This came up in relation to the upcoming mod election, e.g. Dennis' question here, and tombull89's and Iain's comments here, but I think the discussion of this shouldn't be limited to "what do the the candidates think they would do to change/improve SF?"

I don't know if everyone would completely agree with Iain's comment, but I suspect most of the regulars would agree there is a problem, and this is not a bad way of summarizing it:

SF is no longer by professionals for professionals it is by professionals for amateurs and if you try to fix it then you're considered hostile and unfriendly

So the purpose of this question is to focus on whether there's anything anyone (mods, users, SE staff (?)) can do to improve the disconnect between the professional sysadmins that the site is supposed to be aimed at and other people who use the site.

  • 2
    ABSOLUTELY the problem here!
    – mdpc
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:01
  • I definitely have noticed the quality of questions going down. This is testified by the amount of 0 or negative score questions and closed ones. It's quite painful...
    – aseq
    Commented Jun 11, 2013 at 18:32

8 Answers 8


My general thoughts --

First we need to (re)define what our scope and target audience is.

Our FAQ currently says "Information Technology Professionals" -- this was arrived at after much debating during the great FAQ rewrite () because we did not want to exclude members of our target audience of system, network, DB, etc. admins.

The more I think about this the more I think we were too broad: developers are "Information Technology Professionals", and many of the clueless masses doubtless consider themselves so.
Perhaps we should consider narrowing the scope of that line to more clearly define who we are looking to serve.

Along the same lines, we have had many discussions on Meta about the requirements of a "professional", but those are not articulated anywhere in the FAQ.
I believe we should spend some time crafting a FAQ section that specifically addresses what professional means in the context of Server Fault.

Then we need to enforce it.

This means closing questions that are clearly not a fit for the site -- most of which fall into a few categories:

  • Too basic The asker lacks the requisite technical background to understand what they're asking.
    Questions like "How do I get a list of IP addresses on an interface?" fall in this category.
    Often the user isn't even the system/network admin of the environment in question, in which case these questions really belong on one of Unix & Linux, Super User, Ask Different, or Ask Ubuntu.

  • No Research These are the "How do I make Apache log the remote IP?" or "Give me a tutorial on X" questions -- the answer is plainly available in documentation (or a Google search), and the asker is being lazy.

  • No Troubleshooting
    "Apache is giving me a 404 error - HELP!" type questions.
    These are often asked by 1-2 year junior admins (or people thrown into an admin role without experience) who are apparently mortally terrified of asking their superiors questions or admitting they don't know something.
    As a result they ask lousy, unanswerable questions. We have a meta topic to guide them toward writing a good question, and this sort of rot should be closed with a link pointing there (and reopened if fixed).

The Summer of Love and The Winter of Our Discontent

I don't like that Server Fault has a reputation of being "the mean Stack Exchange site".

I also don't think it's spilling any great secrets that Stack Exchange doesn't really want one of their sites viewed as mean either (after all they thrive on traffic, and mean sites don't get much traffic). The growing hostility toward new users (mainly on Stack Overflow and Server Fault) was the impetus behind last year's Summer of Love.

That said, in order to keep Server Fault from becoming "Technical Support For The Intertubes" there is an extent to which we must disappoint the clueless masses who think that's why we're here.

System Administration has a time-honored tradition of "Read The Fscking Manual" for a reason -- those who can read and interpret documentation and apply what they've learned to new situations will likely become good sysadmins, and those who can't (or won't out of laziness) are frankly not suited to be professional system administrators.

Enforcing this 40-plus-year-old cultural standard with neophytes is how the profession self regulates. There's nothing wrong with doing so here, as long as we don't devolve into berating people in comments.
Remember that we are a site for professionals, which means that the main site should always maintain a level of professional decorum and courtesy, even when we're telling someone they're in the wrong place or their groundwork doesn't meet our standards.

  • I'm good with all of this.
    – gWaldo
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:25
  • 7
    I, of course, like "Downvote" and "Vote to Close" as methods of enforcement. Maybe combined with firm but not snarky "standard" comments. Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:42
  • 5
    The key with closure or downvoting as an enforcement tool as there needs to be some feedback to the user -- the forthcoming changes to close votes (including custom per-site close reasons) will help with that.
    – voretaq7
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:44
  • 3
    Maybe all we need is a few agreed-on closing reasons (like your list, maybe a couple more) and corresponding meta Q&A to point people to. VtClose as NARQ, throw in a comment "Your question doesn't include enough information. See (link) for ideas on what needs to be improved in your question to get it reopened and answered." Commented May 16, 2013 at 20:15
  • 2
    Of course, even as I wrote that, I was thinking of the endless posts on meta.SO "Why can't I ask questions?" where people claim to have read the post that explains the question ban... Commented May 16, 2013 at 20:16
  • 1
    Is it possible that anyone, 1-2 years into server admin, can't troubleshoot a simple HTTP error? Criminal. Commented May 25, 2013 at 6:49

I thought I'd chime in my with 2c here because I am a programmer, not a network admin, and am probably one of those people you talk about that are not really wanted here.

