As the blowout over here suggested, people are still considering the FAQ to be the definitional document of a site. As in: the document that defines once and for all what's topical and what's not.

As we learned during the FAQ rewrite process last year, the StackExchange staff consider the FAQ to be the welcome pamphlet we pass to newcomers, and soundly vetoed the rather more specific version we came up with. As we found out during the rewrite process, it's impossible to contain all of the nuance we need to include in such a document.

According to the SE staff, the Right Way is to populate the meta-tag and trust people to review that (or use it as a reference to point people at). This is not obvious to any but the most dedicated SE denizens.

Do we need a legaleese version (posted to Meta, but widely linked) to go with the layman's-terms version we have right now? Or should we do something else? Or just leave it alone!

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I wish there were an easy way to do this, but even with a long-form FAQ, how many people would actually read it? We have a hard enough time getting people to read the short FAQ. Perhaps we just need to make sure the link to tagged/faq is displayed prominently for those who need further clarification on question topicality. –  EEAA Dec 29 '12 at 21:18
    
@EEAA The point of a long-form is to have a second link in the "Read the FAQ" comments we throw around like seed-corn. –  sysadmin1138 Dec 29 '12 at 21:27
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Makes sense, and I'm for it. I guess I'm just cynical about how many people will actually read it. –  EEAA Dec 29 '12 at 21:28
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I haven't read all of the post you linked (first time I'm seeing it) or all of the Answers to this post (you people have way too much time on your hands to write so much). We get developers and others through here all the time trying to goad us into Answering their inane questions by accusing us of elitism, being a closed-community, or trying reverse psychology. I'm not sure why this deserves such a detailed response; or why we should do more work when the Questioner was in the wrong to being with... –  Chris S Dec 30 '12 at 15:14

7 Answers 7

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I don't think I'd call it a "FAQ," but I think a long-form version of one specific Frequently-Asked-Question would be good: "What subjects are on-topic and specifically off-topic for ServerFault (and why)?"

In addition, I'd like to see some sort of overall "Link to documentation" page. The documentation for how things work on Stackexchange is a disaster, with important details scattered over too many places:

  • FAQ for a specific site, e.g. Serverfault
  • Questions tagged FAQ for a specific site
  • FAQ-tagged questions on meta.SO that apply to every site
  • Recent changes post somewhere on meta.SO
  • Special pages, like the list of privileges (I guess that's not too badly hidden)
  • Blog posts explaining certain philosophies (e.g. shopping questions)

It would be nice to have one page that summarizes what documentation is available, e.g.

The FAQ for ServerFault has an overview of what is on- and off-topic and general information about using SF (logging in, reputation, etc.)

The meta site for ServerFault is a place where you can ask questions about how the site works or about problems with a specific question. Some questions that come up repeatedly are tagged [faq].

There is an "overall" meta site for all of StackExchange. For historical reasons it's called meta.SO... Many more questions about how SE sites work are tagged [faq] there.

and so on...

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Personally, I don't think we're ever going to avoid complaints like that because our scope is both absolutely huge and also very narrow. Ultimately, it depends on so much that I think our FAQ is about as specific as it can be without chopping out loads of reasonable questions.

So, no. I guess!

I suppose, in relation to that specific Meta post, we could add something in our FAQ to highlight production / production quality systems but even that definition has been hotly debated.

That said, I'm at >6k and I've been here nearly 12 months and I had no idea that that was the intended use for the tag so it may be a much to presume a new user is ever going to read it.

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I had a similar experience, in fact I think I was >10k before realizing that we had the FAQ tag. Perhaps that needs to be more well-publicized. –  EEAA Dec 29 '12 at 21:27
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At > 20K I've only just learned why we have that faq tag. I may have seen mention of it at some stage but it's purpose was certainly not clear to me. There is no way on Earth that any newcomer, the very ones who need it most, is going to learn about it by anything other than accident. –  John Gardeniers Dec 30 '12 at 23:00

No.

In addition to the fact that it probably wouldn't do much good, and getting consensus on such specifics won't happen, it's not going to be accurate anyhow, because ultimately, downvotes and close-votes aren't cast by the FAQ or the discussions on mSF, but by the community members who may or may not agree with, comply with, or consider the FAQ and the mSF wranglings when they cast a vote.

No static document or documents will ever be able to predict how the community will react as well as a reasonably intelligent person can do through observation, so this idea is completely the wrong approach to the "problem" here.

And speaking of the problem, what exactly is the problem here? We have our share of problems, but I don't think some guy throwing a temper-tantrum over his marginal question/answer being downvoted and closed is one of them.

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Primarily it's because I find comments like, "That's how the community feels, no we don't have documentation of that but trust us on this. And if you don't get that, this isn't the place for you," to be inherently hostile. Having something that codifies the more widely agreed upon nuances, like why education questions are OT, is a good reference to have. –  sysadmin1138 Dec 30 '12 at 3:15
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+1 for all of it but especially the temper tantrum comment. –  John Gardeniers Dec 30 '12 at 22:34

I believe it will be useful. We all know that things like that generally don't get read unless people are pointed specifically at it. A select few will read the top-level FAQ and come to wrong conclusions about topicality.

