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Following up on the discussion here, I’d like to propose some changes to our help center guidelines to remove subjective language (particularly the “professional” part) and simplify things a bit, while still maintaining a high standard of quality and a clear line of what kind of questions belong here.

Quoting, briefly, for context:

Removing the requirement to be a professional means telling these users “your question isn’t appropriate as it stands, improve it by...” instead of telling them “you don’t belong here because you aren’t what I consider to be a professional sysadmin.”

So, here’s what I was able to come up with, with some details on my thought process to follow:

Server Fault is for questions about managing information technology systems in a business environment.

If your question is about:

  • managing the hardware or software of servers, workstations, storage or networks
  • tools used for administering, monitoring, or automating these
  • deployment to and management of third-party provided information technology platforms

and is not about:

  • consumer workstations or networking (which belong on our sister site, Super User)
  • working with a service provider's management interface, such as cPanel
  • product, service, or learning material recommendations
  • product licensing inquiries or legal advice
  • career, salary, personnel, employment, or formal education
  • unauthorized use or misuse of IT systems

then you’re in the right place to ask your question!

(then leaving the rest of what’s there alone)

Reasoning behind the specifics..

Server Fault is for questions about managing information technology systems in a business environment.

Edited based on TheCleaner's comment below, I think this is pretty good now!

  • managing the hardware or software of servers, workstations, storage, and networks, or
  • tools used for administering, monitoring, or automating these, or

Basically the old “If your question is about” criteria, but condensed.

  • working with services hosting or enabling your information technology

I want this one to have inclusion of blank-as-a-service types questions, but it could probably stand to be rephrased, because we still don’t want the user end of the cpanel equation.

  • consumer workstations and networking (which belongs on our sister site, Super User), or

This is rephrased a bit, but basically the same as before, and with a more immediate “if this is you, go to SU” instead of that being further down.

  • unauthorized use or misuse of IT systems

Condensed the last two points: licensing moved, legal advice doesn’t really need to be here, and the rest can be summarised with just this.

Edit based on chat discussion:

For replacing the "professional" close reason and covering a gap that we'd end up with after removing it:

"Questions must demonstrate reasonable information technology management practices. Questions that relate to unsupported hardware or software platforms or unmaintained environments may not be suitable for Server Fault"

This doesn't perfectly capture what we need here, because questions about fixing a busted environment are on-topic, but we don't need perfect verbal coverage of every condition (which will make things way to wordy).

Thoughts?