I don't have a problem with that, but I wanted to let you know that your site doesn't communicate that fact very well, and thought I'd share my experience.

First off, I'm familiar with the SE network, so the very first thing I do when I go to a new SE site is read the FAQ. (Or at very least, read the top editable section of the FAQ.)

At the very top of your FAQ you say

Server Fault is for Information Technology Professionals needing expert answers related to managing computer systems in a professional capacity.

Now I consider myself an IT professional, so when I need help managing my computer system in a professional capacity, I come here to post my question. But to me, it seems like what you really mean to say here is

Server Fault is for Professional System/Network Administrators to get expert answers from other system/network admins related to managing their computer systems in a professional capacity.

(Sorry, I don't know if there's a major difference between system administrators, or network administrators. I'm more familiar with the term Network Administrator, although it seems like you guys prefer to use the term System Administrators. To me, sysadmins are just people who manages any system, not necessarily a computer/network system.)

The other big problem I see is how your site is described.

For example, I always have a horrible time remembering when to ask here and when to ask on Super User, so I usually click on the Ask Question button to see what it says in the How to Ask box:

Is your question about professional server, networking, or related infrastructure administration?

That doesn't say anything at all to hint that you only want questions from professional System/Network admins. You may want to consider changing that to something like

Are you a professional System Administrator, and is your question about professional server, networking, or related infrastructure administration?

The problem isn't just how your site is described internally, but also how it's described externally, by other well-meaning users.

I often see people on Stack Overflow recommending users bring their technical server-related questions here. They probably got that impression because of how your own site is described in the FAQ, and that can probably only be improved upon with time and patience educating users about what sort of site you are.

Your scope is also not correctly described out in many posts I see regarding Stack Exchange's history. For example, the wikipedia article about Stack Exchange only says

Server Fault for questions related to system administration and Super User for questions from computer "power users".

That sort of content needs to be clarified so that

Server Fault for questions by system administrators ...

(I also checked out your /About page just now for the very first time, and that looks good. Unfortunately, the /About page is often dismissed quickly by new users, and is not displayed at all to existing users unless they seek it out.)

Most SE sites are based on a topic, not an audience, which I think is why your site is special and needs to specifically specify what sort of audience your site is for in addition to the topic.

Anyways, figured I'd throw my experience in an answer here in case it helps. Hope you get the site worked out, and I'll try and correct people if I see them incorrectly sending SO users here. :)

  • 5
    This is my opinion, of course, but that's one of the issues that we tried to address with last year's FAQ revision. Unfortunately, those revisions were denied by Corporate and we're stuck with referring people to some meta post instead of a clearly-defined FAQ page.
    – Magellan
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:06
  • 4
    @Adrian I have no idea what happened last year, however if your site really is for sysadmins only then that really needs to be spelled out in the FAQ, and I see no reason why SE would deny such a change. We actually made a reverse change on the Workplace (specifying the topic instead of the audience in the FAQ), and it even got approved by Jeff himself. However if SE was denying your site changing to sysadmins only, then I don't think there's much the community can do about it, as Programmers showed me.
    – Rachel
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:10
  • 2
    That's both very well put and very right.
    – Jenny D
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:12
  • 6
    @Rachel Superb post, thanks for sharing. I completely agree
    – Dan
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:12
  • 1
    SysAdmin is a generic term, replacing "Operator" (long history you don't want to know). Network, Database, Security, Application, and Infrastructure Engineers (builds) and Administrator (maintains) are all specializations of SysAdmin so to say. Help Desk are also "allowed" here. When we tried to put all the pertinent details in the FAQ it turned into an encyclopedia article, so it got trimmed back to what it is now... You're right that it needs some help.
    – Chris S
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:15
  • 1
    and am probably one of those people you talk about that are not really wanted here. I don't want my post to sound like I want a "no devs allowed" club. In fact, some of the smarted people on this site are or were primarily developers. The problem is that most people with background that is primarily development aren't equipped to ask a good, interesting, on-topic question here any more than I'm qualified to ask an intelligent question about software development. The difference is that SF is only for professionals and SO is for amateurs and pros.
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:15
  • 2
    Some side notes: The FAQ and About page are indeed out of sync and should be brought into sync. The How to Ask text is a hard-coded Is your question about %s? where %s is a site-specific string. Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:15
  • 2
    Also, for what it's worth, I immediately recognized your user name and avatar and didn't cringe, so you specifically aren't part of my rant earlier :)
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:16
  • @MichaelHampton From what I learned when trying to modify the Workplace description, moderators can modify the top of the /About and /FAQ pages, and SE modifies 3 fields in the database about the site (Name, Topic, and Audience) that propagate a bunch of other descriptive stuff about the site. (And MDMarra, I'm glad you didn't cringe at the sight of me ;))
    – Rachel
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:25
  • Yep. And... "audience": "professional system and network administrators", Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:28

