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Occasionally, a member of the ServerFault community will ask a question that -- although it comes up in the process of carrying out sysadmin duties -- is a question that may also be on topic elsewhere.

It appears that there are two schools of thought here:

School #1: If a question is relevant to systems/network administration, it is on topic, even if it is also a generic question about a particular platform or technology.

School #2: If a question is relevant to systems/network administration, but it is also relevant to computing in general, it should be closed, migrated to SuperUser, and/or migrated to a platform-specific StackExchange site.

In practice, the ServerFault community seems to favor school #2. Questions that are relevant to systems/network administration, but are also relevant to personal computing, tend to get closed or migrated.

Example of a question that Kyle Brandt brought up in chat:

Here's an example of two questions that I personally posted with answers with the intention of adding long-tail content to the site, but I was pressured into closing or migrating both because the same situations theoretically could have been encountered by a non-sysadmin user:

Is the current dominance of School #2 intentional? Should the community be closing/migrating all questions that, although relevant to network/systems administration, might be "more relevant" on another StackExchange site?

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    If you haven't already you should see this blog post. blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/03/… – Zoredache May 31 '12 at 20:03
  • Can you give us some examples ? – Iain May 31 '12 at 21:37
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    Could we not have some sort of 'cross-posting' system? Where if a question might span multiple sites, have it appear on both, and let both communities take a shot at it. The one that has the most responses can 'claim' the question, once the author accepts an answer. Otherwise, the debate about where a question should be will rage on for ever. – Mister IT Guru Jun 3 '12 at 17:31
  • @MisterITGuru: This isn't practical because (as I understand it) each site has it's own database. – Iain Jun 3 '12 at 21:32
  • @MisterITGuru: see the blog post Zoredache links to above. – Iain Jun 4 '12 at 19:25
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    Maybe I'm missing something here but isn't this the exact reason to have the required five count to close / migrate questions? Shouldn't the community at large dictate how much these wider questions really apply to systems administration? – Tim Brigham Jun 5 '12 at 16:42
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If a question is relevant to systems/network administration, it is on topic, even if it is also a generic question about a particular platform or technology.

The litmus test I've started using from the various sites I've been on this:

  • Does the question get love? Are people providing or likely to provide answers to this question on this site?
  • Will the answers be good? One time a question was punted to Security.SE from here and we had to delete the highly voted accepted answer because it was very wrong and our community wasn't big enough to overcome the votes that Serverfault put up before it got there. If something is popular but the answers are of poor quality or just wrong, migrate.

If yes to both, keep it here. Sure, tuning some MySQL instance might be very DBA-specific, but if they're going to get correct and helpful answers here then let the question live here.

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I think that School #2 is wrong. The close reason is called "Off Topic" and it is not called "More on topic somewhere else" or "Maybe off topic".

System administration is a very expansive field and it benefits the site to be inclusive. Because of the breadth of system administration, if you don't recognize it as being on topic it doesn't mean it is off topic either. Unless it is clearly "Off topic" it shouldn't be closed as such.

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    If system administration as defined for Server Fault is so expansive why are there so many Stack Exchange sites dedicated to the minute tasks we would normally consider "system administration"? – Chris S May 31 '12 at 19:51
  • @ChrisS: Rather try to answer that in more concrete terms. Which sites in particular? – Kyle Brandt May 31 '12 at 19:53
  • IT Security, for one. – Ward May 31 '12 at 19:54
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    My understanding is that IT Security is a different field than System administration. There is overlap but they are different. My take is that when there is overlap (it would be fine on either site, both sites have people capable of answering it) then leave it on the site it was asked on. – Kyle Brandt May 31 '12 at 20:06
  • IT security has a very different scope than System administration, in fact it is a lot wider than IT Security - we also encompass a lot of other security aspects a security professional will be likely to deal with, including social engineering, forensics, physical security, CCTV etc. – Rory Alsop Jun 3 '12 at 21:56
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In most cases, I prefer #1 - if it's relevant, it's probably on-topic. I primarily vote that way, although I'm sure there are exceptions. I certainly don't vote to migrate very often.

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tl;dr Yes, more stuff should be closed off topic.

There is no design, everyone votes (or not) as they see fit.

Far too often people ask questions and their basic understanding is way below that which you would expect of someone who is a professional system administrator. I think we tend too much to the inclusive and pander1 way too much to those who are clearly outside the scope of the site even if their question may be about some ‘server’ related issue.

