Not to pick on a specific question but with this question it seems that it has become more of a running dialog, akin to something a consultant and an organization would have when troubleshooting an issue.

As SF is not a forum and questions like these solicit an initial question followed up by considerable back and forth, editing and comments against the now updated question, do these questions become off-topic or non-constructive?

It seems at least to me that at some point you have to draw a line in the ever moving sandbox and say hey, this really is not the best place to get your question resolved. It may become especially confusing for future visitors who stuble upon the problem from the OP but then can't find a clear and consistent answer because the conversation bounces between multiple answers, the OQ and comments all over the place.

What are the communities thoughts on this?

  • 6
    Server Fault IS NOT: Tech Support for the Interwebs, Your software vendor, A tutorials clearing house, A place that will just give you teh c0dez. Add to the list Free IT consulting :-)
    – voretaq7
    Sep 19, 2012 at 15:02
  • 2
    Yep, that was what I what I was thinking. Many of us do get paid for consulting here and there, and I know at what point my patience and amount of "free" time expires. Sep 19, 2012 at 15:39
  • 1
    Also, do not feel that since you started helping before realizing their requirement you are obligated to fix their problem. They're intending to use the solution to make money, no reason they shouldn't be paying someone to get there.
    – Chris S
    Sep 19, 2012 at 17:48
  • It really sucks that crap "questions" can't be closed while they have a bounty. I've seen more than one have a bounty applied for the sole purpose of preventing closure. Sep 20, 2012 at 1:15
  • @JohnGardeniers Yea, just noticed that. I heard something about mods can hammer them closed? Is that true, if so I guess all we can do is flag them? Sep 20, 2012 at 1:50
  • @Brent, I tend to just wait till the bounty expires and then cast my vote. Sep 20, 2012 at 3:27
  • Mods can refund the bounty. At that point the question can be closed by normal means. Sep 20, 2012 at 17:18

2 Answers 2


I don't have an "answer" per-se; but I agree with your sentiment.

It becomes apparent at some point that the Questioner is not a Professional SysAdmin. They in fact have been drafted, or are a hobbyist. Once it has been well established that the Questioner is out of their depth, both in capability of troubleshooting and understanding the problem, then the Question should be either closed or migrated to a more appropriate site.

The problem with that, is where the line in the sand should be drawn. We need to have a certain tolerance for people who are simply working on a system they are not familiar with. But we do expect a baseline body of knowledge that allows the Questioner to engage in intelligent and productive clarification of their Question. I think this is best covered in the other mSF questions: “Server Fault is for system administrators… in a professional capacity” and Perception of Purpose

TL;DR - If the Questioner can understand the problem/solution, work with them. If it's beyond their comprehension, tell them to seek professional help.

  • So at what point then, as answerers, do we tell the OP to seek the help of a professional? Sep 19, 2012 at 13:49
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    @BrentPabst Usually after I've tried 2 explanations I'll ask in The Comms Room to see if other people can come up with a better way of explaining things. If the mob confirms that I'm not smoking crack and my answers are in fact comprehensible I usually leave a comment along the lines of "Seek Professional Help - you're out of your depth here and the kind of intensive work needed is beyond what we can do on a Q&A site."
    – voretaq7
    Sep 19, 2012 at 15:01

Honestly, and this applies to both bounty and normal questions, but I think it crosses the line when ever my patience expires and/or my mood changes. Not particularly objective or broadly applicable, but I don't see why everyone else shouldn't apply the same standard.

Patience expires, questioner gets on your nerves, the free, voluntary help ends. I don't think anyone could reasonably expect or ask for more, given that this site isn't a paying gig.

If the only problem is the questioner getting on my nerves, I'll just walk away. If the question's lousy too or expanding into that not-constructive back and forth, I'll downvote and/or closevote, post it into the Improve or Close room. If it's particularly awful, there's always the option to post it in the Comms Room and ask for a little help from the other participants/share a laugh, and/or flag it for the mods.

It's not perfect (as nothing is, aside from myself), but I've found it works pretty well.

  • 3
    Those of you who think you're perfect just make things awkward for those of us who are. Other than that, +1. Sep 20, 2012 at 6:40

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