The quality of content coming in needs to be drastically pruned. I remember a few times where Iain spot-checked all of the questions on the front page, and over half of them were consistently from users with almost no rep on SF, but a lot of rep on SO or Programmers. This is a continuation of the same issue that got SF removed from SO's migration list. However, instead of asking on SO and having crap migrated here, it seems like developers are asking directly. In most cases pro developers are not pro sysadmins and ask ridiculous questions or questions that people with even a tiny drop of experience wouldn't care about one bit.

Combine this with the "drive-by" questions that happen all the time from a new user that asks a garbage question and never comes back to edit/update and you've got a major content problem.

We've tried being welcoming and we've tried accepting "newbie" questions, since - yes - everyone needs to start somewhere, but it's obviously not working. If something isn't a well thought out and worthwhile question from a pro admin, it needs to die an immediate and painful death and the people killing it need to have no remorse.

I know that SE cares about pageviews and that's fine, but the pageviews that low quality content brings in will also bring in more low quality users. If all that SE cares about are views, then they're on the right track. If they actually care about content, then things need to change quickly. The Summer of Love was last year. We need a Summer of Relentless Massacre.

Just to prove my point, here is a screencap of the current front page with sadfaces for every question that could be answered with RTFM or that is shopping or otherwise inappropriate.

In fact, NINE out of these 10 are from users that have more rep on SO than on SF, meaning that they are likely developers and not IT pros. I know that this isn't the only measure of an IT pro and it certainly isn't the only measure of being able to ask a relevant question, but it strikes right to the heart of the problem. Server Fault really is no longer By IT Pros for IT Pros.

Screencap of front page

  • 6
    And why aren't you running for moderator? Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:13
  • I ran last year and considered running again this year, but I'm way too busy at work to be effective. I thought about running just for the swag that they send candidates, though :)
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:14
  • 1
    To be fair, some of those do seem to be reasonable questions, even if they were asked by developers. I still don't understand VMware, and that's because their marketing department went out of their way to make all the names confusing. Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:46
  • Right. Like I said, not all questions asked by users with higher rep on SO are necessarily bad. But, it does give credence to the complaints that SF is no longer for IT Pros. It's turning into free tech support rather than a place where Pros and share expertise with other Pros. A one minute phone call to a sales rep would have answered the VMware question. We really shouldn't have to spell out product features. That's what sales people are for. We should be asking and answering questions about vSphere and vCloud. Not explaining what features they have.
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:48
  • 7
    The questions are fine. Pro Sysadmins are not the only ones who can benefit from this site. I'm glad someone would come to SF to ask about on-demand computing resources or to get a sanity-check on an application design's infrastructure. There are a lot of organizations that rely heavily on DevOps staff whose primary responsibilities lie on the software side. Why the hate?
    – ewwhite
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:05
  • 2
    There's no hate. If there's a DevOps engineer that asks an intelligent and on-topic question, that's fine. What I am saying is that most of the drivel is from users that are, in reality, not an IT Pro. They are either pure devs or enthusiasts. They're the most vocal when their questions get closed for being trash. If someone asks a relevant, properly detailed, on-topic question, I don't care what their title is. It's just that the bulk of the crap anecdotally appears to be coming from people who are not Server Fault's target audience, and that's a problem.
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:08
  • 4
    For example, Tom O'Connor and Joel E Salas are two Devops guys that bring a lot of value to this community. They're not Sysadmins by trade but they bring good, on-topic content and participation here. The guy that asked about why his ASUS consumer router was causing his CPanel sessions to disconnect...well that's another story.
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:10
  • 3
    Cripes - look at the last 8 hours of questions. Horrible.
    – EEAA
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 20:08
  • 4
    "meaning that they are likely developers and not IT pros". Developers are IT pros, as are help desk staff, technicians, systems administrators, licensing specialists, DBAs, etc. Basically anyone who works in IT, is by definition an IT Professional.
    – user11604
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 20:47
  • 3
    @Bryan: That's not the definition of IT Pro here though - here they're amateurs.
    – user9517
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 20:53
  • 2
    @Bryan Rarely are developers considered "IT Pros." Sometimes they're considered part of a larger IT department, but IT Pros usually refers to sysadmins, network admins, desktop support, etc. Again, being a dev doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to ask a bad question, but the vast majority of terrible questions here do tend to be from developers who have found their way over here from SO. Development is its own distinct skillset that doesn't have a ton of overlap with being a sysadmin. I'm not saying that they should know what we know, but they're part of the problem, IMO.
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:04
  • 4
    @Iain, sorry, but I don't agree. If I insist that the sky is green just because it suits me, that doesn't make the sky green. A developer is an IT pro, plain and simple.
    – user11604
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:04
  • 3
    @Bryan: That works both ways - most if not all of the devs I know don't consider themselves IT Pros and they refer to the sysadmin teams as IT.
    – user9517
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:07
  • 3
    @Iain, People might interpret it that way, much like a vacuum cleaner is often referred to as a 'hoover' in the UK. But you can't change the definition of IT professional just because it suits, or because people consider the term synonymous with professionals that support networks and servers, as this will just lead to confusion, and poor quality questions.
    – user11604
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:22
  • 2
    +1 for "summer of relentless massacre".
    – MadHatter
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 16:19

