We recently had a question, Why are the corks of some of my Muscat wines popping out?. And the first comment was,

This would do better on homebrewing.se

This is a pattern we see frequently - as soon as a question is posted that has some obvious overlap with the general topic of another Stackexchange site, a comment is left that mentions it.

I have long suspected that OPs are confused by it, and right now, this OP also expressed his confusion

Thank you , [commenter], I will check for that site. - just looked that up and it is in a language foreign to me - I only have English , French ,German a smidgen of Spanish ..

Note that I am not talking about questions which are off topic on Cooking and thus should be migrated. I am talking about questions which are on topic on both sites.

While comments are considered so transient that it is OK for moderators to delete them without any warning or reason, in practice we almost always leave comments stand. But in this case, I wonder, could it be that this kind of comment is doing more harm than good and should be placed on the list of unwanted comments?

  • This is a self-answered question because I already had an opinion when I asked it, but I would love to see somebody else argue for alternative viewpoints and the community voting on the one they prefer. I know that this can come across as a sermon from me, especially since I am a moderator, but it is not intended that way - please participate. When we moderate, we abide by the solution that has the most votes, not by the one we propose ourselves. – rumtscho Aug 29 '17 at 11:18

There is a further "new user" problem here.

Evidently a homebrewing.se (as in Sweden, which is where .se in an internet address leads you) exists, and they went there, and could not understand it. Using .se as sloppy shorthand for stackexchange.com created additional confusion here, and should be avoided, precisely because the people who might legitimately need to be redirected elsewhere have NO [expletive] Idea that you don't mean to send them off to Swedish websites. They are not steeped in StackExchange culture and figure that if you tell them to go to Sweden, that's where they will look, and come back confused as [expletive.]

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    ... Or you can use the magic links to actually link to the site... typing [homebrewing.se] will turn into Homebrewing... – Catija Aug 29 '17 at 15:54

I think that such comments, as well meant as they are, have unintended consequences which make their net utility negative. Let's go through their effect on different people.

Regular users of the site

There is no action that regular users can, or should, take when encountering a question with an overlapping topic. So the comment can be only informative. Now, what information is submitted? The most basic information is, "there is also a site for X on the network". There is nothing against that part, but it is probably redundant, since the regular users tend to know of the other sites. And if they don't, there are also other ways to learn about them.

A more problematic thing is if they read it as "this question fits on the other site". If it is correct, then it is good - but if it is incorrect, we have mislead people. And in my experience, this happens quite frequently. SE sites frequently have a quite strict scope. Just because a question has something to do with topic X, it doesn't follow that it is a good question for the site X.stackexchange.com. But many people who don't know the exact scope of the X site tend to leave this kind of comment, which spreads misinformation about the other sites. So the effect is frequently negative.

The third interpretation, "We should do something about getting the question on the other site" is irrelevant, since the regular users know (hopefully) that this interpretation is wrong.

The moderators

Unlike the regular users, the moderators can migrate the question. But a question migration is not allowed for overlapping topics. So they are usually in the same boat as regular users. The only difference is that they may have to run a thought process like "hey, is this meant as a request for migration? Should I migrate" which is a few wasted brain cycles.

The OP, if he is a regular user

A regular user typically knows of the other sites on the network and has made an informed choice to post on our site and not on the other overlapping one. So there is no new information to him in this comment, it is superfluous at best. In the worst case, it can make him think that the question is not really suited or wanted on our site.

The OP, if he is a new user

One of the largest problems of Stack Exchange is that its complexity is overwhelming for new users, and many of them have difficulty grasping the system. Most of them don't realize that this is a network of many related sites. Even if they know it, the policies on overlapping topics are vast and not intuitive. Now they come and ask a question, and are suddenly faced with a cryptic comment.

The first thing they have to do is to realize what the comment means. As shown in the question, this is already difficult. "This is better suited for X.se" means inferring that X.se exists, that it is related to Cooking.se, etc.

The second thing that happens is that the OP feels like he made a mistake. "Oh, somebody tells me I posted in the wrong place". This is something we want to avoid! First, because we don't want to welcome our new users with relentless criticizing, and second, because he didn't actually do anything wrong.

The third thing is that he feels like he should do something to correct his mistake. And here he usually makes a real mistake! Because the obvious thing to do is to also post on the other site. Which is against the rules. So we come and close one of the questions. And now the poor guy is utterly confused. From his point of view, he was told he made a mistake, he followed the instructions to correct it, and is now being punished for doing so.

