotes / good answers. But make sure when doing that to stick with new / active questions, some of the older questions when a site was new may no longer be considered good / appropriate.

  • Of course, beware of the massively upvoted questions at the very top of the list, as they are often from people who were "playing the lottery" and/or from a period before the site's scope was really clear. IMO it's best to ignore the top 25 questions or so when trying to understand what a site is really supposed to be about. For us it's sort of 50/50 - for example, the question about milk in scrambled eggs is a normal question, the one about cooking a fish in a dishwasher would have a good chance of being closed. – Aaronut Oct 20 '13 at 14:05
  • @Aaronut, ahh yes very good point. I've just edited to make it clearer it only applies to newer questions. – PeterJ Oct 20 '13 at 14:13
  • For something a little bit different than top-voted questions, there's a greatest hits list for every site (and user, if you modify the URL) that uses views and anonymous feedback as well. – Shog9 Oct 21 '13 at 3:03
  • Lurking before participating is a good idea in general - i.e. it's applicable to just about any Internet community. – Peter Taylor Oct 21 '13 at 11:54

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