4

As a systems admin I often come on here looking for the answer to an obscure question. The best way to get an answer to that is to have the widest audience/knowledgebase possible, not the most specialised one. I don't care who asked or answered my question, be it another sysadmin, a developer or shock horror a home user/amateur.

We need good quality questions but who cares if there are noobish questions too, that is what search is for. No one is obliged to answer anything they don't want to.

It doesn't matter if there is collateral help for others in the process of working in the interests of the sysadmin. The current focus on trying to expel these other people at all costs harms the usefulness of the site to those like me, the target professional sysadmin!

Is the current focus helping make the place more useful or are people trying too hard to be orderly?

Addn: the idea of this is for people to stop and question their assumptions and open a discussion. Not for the vocal minority to shoot it down without considering what is best for the site or the wants of majority of users.

  • 10
    James, just a thought, feel free to ignore it - but how about making some positive suggestions to how the site could be better - it's just from an outward perspective you seem to only be offering negativity, and we don't really need any of that. – Chopper3 Aug 20 '13 at 16:49
  • 7
    tbh you only see this suggestion as negative because you personally don't agree with it. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 19:56
  • 3
    I just find it mystifying when there are so many threads about the stats being down anyone who suggests anything but the status quo has been shot down. If you look back it is not just me. You don't have to take on any old suggestion but there should be consideration rather than this blanket denial. I can see you all sitting there if it fails asking "why oh why?" – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 20:01
  • 7
    It would be helpful if you could give some more concrete examples of questions that you consider noobish, but should remain open on serverfault. – Zoredache Aug 20 '13 at 20:24
  • @JamesRyan - please can you either stop trolling us or make a positive suggestion to help. – Chopper3 Aug 20 '13 at 23:21
  • 4
    @Chopper3 Calling troll to drown out someone else's point of view does not make yours any stronger. By refusing to have any discussion about problems you are not going to solve them. "Why is SF failing?" because of close minded people like yourself. I won't waste anymore time on it. – JamesRyan Aug 21 '13 at 12:30
  • 3
    @James Putting it more politely, there is a fine difference between talking at people and talking with them, which is something that both sides of any debate need to be mindful of. What you have presented is an opinion piece. Some people agree with your opinions -- some people don't. Provide specific examples of problematic behavior (with links) to back up your conclusions if you wish for them to be accepted as facts within the discussion. Opinion wars on the internet generally benefit no one. – Andrew B Aug 21 '13 at 19:53
16

Why are moderators/high rep users focused on narrowing the scope of SF?

I can't speak for everyone but I'm not interested in narrowing the scope at all, I am however very interested in maintaining the scope as laid out in the Help pages.

I think the difference in approach here is best illustrated by your first paragraph, most, such as yourself, come to SF looking for answers - while others, inherently high-rep users come to SF to provide those answers. We therefore are always going to have more concerns about the quality of questions on the site that those for whom it's simply a drop-in convenience.

We invest a great deal of our time into the site, agree with the SE team's aims for the site and simply want to enforce that focus by doing what we can to educate users before they veer away from those aims.

Again I can only speak for myself but I also don't care WHO asks questions, only that they're on topic for the site and adhere to our requirements as shown in the Help pages.