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    It looks like you were also trying to remove the word "home" from the not about section (also, "SU" wasn't mentioned, but was linked there). I'm not sure I agree with that, but I certainly don't care for the way the new version is worded (more words, lost the developer section, less concise). Similarly you "simplified" other not about parts and lost meaning. We could do with condensing some of that, but I'm not crazy about how much you're hacking out after offering "removal of subjective language" as the reasoning (ie, you're changing a lot, not just making it less subjective). – Chris S Dec 5 '14 at 0:06
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    @ChrisS I think "consumer" targets for "home" pretty well, and might even be closer aligned with what we want.. someone's linksys at a small business might be better off at SU anyway (and someone's enterprise gear in their basement might be a better question than much of the professional stuff we see). Not sure you mean on the "new section" - do you mean the "not about" section? The one above is a bit shorter than what we have currently. – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 0:14
  • Meant "new version". Fixed. – Chris S Dec 5 '14 at 0:31
  • Ahh, gotcha. I think it's shorter overall, but I'm definitely in support of trimming it further - the more direct it is, the better the chance that a drive-by user might read and understand it. But yes, I should clarify, I was going for both the language changes and trying to make it a simpler/clearer read. This comes at a cost of losing a bit of the granularity, granted, but that's stuff that we can cover elsewhere to keep it simple in the thing we want everyone to really read. Definitely open to suggestions and critique on those points, though! – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 0:36
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    "working with services hosting or enabling your information technology" is going to be the most difficult part; it doesn't really exclude end users of, e.g. shared web hosting or similar services. Aside from this, I like it. – Michael Hampton Dec 5 '14 at 0:38
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    To be honest, the way the voting is going I think this is a lost cause, the community is certainly not behind it. Perhaps you need to state succinctly what what you believe the problem is and how this (or any change) will solve it. How will this improve quality ? – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Dec 5 '14 at 21:57
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    @Iain That's been discussed at great length already, see the paragraph that starts with This isn’t going to directly address the volume of meta.serverfault.com/questions/6701 – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 22:06
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    Well you should consider this proposal lost then. You don't have significant community support for it which is historically a requirement for change like this. Back to the drawing board or just impose it. The people who need to read it won't it'll be just more wasted effort. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Dec 5 '14 at 22:11
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    @Iain Just because you and some other extremely vocal members of the community don't support it doesn't mean that the entire community doesn't support it. Seriously, if you are as fed up with this community as you seem to be, please take a break. – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 22:24
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    The only way to gauge community support is voting. Until I pointed out you where not gaining community support the voting here was +9/-8 which is not great. Within moments of me making that comment the +jumped somewhat. It's kind of obvious what you did tsk tsk. The community gets what it votes for ! – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Dec 5 '14 at 22:33
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    That discussion is separate to this. This is a proposal that for better or worse is not garnering community support – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Dec 5 '14 at 22:46
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    The off-topic reason proposed in Rev 4 introduces a new requirement — one that could prevent professional IT workers from asking legitimate questions. Unsupported equipment and software is now off-topic?! In real life, sysadmins do have to seek advice on legacy crap, due to budget or business reasons. Besides, if everyone had platinum support contracts, the question wouldn't have needed to be asked on Server Fault in the first place. – 200_success Dec 6 '14 at 1:49
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    @200_success The idea of that is to get a way to close questions that are variants on "I dropped my database and have no backups, halp" or "I'm using a six year old version of Ubuntu due to neglect and something's broken", and to not use it to close good, legitimate questions about environments using ancient hardware and software. See the discussion between me and two of our mods here for context - I'd like to get some better wording on it if you have any ideas! – Shane Madden Dec 6 '14 at 20:21
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    I didn't read all the answers or comments...but why not do something like Server Fault is for questions about managing IT systems in a business environment. - it's simple and takes out extraneous wording. We know it's a site. We know there will be answers with the questions. We know IT is short for information technology. And adding "in a business environment" automatically excludes consumer/home and sets the appropriate scope IMO. Thoughts? – TheCleaner Dec 9 '14 at 19:33
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    @TheCleaner I love it. Though I think I want to leave "IT" expanded, as the acronym doesn't buy us many pixels and might remove some clarity for non-native English speakers. – Shane Madden Dec 9 '14 at 20:02
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Removing the requirement to be a professional means telling these users “your question isn’t appropriate as it stands, improve it by...” instead of telling them “you don’t belong here because you aren’t what I consider to be a professional sysadmin.

But as I understand it, the requirement has never been to be a professional; the requirement has always been to be professional. There's a really big difference between those two.

We've all seen questions about home systems that were nonetheless very good questions, and usually someone friendly edits out the home bit before it can attract too many drive-by VTCs, and that's a good thing. We've also all seen questions by some poor sod on whom the devops hat had just landed at work, which boiled down to "help, how do I do this incredibly basic task". The former isn't by a professional, and the latter is; nevertheless, the former question is a professional one, and the latter isn't.

But that incredibly basic task is definitely "about managing information technology systems", so by your new definition, it's on-topic.

I strenuously object to this change. I have no interest whatsoever in helping yet another person who's done no research on their own outside the site, who can't be bothered even to search SF thoroughly before posting, and who when given copious pointers to the issue nevertheless wants to be spoon-fed a step-by-step guide tailored to them. Since the site itself refers to them as help vampires, I don't think I'm alone in not wanting to help them.

At the moment, the non-professional close reason is the only one left that definitely rules out questions like that. I think after the mod elections we're all well aware that the SE powers-that-be want to effect a sea change in what SF is for, and how it accomplishes it, but I have no interest in being part of that change.

I want to help fellow sysadmins. That's why I'm here. I don't care whether they're getting paid to do the task that's currently causing them problems. I do care whether they approach that task with a professional mindset and skillset. If you take away my sole remaining tool for weeding out the myriad questions that don't meet that criterion, I will no longer be able to do that.

This said, if there were to be general agreement about the nature of the professionalism we're looking for, I'd be open to an improvement in the language we use, to clarify (rather than remove) that distinction.

