I'm seeing a fair number of questions that are getting closed as off topic on a regular basis, I'm trying to understand why this is the case. The type of questions are those that involve desktops or developers.

I've been going over the review queue for quite some time, and I feel like I'm missing something fundamental here as I seem to be the only person voting to keep these types of questions open.

I'm not trying to advocate that these questions should be on topic, what I'm after is some clarity, as my interpretation of the FAQ, is that these questions are on topic and suitable for ServerFault.

Yesterday, I added a comment to the meta question Improving questions vs. teaching..., I stated that I didn't see why the referenced question was off topic.

The response to my comment was that it was off topic because "windows 7 isn't a server OS. Wamp isn't a technology used in production it's an amateur". Now apologies to Iain as I'm going to use his response to illustrate my point in the example I'm going to give below, but before I do, I'd just like to stress that I don't intend to single out Iain's response here or any other member of the community for that matter, as I see lots of similar responses from other people, and I feel like I'm the only person who is missing something fundamental.


Example

Let's imagine Billy, a fictitious first time user of ServerFault, he's the only IT person for a small business (or maybe one of a small team of IT support staff), he supports the company network, servers and the users. He has a developer using a WAMP system who's asked him to install and configure Apache so a developer can test some software, but Billy is struggling, because Apache isn't his forte, so he reads the Apache docs, but can't get his head around the config files, so after searching on the web, he finds server fault. Billy is a good little boy, and reads the FAQ before asking.

Billy interprets the FAQ in the same way as myself, so let's look at the reason why this question was closed and consider if Billy question is suitable.

  1. "Windows 7 isn't a server OS" - Desktop operating systems are explicitly on topic here, providing that they are being used in a professional capacity, so that doesn't make it off topic.

  2. "WAMP isn't a technology used in production". - Actually, it might be, but I'd definitely argue that is shouldn't be, so I'd go along with that, however I can't find anything the FAQ that states or implies that questions have to relate to production systems to be on topic. Non production systems are used and supported in a professional capacity, so according to the FAQ, Billy's question would still be on topic.

  3. "It's an amateur". I'm not sure if this relates to the person that asked the referenced question, or if it is relating to "WAMP", so I'll address both points:

    • If referring to the OP of the question, then that's assumed. The OP doesn't state either way. I don't think we should assume that questions aren't professional just because there is no evidence to suggest they are. If there is evidence to suggest they aren't, then that's a different matter, but in this example and most others that I see, this isn't the case, and down votes/close votes just add to the hostility, so we're still good to ask Billy's question on ServerFault.

    • WAMP might by used by Amateurs, but it is also used by professionals. I myself have a WAMP setup on my desktop PC, as do two other members of my department. We use it in a professional capacity to develop software that we use internally to support our systems. Yeah, they aren't production systems, but they are used in a professional capacity. They can be used by amateurs, but so can most technologies we deal with here on SF, so again, let's not assume it isn't a professional question unless stated or implied, and our question is still on topic.


Bearing this in mind, why are these questions being down voted and closed as off topic? What part of the FAQ states they are off topic? Am I wrong to give OPs the benefit of the doubt when there is no clear evidence that a question is being asked from a professional point of view or not, or am I trying to be too nice, should I be a BOFH and be hostile towards everyone unless they've proven beyond doubt that they are asking in a professional capacity?

More importantly, should the FAQ be clarified?

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Please note: it's not the WAMP/LAMP/MAMP questions that SF doesn't like, it's the pre-compired stacks such as those found at BitNami and WAMPServer.com. The pre-compiled built versions have low (or no) default security settings and are highly, highly unsuited to production. –  tombull89 Apr 11 '13 at 9:23
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@tombull89, "Highly unsuited to production", yes, but that doesn't make it unsuitable to being used in a professional capacity, for instance by a developer for testing or development, so it's still on topic as per the FAQ if somebody is having to support it. –  Bryan Apr 11 '13 at 9:39
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Stackoverflow's faq puts this kind of developer environment explicitly within their bailiwick and they actively support the MS equivalent stack. Our tour says don't ask... . We've been round this loop before too meta.serverfault.com/questions/4087/… was the latest. xamp/wamp/mamp stacks et al are not topical for us and are generally poor quality questions too. –  Iain Apr 11 '13 at 10:06
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@Iain, thanks for highlighting the about link, it does categorically state Anything in a home or development environment, but this is not reflected in the FAQ, which is where we refer people to when they ask off topic questions, hence my misunderstanding. The FAQ doesn't actually conflict with about, but it's lacking detail, and the detail is better suited to the FAQ. So as per my closing statement, "Should the FAQ be clarified", I believe it should be, even if just to stop people like myself creating duplicate meta questions? –  Bryan Apr 11 '13 at 10:40
    
@Bryan: When we tried to put lots of extra nuance in the faq we got told by the community team that that was not the purpose of the faq and that questions tagged faq on meta was the way to expand on the faq. –  Iain Apr 11 '13 at 10:43
    
@Bryan: I believe that new users get directed to the tour page in an attempt to educate them about the way that SE in general and SF in particular operate but as ever you can lead ... –  Iain Apr 11 '13 at 10:45
    
@Iain, I joined almost 4 years ago, and whilst I don't remember being directed to the about page at the time (I might have been, but honestly can't remember), the number of questions that are closed as off topic, for 'Anything in a development environment' with a reference to the FAQ, is I guess around 30-40% of the close votes in the review queue. The FAQ really should have those three extra words added IMHO. It's not like we're talking about the odd question every now and again. It's a large number of questions each day. –  Bryan Apr 11 '13 at 10:51
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...if we're saying "your question is off topic, read the FAQ", the FAQ shouldn't conflict with this, which it currently does. –  Bryan Apr 11 '13 at 10:53
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@Bryan: The about page is new this year Jan 2013 and since April 2013 new players are shown a banner meta.stackexchange.com/questions/59445/… refers. –  Iain Apr 11 '13 at 10:58

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The About page and /help/on-topic are now in sync.