  • 2
    I assume most sysadmins like myself are too busy to be on here all the time but contribute where we can so will never be the highest rep. But don't forget even non contributing viewers provide the footfall which pays. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 13:30
  • 1
    It doesn't seem like that majority are very well represented with the balance always going toward high rep answerers. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 13:38
  • 4
    @JamesRyan It doesn't seem like the majority are providing Answers either. Stop trolling. Chopper did not say the High Rep users should control the direction of the site. He did not say that a contributor with 300+ Answers should not be represented in the site's mission. You are not in the group we're seeking out ouster; we've stated this before. – Chris S Aug 20 '13 at 13:43
  • 1
    @ChrisS You didn't read that properly at all. The whole point is that the majority DON'T provide answers but are an important part of this site not getting a balanced representation from you. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 14:06
  • 7
    I don't think the majority should get balanced representation. Why do you? The majority do not provide value to the site. Should we not reward those who provide good Questions or Answers? – Chris S Aug 20 '13 at 14:57
  • 4
    James, we had this very discussion with the SE guys just last week - they're not remotely interested in a site full of crap question, they ONLY want good quality ones and appreciate our 'policing' of that situation. Yes sometimes, like any police, we take things too far, I'm the first to put my hands up to that, but the job needs doing and so long as we're held to account when we do go too far the job is getting done. By doing what we can to cut down on inappropriate questions our tiredness/anger at the worse culprits should spill over less. – Chopper3 Aug 20 '13 at 16:47
  • 7
    @JamesRyan The majority of users (3000+ pages of them) on Server Fault have reputations below 500, which I would say is a good, generous cutoff point for "actively involved". The majority, like in American politics, are simply halfhearted hangers-on. If you truly feel these users are being underrepresented by all means encourage them to visit Meta and Chat to participate in site governance and support your argument that the community wants a different direction for the site. "Decisions are made by those who show up." and right now the people showing up seem to disagree with you... – voretaq7 Aug 20 '13 at 17:31
  • 8
    I think it's worth mentioning, as well, that my goal in participating in the site has absolutely nothing to do with optimizing the advertising revenue of SE. That's their job, not mine, and it's not like any of us get a cut. From my perspective, it pays for the existence of the site, and it appears to be doing that just fine. – Falcon Momot Aug 20 '13 at 19:54
  • 3
    A handful of people have shown up to this thread, a fraction even look at meta. Why do you think that it is at all representative? The more you behave like a cliquely gentleman's club, the more you push away the rest of us and the quality of the questions won't mean a thing when there are no users. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 20:03
  • 6
    @JamesRyan: The vast majority of people are not engaged with SF beyond getting their immediate question answered. There are 134920 accounts only 1104 of which have >200 reputation. So yes you're absolutely right when you say a handful of people. That handful are though the most engaged and valuable to the site. – user9517 Aug 20 '13 at 20:58
  • 3
    @ChrisS - I do not see any trolling going on. I think that JamesRyan is being pretty calm and collected, which is more than I can say for other times this conversation has been had – Mark Henderson Aug 20 '13 at 22:09
  • 5
    @MarkHenderson James has consistently cherry picked obscure phrases, taken them out of context, twisted their meaning into something the original author didn't intend... I don't know where your line lies, but I consider it over the line into trolling. I wont speak for others, but he's been doing it enough that I owe him no benefit of the doubt. – Chris S Aug 21 '13 at 1:54
  • 4
    @JamesRyan From the very beginning (2009) it was made clear that Server Fault was for professional sysadmins having questions about their professional environment. Questions that are too broad, are asked by a user that has done no research, or do not meet the criteria outlined in the help center are detrimental. The site was designed this way to attract experts. If the quality drops, causing the experts to leave, who is going to answer the questions? It would be the blind leading the blind as the front page is littered with questions about cPanel. – MDMarra Aug 21 '13 at 17:37
  • 12
    High rep users are disproportionately vocal about these issues, because we're the ones that answer the bulk of the questions on the site. Look at the top 20 users and how many answers they have provided. Imagine if this community had so many low quality questions that they were driven away and the (literally) 10,000+ answers that they have given did not exist. It would cause a downward spiral in quality and an exodus of expert users that are the ones providing the actual value. The user asking how to make a DB using cPanel does not provide value, someone like Chopper does. – MDMarra Aug 21 '13 at 17:39
  • 4
    Where did I say that the site was "just for 20 users"? What I said was that the reason that high rep users are more vocal is because " we're the ones that answer the bulk of the questions on the site." We see more garbage because we participate more. I'm beginning to see why people have been getting frustrated with you in these discussions. You read a statement and then bend it so that it's just out of context enough to feed into the argument that you're making. Sorry, I'm not getting sucked into that game. – MDMarra Aug 22 '13 at 13:51
12

Taking your initial post somewhat out of order, my responses follow.
This is probably massively TL;DR, but you really brought it upon yourself :-)


As a systems admin I often come on here looking for the answer to an obscure question.