The best possible effect

There is indeed a potential improvement here. The OP could realize that there is another place to post this (which he didn't knew about), find out about our scope and the scope of the overlapping site, conclude that he prefers answers for the other site, delete on our site and post there.

In all my years on the network, I have never seen that happen. The idea is very unintuitive and no new user comes up with it on his own. The ones who know the network and its rules enough to know that this is a road they can take also know about the overlapping site and make such a decision in the beginning. And in the end, it is rarely worth it - when the question is on topic on both sites, this means that it usually gets answers on the original site too.


On the bottom line, I believe that this kind of comment is damaging, and I would suggest that we start deleting it when we see it. That is, moderators should delete if they notice it, and other users should flag if they see it. That would save a lot of confusion and unpleasant first encounters for new users.

  • I feel like you might be a little too eager to dismiss the possibly helpful cases, where users genuinely aren't always aware of other sites on the network (especially small, low-traffic ones), and some questions that are on-topic on both may actually perform better on one, and sometimes that one is not cooking. I'm pretty sure I've migrated a question for someone at some point after they realized, and I've definitely seen people appreciate the knowledge, meaning possible participation on the other site later. I do agree that being overeager about these comments is obnoxious, though. – Cascabel Aug 29 '17 at 15:42
  • When you say "the site" you mean Seasoned Advice? Or Stack Exchange broadly? There are also two types of new users... new to SE entirely and new to SA specifically but regular users of other SE sites. – Catija Aug 29 '17 at 16:01

I think these kinds of comments can be helpful, but are often posted without being helpful. So I do not favor blanket deletion, but I think that users should feel free to flag them if they think they're unhelpful, and we moderators should exercise our best judgment as usual and possibly delete.

There are two main things I'd consider:

  • Phrasing: "{link to other site} tends to provide very good answers on this topic; let us know if you want to ask there instead" is good, while "this should be on {other site}" is not. Linking is really important to make this helpful for newer users, and we also absolutely do not want to imply that someone did something wrong by posting on cooking.

  • Situation: suggesting another site on a question which we struggle with (uncommon topic, few experts, perhaps old and lingering without good answers) is good, while doing so on a question that will be perfectly fine here is not so much.

I'd also keep in mind that comments on questions are at their core about making sure that the question ends up with good answers. That's why we link to related questions, suggest improvements, ask for clarification, and so on. We should think of suggesting other sites in the same spirit: will it lead to better answers? In particular, comments are not meant for simply advertising other sites.

One final rule of thumb: don't post comments like this unless you're confident you know both sites well enough. If you're an infrequent user on cooking, you may not realize that the question is actually fine here. If you're not up to speed on the other site, you may not realize that the question is problematic there.


Note that the comment that prompted this question unfortunately doesn't look too good:

  • it didn't link, and used ".se" shorthand, so the OP was confused where to go
  • it didn't explain itself, just said the question would be better there (and thus is worse here)
  • the question itself does not seem to be about homebrewing, and it's not at all clear it'd get better answers there
  • Yes. I've had to deal with this on many of the sites I use... It's all about the phrasing of the comment, not about whether the comment exists or not. Three comments to convey one thing, all of them poorly done... Mine was more a comment to the other two comments rather than to the OP of the question but still should have been more complete. I say delete them all and write one, useful comment along the lines presented here. – Catija Aug 29 '17 at 16:07
  • @Catija Yeah, yours was fine. And your suggestion for this case is good, except I might just delete, not write that one comment - it's not at all clear homebrewing is a helpful suggestion in this situation. – Cascabel Aug 29 '17 at 16:10
  • "you could try asking this on {link to other site}; they tend to provide very good answers on this topic" sounds like a suggestion to cross-post. A better phrasing might be "{link to other site} is part of the same network as this site and they tend to provide very good answers on this topic. You could have a look there, and if you think they will give better answers than we will then you can flag this question and ask the moderators to migrate it". – Peter Taylor Sep 5 '17 at 22:26
  • @PeterTaylor I really want that point to focus on suggesting/informing vs dictating, not details of cross-posting/migration. I edited to somewhere between. – Cascabel Sep 5 '17 at 22:29

Are comments of this type helpful? Yes.

If done in the right way they can be helpful. Both new and veteran users can be helped by such comments. Their usefulness is linked, however, to both their presentation and their correctness. When such a comment is given in a way which is clearly a suggestion of an alternative, rather than as a correction for a wrong posting, they can help the OP.