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    I wish I could upvote this more. Without some way of weeding out less interesting posts playing the SF game just becomes tedious and janitorial for everyone concerned. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Dec 5 '14 at 12:08
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    Well, the sliver lining would be that the window-lickers who ask crappy questions because they don't bother to read anything about Server Fault won't read this either, so... I don't see much coming of this either way. – HopelessN00b Dec 5 '14 at 13:34
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    Really? Look at how quickly, and with how little discussion, the "minimal understanding" close reason disappeared. – MadHatter supports Monica Dec 5 '14 at 13:51
  • I've added a link above to "What is a Professional Capacity?". Other posts on this subject worth reading include "Why 'professional capacity'?" and this older one from 2011. – voretaq7 Dec 5 '14 at 17:02
  • @MadHatter I think I've used it more often as a custom reason since it went away than I did for the whole last month when it was in the drop-down. – HopelessN00b Dec 5 '14 at 20:34
  • @HopelessN00b Fair enough! Oh, and thanks, voretaq7. – MadHatter supports Monica Dec 5 '14 at 20:44
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    @MadHatter I think we're talking past each other a little bit - I want to make sure that the questions that we get are good questions for problems that sysadmins have - but instead of targeting "should this person be on this site", a much better approach is to look at the quality and topicality of the question. Nowhere am I saying that we should lower our quality bar, which seems to be what you think I'm trying to do. – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 21:50
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    @ShaneMadden I accept that you don't want to lower the bar. But I think there's an important requirement for questions here - that they should be professional - which is sometimes misunderstood as applying to questioners; I wouldn't mind seeing the requirement clarified, but you are, without question, trying to remove it. In replacing it with as wishy-washy a requirement as "managing information technology systems", though you may not intend to lower the bar, it is my belief that you absolutely will. – MadHatter supports Monica Dec 5 '14 at 21:55
  • @MadHatter I'm absolutely open to better wording than what's in the post. I think the bad questions that we get come from people who aren't reading this stuff anyway, and I think we'll have no problem whatsoever determining what the bad questions are and closing them. If someone's asking a bad question that would be on-topic if asked in a better way, we should be sending them the signal that they need to improve their question, not to leave forever because they aren't professional enough for us. I'm really not seeing how that one change will lower the quality bar. – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 22:03
  • I agree @MadHatter I can't see how this will improve quality at all. I think it might help if people stopped conflating scope and audience. Once you separate the two things (at least to me) become clearer. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Dec 5 '14 at 22:03
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    @ShaneMadden, I fear your last statement is unhelpfully bland. Everyone I know on SF thinks that bad questions should be closed, poor-but-fixable ones fixed, and good ones answered; that isn't what divides us. What divides us is which questions are bad, which are poor, and which are good. I'm off to bed, but if I have time over the next couple of days I'll try to put together an alternative formulation of words. But I must make it clear that it will be an attempt to clarify that the professionalism requirement applies to questions not people, and not an attempt to abolish it. – MadHatter supports Monica Dec 5 '14 at 22:26
  • @ShaneMadden : As I said. This is an example about the fact that removing the professional requirement will just make professionals leave the site. Can you put a tag:feature-request so peoples would votes more. Currently this seems to looks like a change Stack Exchange impose to the community. – user2284570 Dec 15 '14 at 23:36
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What about development?

That is currently excluded together with the home environment, but that exclusions is omitted in your draft. Setting up development environments is explicitly on-topic in Stack Overflow and has been off-topic on ServerFault. But...

There is the DevOps trend that works well for start-ups and more and more enterprises think that is therefore also a suitable model for them.

I think we had that overlap with SO covered our focus on operations and production systems requirements that were in previous versions of site scope/guidelines. That made relevant questions for system administrators supporting a DevOps infrastrcuture on-topic. But those are also no longer there.


  • working with services hosting or enabling your information technology

I think that is lacking the requirement for having administrative control, we expect people to have access to both configuration settings and the ability to change them if required.

If you want to keep it simple but have a generic include of "such-and-such as-a-service" use the overhyped cloud terminology.

  • managing your organisations IT cloud services
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    The point of excluding development environments from our scope was to exclude "This WAMP stack on my workstation is broken. FIX IT FOR ME!" questions from developers, which are almost universally terrible questions. "We implemented X in our dev environment, it broke Y, any ideas on how to fix it so we can put it in production?" questions from sysadmin/DevOps types who know and understand the systems they're asking about have always been in-scope. If you can think of a way to better explain the goal here I have no objection to changing it. – voretaq7 Dec 5 '14 at 16:56
  • Similarly "We're trying to create a good development environment using containers, we need X, Y, and Z, and we've tried A & B but can't quite get it doing what we want. Any ideas?" questions, again from sysadmin/DevOps folks, would in my view be on-topic since it's part of building and managing an infrastructure in a professional capacity. – voretaq7 Dec 5 '14 at 16:58
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    I struggled a bit to come with something suitable and failed, hence starting my answer with that question. I agree that questions and answers surrounding the operational aspects of managing the Dev support infrastructure in DevOps are and should remain on-topic, but the how to phrase that? – HBruijn Dec 5 '14 at 17:15
  • Yeah, I want to find better wording for the sections you're talking about. Will give it some more thought! – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 23:01
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I'm not opposed to changing the help center text (I'm the idiot who suggested doing it last time, and frankly I still don't think it's very good), but I have some issues with your proposal as it stands.