In my experience of correcting the wrong-headed, citing the exact bullet-point they failed to read (or comprehend) ends up earning an oh, sorry response more often than outright belligerence. In the cases where such a pointer earns a, How does THAT make sense? response, having a more detailed description available of why we do it that way will help.

Additionally, this would put such a document within the edit-powers of both the mods and our users. The FAQs of the original Triad sites are the only FAQs where the mods do not have edit privs, that lays firmly in the SE staff. This would allow us to better keep the long-form FAQ up to date with community standards.

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No and here are just a few reasons to start with:

  • Impossible to formulate in a way that will ever be accepted by any significant number of SFers, let alone the site owners.
  • Impossible to maintain. With a field that evolves as rapidly as ours it is likely to be obsolete, incomplete or outright wrong before it even gets posted.
  • Cannot possibly cover in sufficient detail the almost infinite number of things that should be included, let alone in specific enough detail to meet the stated purpose of the document.
  • The absolute futility of it all is guaranteed.

Those who were involved in the last FAQ rewrite will remember how painful and ultimately damn near pointless it all was. When we had a version we thought was good it got killed off by "the powers that be". Even when we finally did get the current (greatly cut down) version approved we were then told we're not to slap people around the ears with it.

Seriously, are any of us ready to try to go through that same exercise for an all-encompassing and all-inclusive definitive document, even though we know already that it will never be approved?

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The real FAQ for your site should live here - and you should populate it with whatever questions come up frequently, ideally by transforming one instance. If you can't easily close common questions as duplicates of FAQ entries, there's a problem.

It's actually kinda shocking that you're suggesting a long-form site FAQ when there are only 6 questions in the meta FAQ - if something isn't covered (or is buried within an existing but overly-broad FAQ question), then it should be there first.

If you find yourself referencing a particular FAQ excessively, then it might be time to think about featuring it more prominently in the site FAQ.

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Either way, we still face the issues of people not reading the FaQs - which likely happens with all SE sites, not just SF. –  tombull89 Jan 1 '13 at 18:35
    
Yup. But, it gives you something to point to when the question comes up, and hopefully saves on time and frustration that would be spent explaining things. –  Shog9 Jan 1 '13 at 19:46

No, we do not need a long-form FAQ. People aren't reading the FAQ as it is.

I agree with the user martin's on some points. At some point, it does seem like elitism to say 'LAMP questions are welcome, unless they were installed via WAMP/XAMP/etc'

If we want to be restrictive based on install method, there will be no support for OS questions unless an automated provisioning and deployment method was used, no software unless it was deployed from source via configuration management (NO PACKAGE MANAGERS ALLOWED!), and no user/permissions issues unless the account is in LDAP.

On the other hand, let MAMP/XAMP/WAMP questions be asked. If nobody wants to answer them, then let them be; there is no obligation for these to be answered by anyone. The only change is that 3k+ SF users need to stop voting to close.

While I feel the frustration of dealing with people using crap tools, denying them access doesn't help anyone, comes off as hostile, and ultimately harms our community.

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No, No, No, a thousand times No! If you open this sluice then you might as well open the flood-gates to the rest of the crap from the internet. *AMP one click stuff on client OSes are developer tools and are perfectly on topic for SO just like Visual Studio, Eclipse etc. –  Iain Dec 30 '12 at 21:10
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It is not elitism to expect a professional to have and apply a professional attitude. Using single install *AMP is highly unprofessional and therefore cannot be considered to fit within the scope of SF. Professionalism is a state of mind, not a pay packet. We all do unprofessional things from time to time but most of us wouldn't ask questions about it on SF. –  John Gardeniers Dec 30 '12 at 22:51
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Uh, yeah. In the name of all that's right and sane, just say NO to end-user cPanel questions. –  Magellan Dec 31 '12 at 3:30
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Maybe we could have one canonical question about *AMP installers, and why they are not a good idea and pros/cons. That could cut down on the "i want to ask WAMP questions" crew. *AMP packages are notoriously insecure and a lot of questions would crop up about them being compromised. –  tombull89 Jan 1 '13 at 18:38
    
I think that the canonical question is a good idea (serverfault.com/questions/453617/why-not-use-a-wamp-stack), but I wholeheartedly but respectfully disagree with @JohnGardeniers - our place in this community is not to determine what tools, install methods, etc are "professional" and are not. Many do/have hold the opinion that using Windows is cause to be called "unprofessional" as a SysAd. This is a question-and-answer site; let people ask questions. If nobody wants to answer the question, it'll fall off the grid, but right now we are being hostile to the potential new users. –  gWaldo Jan 2 '13 at 16:59
    
Answer one canonical "why did my [W/X/M]AMP server get hacked" question, and mark the rest as duplicates. But I absolutely think that it is the wrong thing to close "how do I do [x] in [W/X/M]AMP" out-of-hand. –  gWaldo Jan 2 '13 at 17:02
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I'd rather not commit too heavily on the topic of Windows and professionalism but I am very happy that I started a job yesterday where I will be moving away from Microsoft to Linux and other Open Source products. I haven't been so happy to go to work for a long time. –  John Gardeniers Jan 3 '13 at 9:12

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