3

We should decide and make clear what list questions (if any) are appropriate on genealogy.se and which are not. And what should be done to make a good question from a question that may have a list answer.

For example "What are the best genealogy sites" is a "bad" list question not just because the answer is a list but because it's subjective opinion and it's way too broad (ie it's not a specific problem). "what are the references and citations for William Brewster (1535-1590) being born in Scooby, England?" is a very specific genealogical problem that still produces a list for an answer. In between might be "what sites have references/citations for William Brewster?". Also in between might be "what lineage and heritage societies might I be eligible for if I have ancestors who immigrated to Connecticut in the late 1600's?". Can we distill something to put in the FAQ about do/don'ts wrt list questions.

Some se sites have explicit FAQs dealing with list questions, many do not. We should give clear guidance in FAQs so closers can reference when closing a question, and questioners can learn so they can ask appropriately. Just saying 'no lists' might shut down many of the very people we are trying to attract - expert genealogists.

See What's the opinion on "list" questions? for a discussion on list questions in stack overflow. Alot of the issues raised (pro and con) apply to genealogy.se as well

One of my reasons for creating this question is I think this site aims to recruit genealogy experts and my experience is most genealogists are not computer experts and are probably unfamiliar with se. I'm a newbie myself that found se thru genealogy, but I do consider myself expert in certain computer areas. I joined other se sites and perused the questions of interest to me (and of course discovered I'd been using se for years when I googled for answers - I just didn't notice that was where the answers came from). Looking thru those sites for list questions, there were many users who were 'shut down' by their questions being closed, alot of times without explanation. Since genealogy involves lots of lists, we will have a large 'expert in genealogy, newbie in se' community, I think the faq should make whatever the list policy is clear.

At the risk of repeating myself - the reason for this question is to encourage the participation of expert genealogists and give them guidance since the are mostly not se experts.

  • Are we voting to close questions in beta? I have been wondering the same thing. – Canadian Girl Scout Oct 10 '12 at 13:12
  • 1
    We might be able to utilize CW here. – American Luke Oct 10 '12 at 13:39
  • @CanadianGirlScout - I would say yes. If there is a bad question voting to close no will let others know they are bad when the site launches. – Justin808 Oct 10 '12 at 15:33
  • @Luke, What does CW mean? – GeneJ Oct 11 '12 at 0:31
  • @GeneJ Community Wiki – American Luke Oct 11 '12 at 1:21
  • I've been happy so far to see that experienced SE folks are showing restraint when it comes to closing questions in beta. Some of the questions that would be rapidly shut down on other sites - you can see genealogy.se users responding positively and warmly to them. It's almost funny. – Canadian Girl Scout Oct 12 '12 at 5:13
  • That being said, I can also see how some lists can easily become tedious and might push away 'experts'. – Canadian Girl Scout Oct 12 '12 at 5:15
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    See this related discussion. – jmort253 Oct 12 '12 at 5:38
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    @CanadianGirlScout This might be a double edged sword. Assuming I understand how things work, I see folks trying to answer everything--right out of the box, without much discussion about how that question could be improved. Especially on these borderline question, one of the reasons answers might be coming in fast, is that folks don't realize that if the question is closed off, they will loose the rep they gained from answering the question to begin with. – GeneJ Oct 12 '12 at 17:21
  • Continuing ... I've voted to close one question. It has six up votes and as many answers. There are 18 up votes on the collective answers. (It is a list type question.) – GeneJ Oct 12 '12 at 17:22
  • As @jmort253 commented above, this question is a duplicate of "How to handle Resource Lists type of questions". Can a moderator close this and merge the answers. discussion – lkessler Oct 13 '12 at 1:02
  • @lkessler - I'm not convinced it's an exact duplicate, but the discussions may be similar enough to where it may warrant merging. However, I think the consensus in both posts tend to be the same, at least in the beta if not in the long run... With that said, I did [flag] this to let the community team take a look. – jmort253 Oct 13 '12 at 3:30
6

The problem with list type questions is:

  • They attract a lot of spam.
  • They tend to generate link-only answers or one-liners.
  • They eventually become outdated, oftentimes quite quickly.
  • It's difficult to determine what the best answer is and vote good stuff to the top.
  • Most importantly, they don't focus on solving real problems.

Remember, the goal is to build an expert level site where people can get answers to problems they face in the Genealogy field. If you come here and simply ask "Where can I learn more about 19th century German military records", you're asking us to point you away from our site.

In one of the suggested "required reading" blog posts from one of our community managers, titled No Artificial Intelligence in Area 51, this is the reason given for why the Artificial Intelligence Stack Exchange beta was shut down:

It wasn’t so much the lack of questions that was of concern — a site can stay in beta as long as it takes — but the conspicuous lack of expert-level questions.

Thus, on a site meant to attract experts, you should instead treat the people here as the experts. Let them solve your problem. Ask them to teach you about 19th century German military research to help you find more about your ancestral roots. The questions will not only be more interesting, but the learning will happen here, not somewhere else. :) With that said, if the answer to your question just happens to contain a link along with an awesome explanation, so be it, but asking for links and nothing else isn't good for our fledgling community.