Excellent. That's what we're here for.

We need good quality questions but who cares if there are noobish questions too, that is what search is for.

We need good questions. It does not matter who is asking them so long as they fit the scope and intent of the site.

Certain "noobish" questions are simply below the threshold: "How do I Unix?" is why we have Unix and Linux, "What's the default password for a Linksys Frobnitz 5000?" is why we have Google.
A Professional knows and understands these things (either inherently, or after the first time it's explained to them), and does not use ServerFault as their own personal lazyweb. Professionals do real research, make an effort to solve the problem, and post a good, answerable question of reasonable scope (i.e. something more than "Apache is broken. Halp?") for us to work with.


The best way to get an answer to that is to have the widest audience/knowledgebase possible, not the most specialised one.

I reject your premise, because I think you mean to say the best way to get a GOOD answer.
Having the widest audience/knowledge base possible certainly guarantees an answer, but wrong or frankly stupid answers don't help anyone.

For example, "Pay the ransomware company" will stop the annoying popups your users are getting because they installed the PwnMySystem toolbar, but it doesn't solve the problem that their machines are compromised.

I don't care who asked or answered my question, be it another sysadmin, a developer or shock horror a home user/amateur.

So long as the questions and answers are of good quality I really don't care where they come from either. Similarly if a developer or home user asks a good question that is relevant in the context of professional system and network administration I have no problem with that.
Close by Regex because the question says "home network" or "I'm a Developer" somewhere is a poor standard -- if removing those words leaves you with an on-topic question the question is on-topic.


No one is obliged to answer anything they don't want to.

Conversely, Posting a question on a Stack Exchange site does not magically entitle someone to an answer. Some questions are off topic, out of scope, or simply crap.
That's why "On Hold" exists - either the question will be improved, or it will be abandoned, but at least it's out of everyone's face and not getting hundreds of downvotes while the OP works on it.

If the OP elects not to work on a question to make it answerable or on-topic that's their choice -- I can't force them to write good questions. I won't try to force the community to answer bad ones.


It doesn't matter if there is collateral help for others in the process of working in the interests of the sysadmin. The current focus on trying to expel these other people at all costs harms the usefulness of the site to those like me, the target professional sysadmin! Is the current focus helping make the place more useful or are people trying too hard to be orderly?

The focus is on quality.
Do you seriously think this is a high quality system administration question?
Do you think Server Fault is harmed by questions of that type being closed?


Addn: the idea of this is for people to stop and question their assumptions and open a discussion. Not for the vocal minority to shoot it down without considering what is best for the site or the wants of majority of users.

The "vocal minority" you speak of represent a substantial number of "answerers" on the site.
The group you see represented here so far ranges from 115 to well over 2000 answers - mostly good to excellent quality.
They are also among the most active voters on the site, and many of them have asked excellent questions as well.

Frankly when those people tell me we have a quality problem I sit up and take notice - most of them are smarter than I am and tend to know what they're talking about, which makes them exactly the kind of people I want to attract to the site.


My addition:

Gamification doesn't work forever on sysadmins - we see how the system works, and we play a different game (big game hunting for intellectual stimulation).

The E-Peen of "reputation score" isn't why we're here. We're here because we want to learn and see new/interesting things that may not come up in our environments.
If the only questions the site is attracting are ones that can be answered by literally the first result in a Google search for the question title that is not conducive to intellectual stimulation, and the site will wither and die.

