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I recently flagged a question for being off-topic based on its original version. (Q: setting up virtual host on windows apache) There was a clear reference to Windows 7 as a desktop OS and as the question stood it was not on-topic. 1 rep user, usual case of not reading the FAQ.

The flagging was rejected with the following reasoning by a mod, and my comment about the inappropriate subject matter was deleted:

declined - This was very easilly edited into an on-topic question by removing references to Windows 7

There were two questions that I came away from this exchange with:

  • Should we be prioritizing helping new users to learn what is appropriate for the site, or turning off-topic questions into answerable ones?
    I'm well aware of the recent meta topic on over-aggressiveness and how some of it stems from the never-ending tide of bad questions. The goal in this case was education.
  • When questions are "turned around", shouldn't we leave a footnote in the comments to address the original problem?
    This isn't "wahh my comment was deleted" so much as "wahh this was completely astroturfed over". In this case there was nothing left for the user to learn from other than the edit. Respectfully, I don't really think most of the people on the 'net will catch that hint.

There's an obvious compromise: turning a bad question into an on-topic one and leaving feedback that the original version was unworkable. But since that isn't what happened here, I thought it best to solicit feedback to make the optimal approach a shared one.

  • Not sure a two character edit could be misconstrued as "wahh this was completely astroturfed over" :) – jscott Apr 10 '13 at 1:24
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    @jscott I was still referring to the fact that my comment was deleted. I was trying to emphasize that the opportunity for learning was lost since a better comment addressing the issue wasn't left in its place. – Andrew B Apr 10 '13 at 2:16
  • Ah... I see now, "the opportunity for learning" for you as a commenter -- I hadn't considered that. – jscott Apr 10 '13 at 2:35
  • @jscott I meant the opportunity for the person who posted about a subject in a desktop environment (since the edit+comment delete magically made it go away), but clearly there was room for me to learn too. :) – Andrew B Apr 10 '13 at 2:58
  • Removing the OS doesn't improve the question at all it's still crappy and missing key information. The OP is an amateur and there are other SE sites that cater for them. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Apr 10 '13 at 6:16
  • I don't consider that question to be off topic at all. Other than an assumption that the OP isn't asking on a professional basis, there were no grounds to close that question. Sure, he's not using a 'server', but desktops are on topic here if in a professional capacity. I myself have a WAMP setup on my desktop, purely for professional use, if I have a problem with Apache on my desktop, how can that be off topic? – Bryan Apr 10 '13 at 19:19
  • I see an amazing amount of questions closed here on SF based on assumptions alone, which does nothing but add to the hostility perceived by new users. – Bryan Apr 10 '13 at 19:20
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    @Bryan: have you read tour and windows 7 isn't a server OS. Wamp isn't a technology used in production it's an amateur. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Apr 10 '13 at 21:41
  • @Iain I'll raise another meta question later today as this issue has been bugging me for some time, and I think it warrants a separate question. – Bryan Apr 11 '13 at 5:54
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I was the one that declined that flag. Yeah, the user did not read the FAQ, but that doesn't inherently make the question off-topic.

We've got a long standing reasoning here that just because something is at home does not automatically mean it's off topic (if I have time later I will find the relevant posts). Take for example:

I have CentOS 6 server at home that won't upgrade its version of OpenSSL, it keeps saying it's not being marked for update!

The fact that the server is at home is irrelevant to the question and the solution.

In the case of your specific flagged question, the fact that it's Windows 7 is irrelevant; the same question could apply to Server 2008 R2, which is on topic. It might even apply to a Linux server.

It would not be appropriate to make these edits unless you are reasonably certain that doing so is "safe" though. For example, if someone is having trouble sharing a file to 2,500 users and they're on Windows 7, then it is not safe to edit out the OS portion as this is a very relevant part of the question (as Windows 7 has an arbitrary maximum connections limit).

Should we be prioritizing helping new users to learn what is appropriate for the site, or turning off-topic questions into answerable ones?

Our priority should be getting people the help that they need to answer their questions. Nothing more, nothing less. When faced with two choices, one of which means that the walled garden stays walled, and another one which means we break a small part of the wall but someone gets their answer, I will choose the one where we help someone. So if a question can be edited to make it on topic, without invalidating the question itself (which often requires at least some knowledge about the things being asked about) then you should do so*.

When questions are "turned around", shouldn't we leave a footnote in the comments to address the original problem?

Yes, and no. I'm personally not going to waste any more effort than I have to. I sort of think of edits as a magical fairy that comes and fixes mistakes in your homework - after all that's part of what makes the community here so unique. First time this happens, I'll just edit it and move on. 2nd time, I will edit it and leave a comment. Third time? Well chances are by then they'll either be gone, or have done so much other poor interaction on the site that their account is automatically flagged for moderator investigation and suspended or at least fired an official warning shot.

* It's worth noting that this is my personal opinion and what I do personally. There are others that disagree with this approach, and some people have left the community because of this "lowering of the bar". I totally respect their point of view, and in fact I even sympathise with it to a certain extent. However this site pretty much runs itself and mods don't really have to do too much work given the ratio of activity:flags so how certain things get actioned ultimately depends on who sees it first.

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    Hate to post a "Thank you" comment, but I appreciate your candor with this. It seems far easier to demand "no exceptions" rules for what is/isn't off topic, rather than to find value in a potentially "good" question and help improve it. – jscott Apr 10 '13 at 1:18
  • Many of us are trying to find that sweet spot between helpful and critical, and the insight definitely helps. – Andrew B Apr 10 '13 at 2:15
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    Mark pretty much hit all the highlights. The one thing I'd add is that if the person is not "acting professionally" I'm more inclined to shoot the question in the head. One can administer a home server in a professional manner and in those cases the "home" aspects that otherwise render it off-topic are not really relevant and I'd let it live. On the other hand sometimes it's obvious we're talking about something that's NOT professional even though the environment might be ("Help me set up a teamspeak server for my buddies on this box I put in my company's Rackspace cage!") – voretaq7 Apr 10 '13 at 6:07
  • I agree that in most cases (such as your example) the "at home" parameter is irrelevant, but I seem to recall that mentioning a non-work setting was just about a guarantee that your question would be shunted off to SU (regardless of you having problems with mounting your iSCSI SAN in KVM at home)... Hey, if this is the guideline now, I'm a happy guy. – gWaldo Apr 11 '13 at 13:40
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    This question didn't fail the "home user" test, it failed the "development environment" test. – Michael Hampton Apr 12 '13 at 0:37
  • @MichaelHampton - since when did we only support systems that are in production? – Mark Henderson Apr 12 '13 at 3:52
  • @MarkHenderson: Have you read the tour page ? – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Apr 12 '13 at 6:46
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    Since when do we support developers' development tools on their workstations? – Michael Hampton Apr 12 '13 at 7:23
  • @iain - so we don't answer questions about staging environments, or testing systems, or software using trial keys? – Mark Henderson Apr 12 '13 at 8:59
  • @michael - since you can edit out the part about where it's installed to make it on topic..? – Mark Henderson Apr 12 '13 at 9:00
  • @MarkHenderson: For me they would fall outside of a developer environment but YMMV. For a site that is 4 years old it really does amaze/concern me how ill defined our scope is and the amount of drama that causes. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Apr 12 '13 at 10:36
  • I think the right wording is unmanaged development environments. Yes, there's always going to be wriggle room around the wording, but it more clearly conveys the intent. – Andrew B Apr 12 '13 at 23:06

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