These comments can be delivered in shades of meaning other than black & white.

  • This would fit well at ... as well
  • You could try asking this on ... instead
  • You might get better answers on ...
  • The ... site also deals with this topic
  • This would do better on ...
  • This should be asked on ...
  • Why didn't you ask this on ...?
  • Should be migrated to ...
  • This would be on topic at ...

Some variations are more helpful than others, and some are more accusatory than others. The new users will respond better to some of these, and even some veteran users might take umbrage at one or two of the above comments. Even among the nicer variations, some situations are better represented by one over another. Choosing how to make the suggestion depends on how well the question fits here, and how well it fits on the other site. Another factor to consider is which of the two sites, here or there, is likely to provide better answers, or answers that are more useful to the OP.

Even when the comment is nice to the OP, and is presented in a positive and constructive fashion, it is of no value if the other site is not a good fit. The cork question could have just as easily been directed to Beer, Wine & Spritis. That would be an inferior choice, however. No matter where the OP is directed, the comment is of very limited value if the question, as written, is not on-topic at the other site, or if the question, as written, is likely to be considered VLQ, or otherwise closed if posted there. It is also not helpful, even if correct, to tell the OP that a question would fit on another site if there are more "expert" users in this topic on this site than on the other site.

To make the comment a good suggestion, the comment should be made by someone who actually knows both sites, and who ought to know which of the two sites, here or there, actually is a better place to ask the question, and where the OP is likely to receive the most useful answers. The poster should also explain what changes, if any, would help that question on the other site. If the question is, or would be received as, VLQ, then such forwarding comments do a disservice to the OP, and to the other site. As demonstrated by the question about wine corks, the comment needs to include a link to that site, not just its name.

If the comment is made in a nice way, by someone in a position to know that the OP's question is acceptable to the other site, and that the odds for useful answers are greater there, then the OP is helped, and others with similar questions may be helped as well. The effect of a properly applied comment can be a net positive utility. Let's go through their effect on different people.

The OP, a regular user of this site

Regular user of this site often knows there are other sites on the network. They may not, however, have ever visited them, let alone used them. They may not have even used the Meta of this site. Of the regular users who are active on other sites, there still exists a large number who are unaware of the scope and potential of all 170 (at the moment) sites in the Stack Exchange Network, and are unlikely to know, or even guess, that a question might be acceptable on another site. If the OP happens to be in any of these groups the information, if correct, can be helpful to the OP.

It is, however, possible, that the OP is sufficiently aware of the other site with overlapping scope and has made an informed choice to post on our site and not on the other overlapping one. So there is no new information to him in this comment. It may, however, cause the OP to re-evaluate the choice, given the recommendation of another user. As a regular user of the site, having seen such comments before, it should not cause the OP to think that the question is not really suited or wanted on our site.

The OP, a new user of this site

A new user to this site may have been a regular user of one of the other sites in the Stack Exchange Network. Therefore, can be presumed to know about the size, at least in the concept that it is big and varied, but cannot be presumed to know about, or be a regular user of, all the sites. A new user to this site who is otherwise a veteran of some other SE site(s) obviously isn't a regular user of all sites, else wouldn't be new here. Except that the OP doesn't even know the scope and potential of this site, the rest of the effects for a regular user above apply to these users.

If the user is not only new to this site, but also new to the Stack Exchange Network as a whole, a whole new set of problems can be present. They probably have not read the Tour, Help pages, or very many of the questions on the site. They probably found some helpful answers in the past from a Google search, and choose to ask their own question here. They likely don't even know there are other sites, let alone that they are related. For these cases an actual link to the other site is vital. Faced with a very short comment about using another site can be quite intimidating, if not discouraging. This can partially be offset by posting a friendly welcome message when the question goes through the first post review queue. This case can also be easily spotted by the experienced users based on the OP's rep, and they can make the suggestion comment a bit clearer and friendlier.

Regular users of this site

Aside from not having to ask the question themselves on the other site, the effects on regular users, not the OP, are mostly the same as they are for the OP. They can still choose to answer the question, if they have the knowledge the OP is needing. If they are not aware of the other site given, they might be motivated to learn about that site, and how it might be useful to them as well as this site.

The moderators

Other than reading the comments, like any other regular user, these comments shouldn't cause any further burden on the moderators. A comment suggesting a different site to the OP is not a flag that a moderator needs to address. The moderators are able to vote on the question, write their own answers, suggest further improvements, or any other actions the rest of the users might do.