  • 1
    In your closing comments you say that you are here for entertainment and intellectual stimulation while the goal of the site is supposed to be to provide expert answers to sysadmins working in a professional capacity. This seems to be a discrepancy. Also if you answer those questions rather than whining about them a) this site will be the first answer in google search and b) when they try to ask the same question again this site gives them the existing answer, it can't do that if you have closed it as too basic. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 16:41
  • 10
    @JamesRyan - in regards to entertainment vs. profession. Those two are not mutually exclusive. Speaking for myself (and many other users here, I suspect), I greatly enjoy sysadmin and am indeed entertained by the practice of systems administration, by learning more about it, and through teaching others. I agree with ChrisS - you are just trolling at this point, trying to find the smallest nits to contradict. – EEAA Aug 20 '13 at 17:26
  • Not at all, merely highlighting the double standard that you yourself brought up. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 19:53
  • Anyone care to answer? "b) when they try to ask the same question again this site gives them the existing answer, it can't do that if you have closed it as too basic.". This would actively stop some repeat bad questions. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 19:53
  • 1
    @JamesRyan re: (b) "ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS!!!!!!!111111ONEELEVENTY" is not Server Fault's goal, nor is it the Stack Exchange model. See Stack Overflow for ample precedent. – voretaq7 Aug 20 '13 at 20:40
  • 8
    @JamesRyan Also, nowhere did I say that I (or anyone else) is here for entertainment - to be specific my exact words were We're here because we want to learn and see new/interesting things that may not come up in our environments. If the only questions the site is attracting are ones that can be answered by literally the first result in a Google search for the question title that is not conducive to intellectual stimulation, and the site will wither and die. ; I stand by that statement and I'll even come right out and say it: I don't want lazy people here. – voretaq7 Aug 20 '13 at 20:43
11

"We need good quality questions but who cares if there are noobish questions too"

A new user asking a valid, on-topic question with decent up front info shouldn't (and most often isn't) ridiculed, closed, downvoted. Even if the question is "too easy" for one expert here it doesn't mean it should be closed because "wow, you don't know that and you're a sysadmin?"

Case in point from TODAY: Why do I need to set a hostname?

People have varying experiences throughout their career and things pop-up that are outside of someone's day to day so clarification or assistance here is always a good thing, but asking a question that falls outside of the HELP page scope isn't conducive to the questioner or the answerer.

Off-topic questions often end up here because the user failed to pick the right site for the question. Other sites exist in the SE for topicality/specialty, otherwise there should just be one giant site for all questions.

  • +1, the diversification of the original "trilogy" into specialised sites (Unix & Linux, Ask Ubuntu, Webmasters especially) means it's difficult to determine "on-topic" for those areas. – Andrew Aug 23 '13 at 5:42
7

You're borderline trolling us at this point. We've discussed on numerous occasions.

We try not to focus on the person asking questions. I can't think of a single instance of anyone questioning the credentials of someone providing a valid answer. Rather we focus on the scope of the question. If you're asking questions a Professional Administrator would ask, we don't care - and this has been covered before.

If the content of the question is home-grade it should be on Super User. I don't see why you think Super User is incapable of answering these questions, but I'm offended and I don't have much reputation there. Similarly if the content of the question is developer-grade it should be on Stack Overflow. They have more people providing Answers than we could ever hope to have.

We have a statistically-backed issue with "professional answer-provider" retention.

  • 1
    Yet the problem still exists. I took onboard people's opinions from those discussions and if you read it properly you will note that my question comes at the issue from a different angle. The fact that a vocal minority are ready to shoot down any discussion of the issue is in fact a big part of it. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 14:03
  • 6
    I disagree, I do not believe the problem you think exists actually does. I believe that "vocal minority" which you speak of does not accurate represent SF, the site's mission, or those guiding its direction. I do not believe that vocal minority to includes any moderators. Further, I believe several of that vocal minority to be relatively low reputation users. – Chris S Aug 20 '13 at 15:02
  • @ChrisS I agree strongly. In most of the debates involving the vested interests of the vocal minority, vote trend can be summarized like this: answers that align with the stated mission goal of SF are upvoted and seldom downvoted, while those complain about unfair treatment and ignoring the mission statement receive both significant downvoting and upvoting. While this certainly represents the desires of those who don't "get" SF but want answers anyway (<125 rep users with a bad experience), that representation is bunk if the votes are toward SF being about answering anything and everything. – Andrew B Aug 21 '13 at 20:10
7

Firstly, a lot of us use the front page first. If the front page is full of broken window type questions, we'll end up attracting more of those. If the answer is obviously in the manual, and the person didn't look it up, and wants to be spoonfed, there's not much helping them, is there.