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You could conceivably ask any IT related question on SF and expect to have it answered but that is not our mission. Let's take Windows 7 as an example

If someone says How do I use $applicaton on Windows 7 then depending on the application it could go to SU or SO (or possibly elsewhere).

If someone says How do I deploy $application across my estate then that is SF.

So *AMP stacks, they are by their own admission tools to get developers up and running quickly. They are deliberately compromised to allow this with the least resistance. Someone asking how to configure/troubleshoot them will more than likely be a developer and should be directed to an appropriate site within SE. SO for example clearly puts developer tools within their faq.

If someone asks How do I deploy this *AMP stack for the developers I support then that could be a great SF question.

If someone says How to I put this *AMP stack on on Windows 7 into production then the only answer is DON'T.

The same tools different scenarios different outcomes/places to ask.

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+1 beacuse I agree entirely, but the OP of this question could have been a developer, or it could have been my fictitious Billy character, we don't know, but an assumption was made that it was a developer asking. If the OP was indeed Billy, he's just left SF with a sour taste in his mouth. Refer to the hostility question. –  Bryan Apr 11 '13 at 11:17
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@Bryan: Closing a question doesn't kill it, it can be improved and reopened (but simply removing home/developer use doesn't work for me). There are moves afoot to make this more obvious, I believe closed question will be put on hold for 5 days with information provided to the OP that they need to do some work (all very pink and fluffy). You'll hate me for this but for Billy the real answer is hire a professional, that professional doesn't have to be a sysadmin, it could be an educator because that's what he really needs. –  Iain Apr 11 '13 at 13:38

In response to my own question, based upon the discussion in the comments...

According to the About page, questions relating to anything in a development environment are off topic.

enter image description here

When a question is closed as off topic, it gets the following explanation added

enter image description here

When you click on the FAQ link, you are told this:

enter image description here

The FAQ conflicts with the reason for closing message, because if you compare the type of question I'm talking about here to the explanation in the FAQ:

If your question is about..

Yep

and is not about...

Nope

…then you’re in the right place to ask your question!

Woohoo! I'm allowed to ask my question about the development environment on my desktop PC!

Adding three words or development environment to the FAQ will clear this up.

I'm not talking about an insignificant number of questions that are affected by this, I believe it a substantial proportion of questions in the Close votes review queue, that are closed as off topic.

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Might want to nix the "Woohoo!" line, it conveys the wrong intent on a skim. Yes, "or development environment" should be added to the FAQ to prevent ambiguity. –  Andrew B Apr 12 '13 at 3:46
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Based on this post and a brief discussion in Chat, this suggestion has been implemented. –  voretaq7 Jun 27 '13 at 20:13

In my mind the thing that distinguishes the sites from each other is:

  • StackOverflow is about software development
  • SuperUser is about desktop support
  • ServerFault is about systems administration
  • specific sites exist for specialised areas - DBA, U&L, IT Security, webmasters etc.

"I am a developer trying to do X on my dev box" is software development and fits in StackOverflow, e.g. setting up WAMP, VirtualBox etc;

"I am a developer/sysop (DevOps) configuring our production environment to do X" is systems administration and fits on ServerFault;

"I need help to fix problem X on 1 computer" is desktop support and fits on SuperUser;

"I need to deploy a fix for X across my domain" is systems administration and fits on ServerFault.

Or am I wildly off-track here?

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Your thought process is correct, but the OP is focusing on the fact that the FAQ page is inconsistent with the other pages in explicitly forbidding the development environment case. –  Andrew B Apr 12 '13 at 5:21
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My take is that SF is for 'IT professionals' (Note that Developers, Systems Admins, Desktop Technicians and Help Desk staff are all IT professionals!), SU is for amateurs (desktops, servers, networks, etc), SO is for devs. –  Bryan Apr 12 '13 at 9:48
    
@AndrewB Agreed and upvoted accordingly. –  Andrew Apr 15 '13 at 2:50
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@Andrew You're assuming that the Powers That Be actually care about our opinion of how they handle the FAQ and About pages. They don't, as evidenced by how shabbily even the mods were treated during the early 2012 FAQ rewrite effort. –  Magellan Apr 16 '13 at 5:12
    
Oops – SO isn't about software development; it's for narrow programming questions. A question about "setting up WAMP" would (likely) get closed as off-topic there too. SO has this same 'boundary' issue too (i.e. which questions are on-topic), but more so. –  Kenny Evitt Apr 18 '13 at 20:11

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