I am likely known for expressing minority's views here on meta, but as I feel there might be a constructive contribution from my digital-culture background here it goes nonetheless:

The discussion seems to boil down to the conclusion that the site has changed lately and now a hard core of skilled brave sysadmins is facing the challenge of answering zillions of pointless questions of a noob legion. And that there is an urgent need to change that, otherwise Sparta will fall.

A different viewpoint:

1. this is not unique to ServerFault - it has happened before, it will happen again

From my previous years spent in various newsgroups I can assure you that after a short establishment phase every community has similar tensions if the group of "regulars" is not renewing fast enough. I believe most of the ServerFault regular crew have read Eric Steven Raymond's "How to ask questions - the smart way" at some point and kept nodding at every line of the longish text. This text has been originally written in 2001, is targeting the "noob" audience and mentioning all the problems we seemingly have to struggle with. It obviously predates StackExchange and most of the forums available today. There is at least one high-profile example which is 20 years old by now, with basically the same tune but not as formalized as the "smart questions howto" - the Eternal September.

2. this is by no means surprising - and there will be no way to change it

This site's regulars mostly are sysadmins with years of experience. Naturally, the number of experienced sysadmins with spare time on their hands and a wish to participate in a social network aligned to their profession is rather limited. On the other hand, as the volume of this site is constantly rising, so is its attractiveness to sysadmins in general - because reading the ServerFault content does not require experience, spare time or the wish to participate and give back to the community but is giving a strong signal: people are getting their problems solved by just posting here. So the slope in expertise from the regulars to the newcomers is only natural. And as the experienced sysadmin pool is growing significantly slower than the site's attractiveness for the much larger pool of non-experienced sysadmins, the grade of the slope is continuously increasing.

3. stop whining - there is no one forcing you to read bullshit

The Usenet's answer to the large inflow of low-quality posts has been plonking (ignoring certain users), post scoring and keyword filtering. It has shown to work rather well for years and we have similar means of filtering content here at StackExchange. The key points:

  • there certainly is no obligation to read each and every single question posted
  • we do not have to close or delete everything which is not meeting quality standards within 3 hours. No matter what the broken window blog post has to say about it - the primary tool to handle low-quality questions should be downvoting as
    1. "this is bullshit" is exactly what a downvote means
    2. it is sufficiently lightweight
    3. we simply could let the low-quality posts hang around for a while and bulk-close them with little effort if they have not attracted any attention for a while (which is what naturally happens to low-quality questions).
  • we might learn to use available means of filtering posts in an efficient way and ask the StackExchange devs for more efficient tools as we notice we need them

____ The bottom line

The influx of bullshit and badly-written questions seems as elementary as the universe's tendence to entropy. There is no abolishing of the forces of nature, you can't fix stupid, so we might as well just learn how to live with that.