The unwillingness to read documentation also means the FAQ isn't read which causes more issues. Reading solves everything.

Secondly, for marginal questions, there's other sites that might work better - U&L, AU and SU. I've on occasion asked for questions to be moved cause they were perfectly good and in SU's scope. I've asked that questions be killed off, covered in lime, and buried.

I think the minimal requirements are entirely fair - That you've read the documentation, tried your best, and have documented this, and are able to put across the problem you have had and the steps you have taken. In short, questions about wicked problems are the things that Q&A works best at. I think gimmethecodez questions sort of lack a certain degree of intellectual honesty.

The 'professional' level is both for the sake of the person asking the question and the community as a whole. You have a cisco router and a dozen systems with AD in your basement? Just leave out the fact that its your basement, and say its in your workplace. If its a WRT54G running a half dozen systems, then just ask it on SU (we don't bite).

In short, if folk actually had some consideration, we wouldn't be arguing ourselves blue over this.

6

We need good quality questions but who cares if there are noobish questions too, that is what search is for.

That rather depends on what you define as "noobish" doesn't it. Questions should reflect a professional standard. That doesn't mean they can't be questions at a more elementary level, but that the questions themselves should attain a certain standard quality in how well they are asked.

That has nothing to do with whether or not the question is a basic one or the person asking it is new to the profession, or even just dipping their toes in the profession.

No one is obliged to answer anything they don't want to.

I'm not sure where that came from. At no point did anyone suggest anyone was obliged, did they?

It doesn't matter if there is collateral help for others in the process of working in the interests of the sysadmin. The current focus on trying to expel these other people at all costs harms the usefulness of the site to those like me, the target professional sysadmin!

There are certain questions and people who keep asking those very poor questions, whose removal from the site is not going to hurt you, the target professional sysadmin. Your continuing professional development is not being hurt because you didn't read the question about "LOL! WHY CAN'T ANYONE IN MY OFFICE INTERNET, LOL" and yes there really are questions like that being asked.

Clearly you and I are not going to agree with one another as to where the line is drawn on what is and is not an acceptable question, but to the best of my knowledge the fundamental mission of this site since the day it was founded has been to cater to professional systems administration tasks and scenarios. If people are unable to ask questions of that standard, despite being helped, then the site is not helped by their presence. In fact several good contributors have been driven off by having to wade through too many poor questions.

If you want to maintain that people asking questions being driven off harms the site then I think I'm entitled to point out that people who answer questions being driven off the site also harms the site, so where do you suggest we balance those two requirements?

On top of this, I suspect that the people who keep asking those very low level questions are not being helped much either; we've seen situations where someone has struggled to ask a question, received help to lick it into an answerable shape and then has been totally unable to comprehend the correct answers they've received and has either given up or has pretty much demanded someone more or less do the work for them. And that's never been what this site is about.

  • You are not talking about the same type of question that I am. Obviously pure dross needs to go. We are talking about scope. – JamesRyan Aug 20 '13 at 20:06
  • 6
    Actually I think I am. The 'LOL we can't internet' guy is asking for help after all. The question remains: Where do we draw the line? If its obvious that pure dross needs to go and obvious that great questions need to stay then so much for the obvious cases, but all our questions are somewhere on a scale between them. Now that we've established you believe in a quality bar, we're negotiating where to you set the bar. It needs to be a fairly precise and concise value too, so that people can stand some kind of chance of applying it consistently. – Rob Moir Aug 20 '13 at 20:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .