I was wondering if this is just me or if others feel that the remit of rpgse is too narrow and too tightly controlled. I only post generic questions because I don't play D&D and few will know the homebrew systems I play.

So I posted this:

An an experienced GM, what pitfalls should I watch out for?

Because the newbie version of the question was getting some interesting feedback and I was wondering if there were any bad habits I'd gotten into.

The question was closed and now my enthusiasm for the community has waned in an instant.

If we are trying to get out of Beta then we should support a broader range of questions. The question itself wasn't bad and hadn't been asked before. Being quick to close questions is going to put people off.

Is it just me?

I've edited the question to hopefully make it more suitable.

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+1 I know how you feel as several of my questions were closed on semantic grounds. Personally, I think your question was fine as was. Note that it was not closed by popular vote but by one admin. –  Sardathrion Dec 9 '11 at 11:42
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The admins discussed this question and I think "half against half marginal" was the result. We don't like closing questions but we also like having useful questions. I consider the preceding "pitfalls for new GMs" question to be a huge unusable mess of often conflicting answers. –  mxyzplk Dec 9 '11 at 14:00
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As Admins, you rule supreme. So long as you understand the affect it has on the community. –  Rob Lang Dec 9 '11 at 15:58
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I'd agree that I think sometimes admins shut down questions before the community gets a chance to respond or the author gets a chance to revise or edit the question. I'd argue using the admin powers should be used as little as possible the community can sort it out. If you have issues make comments or suggestions how to improve. –  mirv120 Dec 9 '11 at 19:16
    
@mirv120 - asking mods not to take decisive action when they feel it is warranted is a non-starter with me. –  Pat Ludwig Dec 9 '11 at 19:50
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@PatLudwig Then maybe we just need to better define when it's warranted? –  mirv120 Dec 9 '11 at 21:51
    
@mirv120 - my close comment linked to the FAQ entry that I thought was on point. –  Pat Ludwig Dec 9 '11 at 22:00
    
@mirv120 if you want us to come up with a big ol' list of rules we are required to follow when closing stuff, the answer is "no." It's warranted when a mod thinks it's warranted. That's certainly guided by discussion and sentiment here on meta but SE isn't about long picky lists of rules, it's about guidelines, and I think the existing guidelines are reasonably clear. In the end, the community reopened and we respect that. Oh look the process worked - what is there to be upset about? –  mxyzplk Dec 10 '11 at 14:36
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What bothers me is that the moderation feels inconsistent. It feels like the mod's whimsy depends on whether they close a question outright or just make a suggestion to re-word the question and wait to see if the author responds. Pick one way or the other! It's a lot harder to complain if things are enforced the same every time. Yea that's hard for the mods but that's life. Mods end up being a more official face for the site so they're going to have to live up to that. –  mirv120 Dec 10 '11 at 20:41
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@mirv120 Aside from human issues (different mods, different times, etc.), there are factors at work that can cause similar questions to have different fates. Suggestions to edit can work well if a mod catches a question early... But if a question has upvoted answers, it's much more difficult to change its course (and more likely to result in a close). High profile questions are more likely to be closed, as they have the highest impact on future questions. Finally, new users are more likely to be hand-held because... Well, they're new and can't be expected to know what's going on. –  AceCalhoon Dec 11 '11 at 6:37
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+1, Stack Exchange should have more discussions, not strictly only Q&A. Some sites (like RPG, Movies or Philosophy) would benefit greatly from discussion. (and in my personal opinion, Philosophy especially can only have discussions) –  OddCore Dec 13 '11 at 15:46

5 Answers 5

I think this discussion is going in somewhat the wrong direction. Q&A format, aversion to lists, closing (and reopening and closing, etc.) of questions, these are all things that are part of the StackExchange format.

They're not going to change, because they have been extremely successful in communities that adopted them. This is not to say that the system is perfect... But there is a great deal of inertia behind it.

What would really help us out is how we can make this process more pleasant. Yes, your question got closed. Yes, it's a bummer. But you've been a member here for a year, have nine other questions with lots of activity, and plenty of answers. What about the process makes it feel like the end of the world to you?

Regarding the Question

So, what's wrong with that question in particular? The problem with this sort of question is that it encourages a lot of short, shallow, answers and lists.

Take a look at Sardathrion's answer. It's a pretty reasonable piece of work on its own. But scale things up over time. Think about what happens when the next person posts a long list of bullet points, half of which replicate Sardathrion's. And the one after that. And so on.

This might be somewhat useful to you, as you get immediate notification when a new answer rolls in. But to the rest of the world, it often turns into just a bunch of boring, samey, top-ten lists.

This isn't guarenteed to happen. The question you linked to actually came out really well, in my opinion. But compare the answers you're getting to the answers on the older question. They're just not even remotely in the same ballpark.

What needs to happen is that your question needs to be modified to draw out the thoughtful, reasoned answers. Not just a list of symptoms, but getting at the underlying problems and solutions.

This is a very tough question to ask. Exploratory questions are kind of a rough fit for the Q&A format to begin with, because they usually rely on a dialog. I'll try to give it some more thought this weekend, but as it is now:

  • The title may be able to stay as it is now. You really can't sum the entire question into a single line anyway.

  • In the question body, you need to establish where you are. What you mean by experienced. What are you doing now that seems really clever, what are some of the recent obstacles you feel have been overcome.

  • Describe your situation, and ask how to improve it.

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Some nice points there but you cannot compare RPG.SE with StackOverflow, English, WebApps or many of the others because the nature of the questions suit short, snappy, right/wrong answers. Roleplaying does not. Being extremely successful in those fields is hardly solace. –  Rob Lang Dec 10 '11 at 13:45
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Everyone always says their new SE is "different" in fundamental nature from all the others. And they're always wrong. –  mxyzplk Dec 10 '11 at 14:31
    
@RobLang I'm not sure if you're a programmer by trade, but "short, snappy, right/wrong" is not true of all programming questions (browse through some of Jon Skeet's answers sometime). Even setting that aside, what about Programmers.StackExchange, which deals exclusively with soft questions? –  AceCalhoon Dec 10 '11 at 17:17
    
@RobLang Also, it isn't a lack of "short, snappy, right/wrong" answers that's causing problems. Quite the opposite! We love long, thoughtful answers to problems with multiple solutions. It's perfectly acceptable for a question to have multiple different answers... But it must have at least one possible complete answer. What had me concerned about your question was the number of extremely short, technically correct, fragmentary answers. –  AceCalhoon Dec 10 '11 at 17:29
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@AceCalhoon Programmers.stackexchange also tends to have several closed questions on the front page, (3 right now), which can be somewhat depressing to look at. I dare say they're more prone to closing questions than us. –  Cthos Dec 11 '11 at 19:37

Closing is part of the natural process around here for questions that aren't quite specific enough. It doesn't mean the question is unwelcome, or deleted.

Closing does:

  • Prevent new answers
  • Allow deletion votes
  • Allow reopen votes

That's pretty much it, the following actions are not prohibited:

  • Editing
  • Commenting
  • Voting

Having an occasional question closed is not the end of the world. I'd argue that it is healthy. It allows the question to be improved, and then hopefully reopened which ultimately makes for a better site.

Blog posts such as Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and Real Questions have Answers do not back up your statement that we should be allowing a broader range of questions. The way forward, and out of beta is to keep quality up and not allow the site to devolve into "just another forum"

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To most users, closing a question is much more harsh than you expect. Having a question closed to the user may just be enough for them to never return. –  Rob Lang Dec 9 '11 at 16:00
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@RobLang - Even granting your "to most users" assumption, that's a risk I'm willing to take. StackExchange sites prioritize good content over specific user concerns under the theory that good content benefits the internets on an ongoing basis. (Which of course, will bring eyeballs) –  Pat Ludwig Dec 9 '11 at 16:13
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I think the issue might be when a question is closed new users don't necessarily know it can be re-opened. So we're closing the door on them completely. If we give some feedback and wait to see if they respond we can instead introduce them to our rules and get them more involved. On the flipside if they get frustrated with it we're A) Down a user B) Have another bad experience out there deterring interests from other possible users. –  mirv120 Dec 9 '11 at 19:21
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@mirv120 - Not to be flip, but you are assuming alot based on one closed question. I am a strong believer in the broken window theory. Also, close messages are potentially worded differently depending on the rep of the person receiving them. –  Pat Ludwig Dec 9 '11 at 19:47
    
In that case the mods probably should have closed the other question as well. The two were very similar. It's hard to ask a question if your example is bad. –  mirv120 Dec 9 '11 at 21:52
    
@mirv120 - so you're a believer in broken windows too! Awesome, another convert. w00t! –  Pat Ludwig Dec 9 '11 at 21:59
    
Comes with being a programmer. –  mirv120 Dec 10 '11 at 20:35

Obviously as mods we have to balance curation of the content on the site with the curation of the community on the site.

However, all the tried and true SE best practices - about Q&A in general, about community wiki, about Good Subjective/Bad Subjective, about scoping - are all completely on point for this site. No SE site is really 'different' from the others. Everyone who starts a new one thinks it is. We thought ours was. Then after a year plus of curating it, we realized the wisdom of the system. This SE will be run as a Stack Exchange. It is for experts who have actionable questions or problems they need an answer to or help with. That's not really a very strict format, but clearly some things lie outside it and don't belong here. In most cases, marginal questions can be brought back into the fold, because unless they are someone starting a question just for rep or to see themselves talk, there is an actual problem or question they have underlying it, they just aren't stating it in an actionable way. In those cases, we close the question and people pitch in to make the question answerable and then it gets reopened.

We generally wait to see some community closes before we mod-close, unless something's clearly spam or egregious, because it makes people feel better. But that's not a rule. We don't have rules, except the cardinal rule of "Don't be a dick," we just have guidelines and rep-driven community empowerment and experienced mods. So in general we try to wait for community closes, in general we try to leave an explanation on the closed Q that explains why and how to fix it up, in general we try to help with that process. But don't always have the time to do all that ourselves, so the community may feel free to jump in!

I will note that we have gotten "not constructive" flags on that question, which you don't see but the mods do, even since the reopen. But one person pulls the trigger, so everyone always thinks it's "one mod!" or "the modclique!" or whatever closing their question; there's usually a lot more behind it than that and that's why the mods are all established members of the community that folks should have the sense to trust some.

Reviewing our stats, over the life of the site (2200 questions) about 100 have been mod-closed. Less than 5%; I think that makes it pretty clear that there's not a heavy hand or too-strict rules. (It actually makes me think we've let too much slide...)

In the end, the community we want is a community that is motivated by high quality content and by expert Q&A. If we have discussiony stuff around, sure it might bring in "more" users but not the right ones. If people come here and see Yahoo Answers quality stuff, the numbers might get bigger but the experts will flee. Newbies might flee, but ideally those with fire in their bellies will want to come/stay to become experts. And that's the SE value prop.

You're a valuable expert on the site; you've asked many questions and gotten many answers. If one (temporary) question close is depressing you, likely the right solution is not RPG.SE process change, it's to get out this weekend and have some fun. I'm not saying this to be mean; I know what it's like for one forum post or email or SE question to get under my skin. But when one steps back to get some perspective, life goes on.

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LOL! Disillusioned doesn't mean I'm hanging from a rafter, I wanted to know if any other members of the community felt the same way. It seems they do. I have become rather thick skinned on the internets but I was concerned more about the newbie questioners who aren't 100% sure about roleplaying/GMing/the system. Someone with less net experience might never return after seeing their question closed, which means there is a person who needed help and couldn't be. –  Rob Lang Dec 10 '11 at 22:23
    
We can mitigate this in all the usual ways one does on a SE - commenting when closing, trying to help edit and reopen. But frankly it's even worse to allow crap questions from new drive-byers than to allow them from folks with experience on the site. Then anyone who isn't a noob looks at the front page, full of chatty junk, and goes and does something more constructive with their expertise than police the kiddie pool. SE is the deep end. –  mxyzplk Dec 13 '11 at 3:46

Three years later, and I think this question could have been asked today. It would be ideal if time was given to make a question more clear before closing. It would be even better if suggested edits could be made to keep the question in scope of the site, even if that risks modifying the original intended scope of the question.

Instead of making people angry and frustrated it would be a teaching moment on how to improve questions for the site.

In addition, questions like these appear to be voted on, but the votes are not followed.

It's almost as if every new question is looked at as "How can we close this question?" rather than "How can we keep it open and get good answers?"

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Yes, after three years some SE citizens still have a learning curve to understand this fundamental philosophy of the site, perhaps in part because new users haven't had those three years to learn it. And while you're right that sometimes questions could use more help to become clear, it's a non-starter to suggest keeping poor questions open; it seems to miss the point of closing questions until they're improved (explained in Pat's post linked above). –  BESW Jul 27 at 22:36
    
The entire reason "closed" was changed to "on hold" was to encourage its quick use and to let people know their question wasn't forever closed, but that they could change it to get it opened (without the neverending litany of "waah you changed your question and I answered already"). –  mxyzplk Jul 28 at 0:04
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@BESW It's going to be a constant source of frustration. Because no matter what you think you want to be doing, what you the policy IS doing is making people feel frustrated and disillusioned. You can tell people their feelings are unjustified all you want, it's not going to change how people feel. –  GMNoob Jul 28 at 7:57
    
If I've given the impression emotions can be logicked away, I'm horrified. But we can't always please everyone. These policies were not enacted lightly and "some people get upset" isn't enough to change them; if so, after three years of people getting upset (which, as you can see above, we do know happens) they'd've been changed. If you want to see the policies changed, make a meta post about it (an answer on a related question doesn't give space for useful talk)--and do your research. If you show you know why the policies exist, users'll listen to your suggested changes more carefully. –  BESW Jul 28 at 8:35
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Amen, man. At various points in the last couple of weeks it's felt like the slogan here should RPG.se - Fastest closers on the net, guaranteed! –  Tridus Jul 28 at 10:45
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Yup. I've been on StackOverflow since the early days and occasionally active on some of the other SEs, but RPG.SE is the only one that sticks out in my mind as having insanely close-happy mods. Also insanely quick to prune comments, for that matter. –  Dave Sherohman Jul 28 at 12:13
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I only come here once a week or so, I know all my friends no longer come here at all. What gets me the most is; that you are meant to be able to ask a question or give an answer to a question and you get votes on how useful or not it is. But no, there a filter of what the moderators think is on topic or how relevant it is. How can you have a Q&A site for Experts, that is a contradiction. The original idea of SE was that Experts gets points for giving good answers to questions not that you have to be a SE expert and ask SE formated correct questions before you are allowed to use it. –  David Allan Finch Jul 28 at 14:15
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@BESW Looking at the now several topics on meta about this, I'm not convinced that "make a post on meta" is going to fix it. Topics like this one show that stuff can remained closed even when meta largely agrees to open it. The policy might be accomplishing what it was designed to do, but it's also making for a miserable experience for new users. –  Tridus Jul 28 at 15:20

The question was closed and now my enthusiasm for the community has waned in an instant.

Good. Because this isn't a community.

The Stack Exchange model is not equivalent to a forum. Forums exist to create communities and foster discussion. Stack Exchange websites are intended to create a place where people can ask real questions and expect to get reasonable, accurate information.

Stack Exchange sites do not really build a community; they're for a loose-knit organization of faceless people who have no purpose other than to post questions and others who post answers. And the Stack Exchange model is well-designed to create exactly this kind of place.

Your question is an advice question. And while that would be useful to many people, the Stack Exchange model is not intended to cover everything. Advice questions are not part of it. Advice questions are just invitations to discussion. And discussion is not what Q&A is about.

You cannot really build a "community" around a Stack Exchange site. It's just a collective that answers answerable questions; nothing more. To the extent that RPGs need a place for that, this site can be used. But your "experienced GM question" would be far more reasonable on a discussion forum.

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Disagree, if it really was meant to be a non-community I'd say why not de-associate a user-name to questions or answers? Just have a rep score associated with them as a basis for judging the person's reliability. Also they have meet-ups and user-bios and chats. Maybe they want to be a non-community but they sure have a lot of trappings of one. –  mirv120 Dec 10 '11 at 20:44
    
@mirv120: You can't build a community without the ability to talk freely and openly. And Stack Exchange is designed specifically to restrict communication. The reason for user-names is simply competition. Maybe you recognize a guy from a previous question or comment. But you can't talk to them. They're just ships, passing in the night. –  Nicol Bolas Dec 10 '11 at 20:48
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@Nicol, there is a chat system. This is a community. –  Rob Lang Dec 10 '11 at 22:23
    
@RobLang: Yes there is. But chat is a terrible way to communicate complex information. It's too immediate (you can't hold long-term discussion), you can't format anything significantly. You cannot post a long argument explaining in meticulous detail what someone should or should not do. It's like talking over the phone; sometimes, in order to communicate effectively, you need to lecture. And you can't do that over chat. Also, you can only talk to someone via chat if they're already in chat with you at that moment. If they've never been to chat, you can't talk to them. –  Nicol Bolas Dec 10 '11 at 22:26
    
@RobLang: Also, while chat records are preserved, actually finding anything in chat is an exercise in futility. –  Nicol Bolas Dec 10 '11 at 22:28
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It's still a community, comments provide the cut-and-thrust and meta provides "meta" conversations. It's not built like another community but it still is. –  Rob Lang Dec 10 '11 at 22:28
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@RobLang: It is a community made of people who can't see each other. Who talk to each other over walls and by passing notes. It's a faceless, expressionless community, designed for the sole purpose of answering fact-based questions. Your question is simply not appropriate for this site. It was closed because there is no place on this site to discuss subjective concepts of the kind you need to discuss. "Q&A", "meta", and "chat" are not enough to cover the kinds of stuff that is reasonable to talk about with regard to RPGs. Especially for GM'ing a game. –  Nicol Bolas Dec 10 '11 at 22:33
    
@NicolBolas If you want a forum, go to a forum. There's plenty of them. SE is a different format for a different purpose. –  mxyzplk Dec 20 '11 at 6:38
    
@mxyzplk: Isn't that what I said? My point is that the purpose of a forum is likely more suited to helping role-players than what SE is for. The questions I would have as a GM are more often than not, opinionated, have no definitive answer, and involve more discussion and debate than SE is designed to handle. –  Nicol Bolas Dec 20 '11 at 6:45

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