  • 5
    I do agree with a lot of this, but not: stop whining - there is no one forcing you to read bullshit Of course there is no one forcing anyone to read bullshit. However, the lower the signal-to-noise ratio, the less participation you'll get from highly skilled admins willing to share their knowledge. I look at it as "I have two choices. Whine now and maybe something changes, or gradually stop contributing to SF as the quality keeps dropping." If you really want many of the top users that feel this way to keep quiet, many will just disappear from the community.
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 13:14
  • 1
    @MDMarra it is not about reducing the contribution, it is about focusing it. I believe there is little value in having a high-profile AD admin spend his or her time with reading and closing or migrating irrelevant questions about Ubuntu Linux. The time likely would be much better spent if these questions were filtered out of this user's view. "stop whining" is not meant as a call to shut up but to build individual barriers.
    – the-wabbit
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 13:21
  • Also, this is a problem which nobody else would be able to fix for you - as the barrier is individual (and even constantly changing), everybody needs to fix it for himself.
    – the-wabbit
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 13:34
  • 5
    It's not just me (as evidenced by conversations in chat and upvotes on posts made on this topic). There is a noticeable decline in content on the site. If the answer is "It's going to keep droping, adapt or leave" then that's fine. I'm hoping that there's another solution, which is why I've been participating in these meta posts.
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 13:36
  • 2
    I need to think about this some more, but wanted to say: I agree with a lot of this ie that it happens everywhere. But the premise of SF (and all SE sites) - the thing that makes them different/better - is the rating of questions/answers: good posts are supposed to stand out by being upvoted, while bad ones get voted down. The reason the zillions of pointless questions are a problem is that even with filtering, they drown out the good ones, making it hard for people to rate them. Commented May 17, 2013 at 14:08
  • 4
    I don't disagree with a lot of this, but my ability to cope with rubbish on USENet was driven largely by the toolchain available. SF gives me no ability to killfile a user, or to only see posts from people with >n rep, or customise my home page (eg, new questions sorted by rep of user asking). NNTP readers gave me all of that, and that helped keep USENet relevant for me longer than I'd expected. But it still died in the end; the only newsfroups I read now are unofficial local ones propagated between consenting server admins.
    – MadHatter
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 16:40
  • Sorry to go on; I should note that one tool I do use is "ignored tags" - but my list of ignored tags is now over a hundred long, and I'm still hard put to keep up with the remainder.
    – MadHatter
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 16:44
  • @MadHatter If things are missing in the toolchain, there should be a way to help that. Either by asking the SE devs or by hitting the API directly. As for the reason why the Usenet is dead, it is surely not because it has been drowned in posts, it is quite the opposite: as it is anything but a low-threshold medium by today's standards, it has been simply dried off due to the lack of new users. So we should not just dismiss any lessons learned there but take a second look - I am quite confident the Server Fault community could benefit from a lot of that.
    – the-wabbit
    Commented May 18, 2013 at 7:16
  • 1
    I agree with all of this answer, but #3 seems like it has a good chance of really cutting down on burnout from sifting through crappy questions. Instead of trying to actively "fix" every...single...bad question that comes in, just ignore them and if they're really that bad then bulk-close them after awhile. This will have 2 effects - 1. less burnout on high-rep users since they can just ignore bad questions, and 2. improve the experience for crappy posters, because they won't be hit with negative comments, immediate closure, think we are mean people, etc...They will just hear crickets.
    – August
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 12:42

Can we do anything to change the dynamic of the site?

YES. We can all* vote more!

I see lots of suggestions here for dealing with bad questions and content but I actually think as a community we already have that part figured out. Anyone who is an active participant on ServerFault can pretty quickly identify content that doesn't fit well with the site. A question or answer is bad or incorrect? Downvote it. A question or answer is off-topic? Vote to Close. The only additional thing I think we could improve upon is leaving polite comments on why a new user's question was downvoted or closed. Perhaps a set of standardized comments could be integrated into the Review UI or we could all just start using Greasemonkey.

I think we need to ask the question the other way around. Instead of asking, "How can we stem the flow of bad questions and content?" maybe we should be asking "How can we encourage good content and make sure it quickly floats to the top?". I think they're are a few ways we can do this: 1) Reassess our audience, 2) reassess our scope and 3) vote more. I'll address each in turn.

1) Reassess our audience

This has been talked about ad-nasuem and is pretty well covered in many of the topicality questions on Meta. As @Rachel points out I think it's pretty clear that the Server Fault is for Information Technology Professionals line in the FAQ might better be stated as Server Fault is for Professional System/Network Administrators. I don't want anyone to think that I'm advocating being anti-developer or anti-DevOps. If you are a developer, or a network engineer or an Extreme-Agile-DevOps person and you are working as a Systems/Network Administrator in a professional capacity and your question meets the standards expected of a professional in that field then your question is completely and totally on topic in that respect. You know how they say, "On the Internet, nobody knows you are dog", well, "On ServerFault, nobody knows you are a developer" if your question is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from a question posted by someone in a more traditional Operations role.