Professional Capacity

We have pretty clearly defined what we mean by "in a professional capacity". It's meant to exclude bad questions from developers who don't want to talk to their sysadmin , as well as from people who are cowboying it in the "kinda the sysadmin but no clue what I'm doing really" crowd.
I don't feel that kind of "Fix it for me, but don't make me understand the How or Why behind the answer" question is in scope for this site, and the people asking them are certainly not MY target audience when I ask or answer questions here.

Your language above does not preserve that audience narrowing.
If you can come up with language that does (or a good reason why we should be answering questions from those groups) I'd be willing to give this more consideration, but right now I'm opposed to removing the "professional" requirement.


Stuff-as-a-Service

I believe Stuff-as-a-Service is already in-scope with the existing Help Center text.

Including "working with services hosting or enabling your information technology" opens us up to "My Squarespace site is borked. That's my company's website. HALP!!" questions.

If you can come up with narrower scoping that makes it more clear that we don't want the questions that should be going to vendor support this could be added, but I think it's superfluous since Stuff-as-a-Service in a professional capacity is already in-scope.


Licensing, Legal, Circumvention, and Unauthorized Use/Misuse

These all need to be included as explicitly off-topic.
They need to be explicitly listed as off topic because people keep asking these questions even though they are explicitly listed as off topic.

Legal advice needs to be excluded because we are not here to give you legal advice. We are not lawyers. We may mention a legal requirement or regulation if it's applicable to a question but we should not be answering questions about "Is doing X legal under law Y?" - People still ask us that though.

Circumvention needs to be excluded because we are not here to teach you how to get around your system administrator's policy. We ARE the bloody system administrators, and we'd be pissed if someone tried to circumvent OUR policies. (I would agree to mentioning this in the "unauthorized use/misuse" line though - it logically belongs there.)

  • I got part way through the second paragraph and would like to suggest you (like everyone else) stop conflating scope and audience. Scope is IT in a professional environment. Audience is the people 'managing' that scope. Other than that I'm with you. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Dec 5 '14 at 17:29
  • @Iain Quite correct, and fixed(ish) - It's tough because "professional" is both a scope-limiter (we don't want the FixItFry questions that should be asked to the local sysadmin) and our audience (the sysadmin who just got asked a FixItFry question) – voretaq7 Dec 5 '14 at 17:42
  • On "professional" - I want to find good wording that asks for the right kind of questions, while taking away the focus on the user.. what's there might not do that well, though. On "_aaS", that section definitely needs better wording. I'll work "legal advice" back in, though I feel like circumvention is covered decently by "unauthorized use/misuse" - is that missing something important, do you think? – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 23:08
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I'm very skeptical of this change. "Managing informaton technology systems" could include a newbie volunteer who is trying to set up a mailing list for a student club on Go Daddy hosting. The question could be as "We're looking for feature X, which seems to be missing. How can we work around it without paying for a more expensive service?" Not very professional, but from the point of view of that amateur organization, it is their information technology system. And it is on a server, not home equipment.

This change will make it harder than ever before to cultivate a collection of good quality questions. In fact, I would argue that it is quite the opposite of a follow-up to Server Fault needs professional-quality questions, not just questions from professionals, which I interpret to mean "Server Fault needs questions from professionals that are also of professional quality."

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    The primary thing I'm trying to accomplish is to move the focus from the person asking the question to the question itself - "professional" invites us to look at the person, when we should be looking at the question. If an amateur asks a great question about how to set something up for a mailing list, then yes, I'm saying it should be in scope - because a well-asked question helps both professionals and non-professionals with the same problem. – Shane Madden Dec 5 '14 at 21:37
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    @ShaneMadden I think this change addresses the wrong problem. Can you cite examples of ad hominem discrimination? It's not like we verify your employment status. If you ask a question that is of professional quality, then Server Fault treats you as a professional. Change that wording/requirement, and Server Fault loses its elevator pitch. – 200_success Dec 5 '14 at 22:24
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This bit is too broad:

  • working with services hosting or enabling your information technology

We still aren't wanting to accept such things as end-user shared-web-hosting questions. But excluding these in the list of topics is tricky.

I think this is a bit better:

  • deployment to and management of third-party provided information technology platforms

This still isn't perfect (and I'd like to hear ideas for improving it further) but the remainder of the proposal is such that I'd rather see it go in quickly and work this out later, than to hold off the whole thing until someone comes up with the perfect wording - which, if meta is any guide, will never happen.

In the end, such questions aren't a very large percentage of those we get, and they could be handled by directing such users to their end-user support channels via a close reason written for that purpose or the "Other" reason, or just migrating them out when warranted.

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