A real-life case (my own first post)

I had encountered a few of the sites in the Stack Exchange Network as the result of Google searches. I didn't vote, comment, or ask questions, and I didn't join any of them. I never even knew that the sites I had seen were related. Yes, the affiliation is visible and obvious, if someone is looking. I was not looking at the "noise" on the page. I read the questions, to see if they were a decent match to my problems. I the questions fit, I'd read the answers and comments on the answers, and maybe try to fix my problem. Finally, after reading two different answers on Unix & Linux that were parts of my answer, I realized that these were not off the top of my head answers, but something someone took time to think about and create something new. Just to help someone else they didn't know. That convinced me to "join" and contribute by sharing how I had combined their two clues into a third use case. At the same time, I thought there might be a way to improve what I had created. My first question was the use case for my script and a request for suggested improvements. The first comment I received was:

Would fit well at Code Review as well.

I spent a few days (ten actually) browsing the "new" site I'd been pointed to, learning that there was a whole network of sites out there. I read the rules, took the tours, browsed the help pages, and even joined a couple sites. Finding out that I couldn't "cross post" my question, I asked how to move it. Eventually I flagged the question for migration to Code Review, where it sits now.

Now I am active on several of the sites, more in the meta sites than the main sites, since I'm not the fastest gun in the west. I haven't collected much rep, and probably won't, but I have helped a few people along the way. All sparked by one, simple, eight-word comment suggesting I use a different site. In all I've only asked 10 questions network-wide, given a little over a hundred answers, and only have over 2K rep on a single site. No rising star, yet a decent community member over all.

I think that adds up to a net positive balance.

A question on coffee I posted "This might be a better fit on coffee.stackexchange.com." I was reprimanded and my comment was deleted.

I see no harm in letting people know related sites.

My message to mods is when in doubt leave it alone.

There is going to be overlap with beer.se, coffee.se, health.se, and homebrew.se.

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    Your comment wasn't deleted. The whole question was: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/75425/… I also did not reprimand you. I said: "While Coffee is certainly a good place to ask about coffee things that don't involve cooking, I'm not going to migrate this - as Catija said, it's really broad, and I don't want to just give them something that they'd close." -- that is, I would have possibly migrated it if were a solid question, but network-wide policy is not to migrate when it'll likely just get closed on the other site anyway. No need to give them work. – Cascabel Dec 14 '17 at 19:20
  • Then another post. I got a comment from a mod "Don't tell them the question is not good enough here" and my comment was deleted. – paparazzo Dec 30 '17 at 16:44
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    If there's a specific case you want us to look at, feel free to point us to it. From your description all I can really say is that yes, if a comment on a question is unconstructively critical, it tends to get flagged and deleted. – Cascabel Dec 30 '17 at 16:52
  • @Jefromi Then "This might be a better fit on coffee.stackexchange.com." was deleted as unconstructively critical. – paparazzo Dec 30 '17 at 17:05
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    I already explained about the comment mentioned in this answer. It wasn't even deleted, and you weren't reprimanded. I just explained that the question would likely be closed, so we wouldn't migrate it. The only other recent comment like that I can find was based on a misunderstanding: the OP used coffee as an example, but it wasn't their core question, and you suggested migrating. I did delete that comment and the OP's reply (no need to keep a misunderstanding around), and I did ping you - but it was because you'd been disrespectful in another comment. – Cascabel Dec 30 '17 at 17:10
  • @Jefromi My recollection is solid. Let it go. – paparazzo Dec 30 '17 at 17:17
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    I can see deleted comments, and my representation here is accurate. And I'm not the one who brought it up. If you want to not have to talk about it, stop posting about it. – Cascabel Dec 30 '17 at 17:19
  • I will hold with my recollection. My posting is in regards to the meta question. I don't want to talk about it. – paparazzo Dec 30 '17 at 17:22
  • Well, believe what you want, but we mods act based on what is actually posted, not incorrect memories. We have not done what you claim, so it is a poor basis for a meta answer. – Cascabel Dec 30 '17 at 17:28
  • For the 3rd time I will hold with my recollection. – paparazzo Dec 31 '17 at 2:54
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    I reviewed the two times you've pointed people to coffee. I looked at the actual comments on the two questions mentioned here, and checked that there were no other cases in your entire comment history when you suggested coffee, so I know I have the right two. Your recollection is incorrect, or you're misrepresenting it. Would you like me up post screenshots of the comments on those two to clear this up? – Cascabel Dec 31 '17 at 5:02

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