The problem with stating that the audience is Information Technology Professionals is that all of a sudden a whole host of things that not relevant to Systems Operations look very relevant and very on-topic. These are questions like, "How do I make my XAMPP/LAMP/WAMP installer work?", or "How do I get IP tables?" and so on. After all, Developers are Information Technology Professionals and their question relates to their work in a professional capacity (as in, I can't code because I can't get this System thing to work), so they come here, post their question, get fishslapped and then go away and say that we are mean. This isn't helpful to us and isn't helpful them.

I think that the Information Technology Professionals scope really has the potential to turn ServerFault from a place for Operations folks to talk about Operation-y things (a good thing!) to Operations folks doing tech support (a bad thing!). Just look at the screen cap of the front page in @MDMarra's answer - we are being treated like tech support for SO. And I'm not the only one that feels this way.

2) Reassess our scope

I like to think I'm a good example of ServerFault's target audience. I'm a Junior Systems/Network Administrator for a governmental organization with about 500 users. I've been working professionally in IT for about four years. I have a decent grasp of the basics. I have a whole bunch of questions that I would love to ask here because there's so much experience and I know I will receive high quality answers.

Unfortunately, the questions I am interested in asking fall into three general categories: a) They are soft-skills questions, b) they are highly specific technical questions, and c) they a very general systems building architecture questions.

  • a) Soft skill questions like "What kind of format works for technical resumes?", "Is it worth getting a NetApp certification for a job with the following duties?" are all off-topic on ServerFault for good reasons.

  • b) I don't ask questions that are highly specific to technical problems because I expect that they will get closed as either To Localized or go unanswered due to the deep-knowledge issue addressed by sysadmin1138 in the Why "professional capacity"? question. An examples of these kinds of questions would be a very ugly periodic issue with Samba's RID to UID/GID mapping that would break NTLM authentication to our Squid Proxy Server that nagged us for over a year before it was resolved upstream by the Samba team. I find that I often push these questions to either payed support or to development/technical mailing lists with good results.

  • c) I don't ask general systems building architecture questions because I expect them to get closed for not being specific enough (so NARQ or NC). Honestly, this is where I think ServerFault could really shine. An example of a question along these lines are, "How can I bring configuration management (along with documented change and revision control) to a Windows Server environment using tools like SCCM, PowerShell, MDT, WAIK in a manner similar to what Puppet or Chef can do for Linux?" or "How can I introduce Windows Core to our Test/Production tiers while keeping the Full Install at the Development tier without running into integration issues during applications deployment?" I think these are great examples of Good Subjective questions (see (Good Subjective vs. Bad Subjective)[http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective/]) but there's no doubt in my mind they'd be closed. Like I said, I think these kinds of systems building or architecture design Good Subjective questions really should have a home here and really could be an area where ServerFault really excels as a resource for professionals.

3) Vote More

So what's a guy like me to do on ServerFault then? How about answer some of the newbie questions? I like answering questions. I get to explore problems or topics that I wouldn't typically, I get to help people and I often learn something new.

Here's the problem, no votes. I won't pretend that my answers are anything that special but it is incredibly frustrating to roll up my sleeves, grab a unloved question that has potential but needs a little polish and roll out a decent answer and then no one bothers to up or down vote, either the improved question or my half-way decent stab at an answer (see here or here. I can't imagine how frustrated the old guard feels when they're repeating this process for the 90 millionth time.

As someone who is only an occasional participant in ServerFault I can't say I'm really a part of the community here but even I try to get a dozen or so votes in a day. That's pretty horrible by most standards but around here unless things significantly changed since Ward's Call to Arms for voting, it's apparently not that bad:

Someone who votes every other day, and manages 11 votes each time, will rack up just over 2000 votes in a year. There are only 5 people who've done that much voting so far this year (yay!), and a grand total of 13 who look like they might get there by the end of the year.

In summation, here's me, right smack in the target audience and I rarely have any questions worth asking, no one up (or down!) votes my answers or edited questions and all I really do on ServerFault is the necessary but admittedly tedious task of wading through the Review Queue. Eventually, I'm going to get bored of doing that and I'll stop using the site altogether and while I can't imagine that my inactivity will be of any great loss to the community, if experts like Ian and John Gardiner aren't interested in participating and the people that eventually (after an admittedly long time) become experts like me aren't interested in participating, ServerFault is doomed.

(*except for Ward)
  • Yeah, more voting would help... Commented May 29, 2013 at 1:10
  • And, no, it hasn't changed... we're 5 months into the year and only 6 people have voted at a rate that will get them to 2000 votes this year. (you're one of them) Commented May 29, 2013 at 4:07
  • 1
    Re frustration: I don't answer to see my answers upvoted. They might as well be not, the answer's quality should speak for itself. Here at SF, we rarely have the situation where a question has so many answers that a reader would have difficulties recognizing the "best" approach. In most cases, the answers are complementary to each other, so the value of voting is not as much in helping to select the best answer but rather in recognizing the poster's effort. I see this being done on a rather subjective basis - folks upvoting other folks they like - and have to admit I do that occasionally, too.
    – the-wabbit
    Commented May 29, 2013 at 19:00
  • 1
    @syneticon-dj - In principle, I agree with you. Content should stand on its own irregardless of the voting mechanism. In practice, I heartily disagree. Voting serves three very important purposes: 1) It helps the good content float to top and the bad content sink to the bottom, 2) it serves as a mechanism to tell the answerer that the community values their work and 3) it's a clever psychological ploy to get people to participate. If no one votes (again, either up or down) on my stuff, it sends me the very clear message that my contributions are not valued.
    – user62491
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 4:37

This might seem a bit naive however I've been wondering if a revision to the signup / anonymous question asking process might help. Effectively the same way a lot of organizations require users to have read and understand their terms of service before being granted access to their account. It would equate to effectively require reading and agreeing to the FAQ terms first.

Half a dozen multiple choice questions about the scope, intended audience, etc could do wonders especially if phrased as questions about the askers background.

If done right this should dramatically cut the halp halp questions. If properly formed the login page could even punt those folks to superuser or stackoverflow. Anyone that ignores what they've learned through the signup process would be asking for a rude reception.

Just sayin.

  • I am thinking about the same thing for a while. The problem is that this is the exact opposite of SE's fundamental premise that anyone can ask, without registration or any other obstacle. It's obvious that this isn't working so well, at least on SF, but I don't see the company change this for our site.
    – Sven
    Commented May 19, 2013 at 15:47
  • The idea of tests before allowing people to post (or possibly after they've made some bad posts) has come up regularly on meta.SO and is always shot down. The thinking is that there are already enough pointers to "how to ask" and "here's the FAQ" so a test would just irritate the good askers. Commented May 19, 2013 at 17:11
  • @Ward - that is exactly why I suggest targeting the anonymous / first time users. I always try to get a feel for a new community before I join in. Requiring at least a minimum amount of familiarity doesn't seem too extreme to me. Frankly I think all of the stack exchange sites would benefit from a policy like this. Commented May 19, 2013 at 20:37

Personally, I would like to see either a clarification or the scope, or a change of it. "IT Professionals" does not just mean Sys/Net Admin/Engineer. "IT Professional" to me includes Developers.

If we want "SysAds asking questions of SysAds", change the scope of the site to do so.

Yes, the crappy, clueless, and not-even-googled questions bother me, too. So I either vote, ignore, or close quickly.

Even though he and I disagree on some points, I'm sad to see Iain go, because I think that he is a good mod. But this site is supposed to be a community for helping people, and being rude and unhelpful doesn't get us anything; it kills the community. If you're frustrated, don't come by; that's not helpful.

Basically all of Why the hostility?

Additionally, with SysAds being very self-reliant, and our culture being very RTFM- and Self-Service-friendly I propose the following addition to the FAQ:

"Questions are expected to have had at least a basic fundamental level of research and effort put into them. If you have not done some basic analysis (checked the relevant logs, network captures, checked our Canonical Question list, etc), and at least checked popular search engines for your question, your question may be considered of value due to lack of effort on your part."

  • "Why the downvote?!" --Yes, I hate those comments too.
    – gWaldo
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:35
  • 5
    The problem here is, to everyone else, "IT Professional" excludes developers. Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:38
  • 4
    Funny, but in most of the enterprises that I've been in, most (if not all) of the developers were in the IT department with me. They were also being paid the same way as me, generally making them - by definition - a Professional. If we don't want developers asking questions, why not change the scope?
    – gWaldo
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:40
  • You make a good point. Perhaps the developers think they're IT professionals. The FAQ and About page could definitely be clarified, in this case. Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:42
  • 2
    @gWaldo: I guess the main reason to not to change this text is that none of us, including the mods, can, it has to be done by SE staff.
    – Sven
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:42
  • 2
    I don't understand why it matters if developers are included in the "IT Pros" definition. Either way it doesn't give them or anyone else a free pass to ask off-topic, low quality, or stupid questions. Are people coming to SF and seeing the "IT pros" clause and thinking "I'm a dev! That means I can ask anything, right?"
    – rtf
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 18:56
  • 2
    @r.tanner.f Yes, developers are doing exactly that. Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:04
  • 2
    @gWaldo To be brutally blunt: Developers have their own site (actually they have TWO of them: Stack Overflow and Programmers), and as end users/power users they have even more sites (Superuser, Unix & Linux, Ask Different, Ask Ubuntu). Server Fault was intended to be for the systems/operations equivalent of developers: The people whose profession is building and maintaining servers, networks, or managed desktop environments. "How do I get my IP address?" is not the kind of question such a professional would ask - it's like a C programmer asking what #include does...
    – voretaq7
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:06
  • @r.tanner.f I agree: It absolutely does not give them a free pass. But we can downvote, close, and edit without being hostile. ...Well, we should be able to...
    – gWaldo
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:16
  • 1
    @voretaq7 So we build up the Canonical question list and close as duplicate. With extreme prejudice.
    – gWaldo
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 19:18
  • IT Professional has historically included developers up until recently, oddly I've seen it pushed heavily by Microsoft.
    – Wesley
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 20:28
  • 1
    @MichaelHampton, please refer to my comment to MDMarra's answer regarding 'developer' and 'IT professional'. Speaking of the about page and FAQ page though, and I apologise to all for constantly banging on about this, but they carry conflicting information. How can we expect the quality of questions to improve when we can't even get our own guidelines correct?
    – user11604
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 20:59
  • @Bryan Funny, I just made the same point in chat not long ago. Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:02
  • 1
    @MichaelHampton: As no one ever reads it, it really doesn't matter what's in it most of the time.
    – user9517
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:51
  • 7
    As one of those programmers that comes here whenever I have a question about a server, I can tell you that this is absolutely a huge part of the problem. "IT Professional" to most people means any person that has a career working with information technology.
    – Rachel
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 15:00

This answer is more in regards to MDMarra's and others comments about keeping "smart/talented" experts here often and attracting newbies with some merit and worth.

I will probably get downvoted over and over for this (I'm thick skinned)...but I think you have to offer up more bling/swag.

  1. Put an "accomplishments" notice sidebar or similar with notable achievements for the day/week/month for users to gawk at along with the top questions of the week. "Whoa Ward hit 10k that guy rocks!" "MDMarra answered 85 questions this week, that guy's busy), etc.
  2. Incentives - Give a guy a t-shirt/button/blogsite/"this space reserved for Evan"/whatever for hitting 10k/20k/etc. Something tangible to work towards that helps drive people to come here and want to stick around.
  3. Offer up "lunch and learns"/webinars. Let folks with 30k+ rep share their knowledge on a subject via a Webex or similar every now and then.
  • You mean basically employ some crass commercialism? :-)
    – mdpc
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 21:54
  • 8
    No. People should come here because they want to contribute and help people, not for some stupid worthless "achievements". SE already took this gamification nonsense way to far with all those badges people want to get for some unfathomable reason. The end result? People want a badge and do tons of worthless edits that other users need to check or they blindly click on review buttons without really reading the stuff they are reviewing. This in turn ended in the creating of the review audit system (treating the symptoms) instead of treating the cause (wrong incentives).
    – Sven
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 22:18
  • So, no, please don't add any more of this stuff. At least in my case, it would be exactly counterproductive.
    – Sven
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 22:19
  • re:2 That's what badges are for re:3 Look how well the SF blog is going... Basically, it doesn't look to me like SE, Inc has the time (or it may be the inclination) to promote the site more widely to SysAdmins Commented May 16, 2013 at 22:47
  • @SvW So basically Plain Vanilla
    – TheCleaner
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 0:37
  • 1
    Personally, I love the "lunch and learn" idea with top users in each tag or area.
    – MDMarra
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 3:06
  • There are only 18 30K+ users right now. That number probably should be tweaked a bit. Commented May 17, 2013 at 5:31
  • There are "accomplishments" in other communities. They seem not to help the problem.
    – the-wabbit
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 13:35
  • The point of my post was that the site has two choices (analogous to a business if you will). It can be happy with the current traffic, retention rates, etc. or if it isn't it can choose to try new things to attract new clients/visitors. I'm not saying the site should be the midway at the state fair, but it could use a little color and excitement.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 20:41

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