The boundary between what is system administration and what is not isn’t a nice clean line. System administration is a very broad field and the name Server Fault makes the apparent scope of the site even broader.

Neither of the questions you link to is a great fit for SF both should really be closed OT. Yours is probably a better fit for SU and the other is probably a better fit for U&L but neither should be migrated.

I’d like to see us take a much broader view of what is Off Topic and see more down voting and closing (not migrating) of questions that are OT.

We can’t and shouldn’t be expected to answer every ‘server’ question on the internet.

1 Why do we pander so much to people who are outside the scope/audience/skill set for SF ?

My view is that people are desperate for rep. With notable exceptions our voting record is very poor. This means that questions are jumped on in an attempt to gain rep rather than being looked at for quality/validity first. More voting would I believe make more people happy to sit back and take a considered view before pandering to poor/duplicate/OT questions.

  • Of course, the question I posted about 7z was a classic example of "pandering" to entry-level sysadmins. I had something like a thousand files to unzip, and the compression method wasn't supported by unzip so I used 7z. No wildcard support, used xargs. Thought it was a question someone might have someday, so I posted it to SF with an answer. I really have a hard time believing that adding "long-tail" content that a novice sysadmin might search for someday is a terrible thing to do here. – Skyhawk Jun 3 '12 at 20:19
  • Your answer doesn't mention anything about wildcard support or xargs btw. You also appear to have voted to close your own question (I don't know how you voted or why though) which is strange. Please remember that SF is meant to be for professional system admins etc. The pandering that we do is to those that clearly fall outside of that category. – Iain Jun 3 '12 at 21:01
  • Wildcard support was a separate question, sorry; added above. I voted to migrate my own question because I became convinced that school #2 (the one that you clearly subscribe to personally) had prevailed at SF. When @KyleBrandt raised this question in chat, expressing a preference for school #1, I decided that perhaps the jury was still out. – Skyhawk Jun 3 '12 at 22:57
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    By the way, in my role as a consultant, I routinely encounter "professional sysadmins" (that is, people who are paid exclusively to manage networks/systems at companies ranging from tens of employees to single-digit thousands of employees) who have very limited technical abilities by our standards. These are people who have never heard of xargs, have never used PowerShell, don't understand how stateful firewalls work, etc. There are not nearly enough well-qualified sysadmins in the marketplace for us to assume that all naive questions are necessarily unprofessional questions. – Skyhawk Jun 3 '12 at 23:02
  • I would expect people who are professional to know how to research their problem, read error messages, logs etc and post the relevant portions. The people outside our audience just don't do this. – Iain Jun 4 '12 at 6:51
  • No one favors ceasing to close unanswerable questions, nor is anyone suggesting that greater effort should be expended in answering questions asked by obstinate fools. – Skyhawk Jun 4 '12 at 14:50
  • @lain You must really like to work alone. The point of a community is to be inclusive of everyone regardless of skill level, yes there are bad questions, we do a good job of down voting those, but most are productive and have a point. – Brent Pabst Jun 4 '12 at 16:31
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    @BrentPabst: How would you know about how well we vote ? I've voted more times today that you have in 2 years ? – Iain Jun 4 '12 at 19:18
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    @lain Forgive me, I have work to attend to during the day, however in my experience on all SE sites the COMMUNITY does a good job of down voting questions that aren't worthwhile. Again, it should be about providing knowledge to help better the community without having to worry about one individual making a decision that a particular post is two inches over a threshold. – Brent Pabst Jun 4 '12 at 19:41
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I personally think you are reading far too much into whatever data you are using to support your argument that "In practice, the ServerFault community seems to favor school #2".

The reason is absurdly simple. The very vast majority of members may favour option 1 by simply NOT voting to migrate or close the questions, whereas only 5 need to vote for it to be closed or migrated. It follows therefore that your conclusion is severely flawed, with no data to back it up. Mountains out of molehills.

  • I think you have a very good point. However, is it a non-issue if the system is inadvertently implementing a "tyranny of the minority" scenario? – Skyhawk Jun 5 '12 at 15:09
  • @Miles, "tyranny of (by?) the minority" is quite a serious issue but it's an altogether diferrent one to that being asked here. It's also a side effect of having a somewhat community run site (with occasional dictatorships by Stack Exchange staff). The number of votes needed has been discussed a number of times before, both here and MSO, but it has never changed. I do like the idea of the MSO question you linked to. Now that would provide useful data on which to base a conclusion. I'm also certain it would prevent a significant number of questions being closed or migrated. – John Gardeniers Jun 5 '12 at 23:59

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