Should we discourage people from asking for answers to their question that only use free resources?


I think questions specifically asking for a list of free resources should be disallowed, and when editing the questions to bring them into line with our standards, requests for only free resources should be discouraged. Here's my reasoning.

A current example: Finding Obituaries, family history

The original form of this question was:

What are some free web sites to find obituaries? (So far, I've had no luck.)

We've nudged this new user to give us a location and time period which narrows it somewhat. They've added a person, so now we have a workable problem. But if we have to limit ourselves to only answers from free websites, what happens next? I see the following issues:

  1. An answer which is restricted to free resources will not necessarily be the best answer to the question.
  2. An answer which is restricted to free resources will take at least as long to write as an unrestricted answer, and may take longer, since the person writing the answer will have to take extra time sorting out and discarding all the resources which are pay-walled.
  3. Resources which are free at the time the answer is written won't necessarily stay free forever.
  4. If a person comes along later with the same question, but wants to know the best answer instead of the "free" answer, the question will have to be answered all over again. Do we want a site full of duplicate questions where the only difference is that one person has asked for free resources and the other doesn't care if the solution costs money? An answer which marks the subscription sites in some fashion, or puts the free and subscription or PPV sites in separate lists, serves both sets of users.

I would rather see the site focused on which answer is the best answer. Given that people can often get access to Ancestry.com and other pay sites at their local public libraries or family history centers, I think the burden of figuring out what a user can get for free should be on the person asking the question rather than the community.

This is an expensive hobby and we all have to budget. I don't mind someone saying that they've only checked free sites so far because they're on a tight budget, but that's a big difference from someone coming and asking us to curate the links on Cyndi's List or Linkpendium to find all the free sites for them. We're here to help them solve their problem, not to find things for them that they could have found for themselves by searching Google for "obituaries" and "free".

I'd rather be able to give a complete answer and say "the information you want can be found here, and if you can't afford a subscription, check with your local library / record office / family history center to access these records".

  • My first inclination was to say that if "free" was their requirement then they should be able to specify that, but when I read your answer you totally convinced me otherwise. Great answer +1!
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Jul 13 '15 at 23:13
  • 2
    Questions requesting only on-line resources would be a similar case, and could be edited to be more inclusive. Actually, the question that prompted this meta question will probably have an answer that references off-line resources.
    – bgwiehle
    Jul 16 '15 at 14:47

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