Remember, the goal is to be better than all of the other forums and sites our there that already have lists of things. Hope this helps! :)

  • This is an excellent answer. I would add that list question are typically too overly-generalized to help the original author. So the question becomes just a poll of the community which quickly becomes users just piling in whatever they use themselves, or what they are familiar with. All sense of expertise is lost and the premise behind having a Stack Exchange site in the first place is tossed out the window. These type of "list and compare questions" simply are not well sited to this type of Q&A.... maybe our chat rooms. – Robert Cartaino Oct 12 '12 at 18:18
  • note the purpose of the question was to develop wording to put in faq. Obviously to put the wording in, we have to develop the policy. I do think we should look at the policy wrt genealogy and fault questions because they are too overgeneralized not just because they are lists. I was trying to get the focus on what makes it bad, not just that it's a list. I reworded the question to hopefully better address. – Duncan Oct 15 '12 at 11:29
  • Hi Duncan, we tried to do what you're suggesting on PMSE. Our FAQ actually looked a bit unwelcoming afterwards. So we just went to the standard FAQ format most other sites use. I strongly suggest looking at other site's FAQ for inspiration. The FAQ does have sections already that say How to Ask and How to Answer. Hope this helps! – jmort253 Oct 15 '12 at 16:47
2

The idea is that questions that don't focus on a real problem, that solicit users to provide "lists of things" don't tend to fit the Q&A model very well for several reasons.

Consider this example question, taken from Q&A is Hard, Let's Go Shopping, except I've added a few more answers to help make a point:

Q: What’s the best low light point-and-shoot camera?

A: Canon S90 and Lumix LX3.

A: Nikon D3.

A: My favorite is Pentax S2.

A: See this link to buy low light cameras from our store

The end result is a post filled with nothing but an uninspired list of everyone's favorite cameras, with no way to validate the information and determine what is best, and no explanations as to why it's the best choice.

However, that's not to say these posts should be closed immediately and tossed into the garbage bin. The first one should probably be edited to include more specific information about the problem. Otherwise, we could end up with a lot of answers that don't help solve the asker's problem and confuse visitors looking for a solution, not a link farm.

The second question appears to have plenty of detail, but the answer could be improved. The person posting appears to be asking a follow up question to help the asker clarify the post, and this should be done with a comment.

The Q&A is Hard, Let's Go Shopping blog post recommend teaching people how to fish rather than just giving them a fish. Consider that it may be more valuable for a person to learn how to evaluate a Genealogy site rather than just giving them a link. One goal here is to teach and to learn. Consider this edited photography question, which focuses more on information that can help people for years to come:

Q: How do I tell which point-and-shoot cameras take good low light photos?

A: I strongly recommend looking for something with

  • a fast lens (2.0 at least)
  • reasonable ISO handling (at least 400, but preferably 800)
  • the biggest sensor available

The sum of these factors are really critical for low light situations.

So, I'd propose taking a hard look at these questions, and also taking a look at what one of the community managers said here about avoiding overly trivial questions during the beta, and then discussing how we can edit and improve them.

Most of the time, when we ask for a link or a resource, there's a real problem under the surface that we can elaborate on. It's just a matter of asking the right follow-up questions in the comments to figure out what that problem really is. Hope this helps!

  • this did help. But note the question was how to word the faq to get at the specifics for good/bad list questions for genealogy. The problem with metaphors (eg shopping for cameras) is they can become skeuomorphs. I tried to reword this question to better address what I was trying to ask – Duncan Oct 15 '12 at 11:43
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We shouldn't allow them. As you said, there is no definitive answer.

But I also think your examples aren't the best. The first one could easily be turned into a good question by asking, "Where can I find Jewish Historical Information Pre WWII in Europe?" The second question is also soliciting help and not necessarily wanting a list as an answer.

A better example of a bad list question is Family tree constructing web sites comparsion.

  • So true about the editing aspects! +1 – jmort253 Oct 11 '12 at 4:08
  • isn't "Where can I find Jewish Historical Information Pre WWII in Europe?" still a list question? My point of original question was to try to come up with wording for faq. You should be able to tell from faq whether "Where can I find Jewish Historical Information Pre WWII in Europe?" should be closed because it's a list question. – Duncan Oct 15 '12 at 11:46
2

Interesting. Lists are totally against the Stack Exchange model. Expert questions with problems to be solved by expert answers are what's wanted.

I'm interested in what the moderators have to say, now that they've seen the types of questions that genealogists have been posing on this site.

Should genealogy follow the model? Or not?

...

After contemplation (it didn't take much), if we allow lists, we'll start to see questions like these:

  • Where should I research my British ancestors?
  • Where should I research my French ancestors?
  • Where should I research my Dutch ancestors?
  • ...
  • What are good programs for drawing family trees?
  • What are good online programs?
  • What are good programs for the Mac?
  • ...

People like lists of links on the subjects they are interested in. As a result, these will get lots of upvotes as they did on Stack Overflow and other Stack Exchange sites before those in the know realized they were poison and started closing and deleting them.

Why are the poison? Because they are like weeds that start growing everywhere, and they obscure the flowers (the expert questions).

New people will come to this site and see the lists of links. Will they then be motivated to add some good questions that they'd like expert answers for? No. They'll add another lists question.

So no. We shouldn't allow lists questions.

Caveat: Some questions border on being a lists question. It is subjective, so it's hard to get a clear divide and say one question is bad and the other is good. We won't be able to be perfect on this, e.g.:

Are these list questions or not? Not so easy to say.

  • the point of the question was to try get at what was good and bad about lists so the faqs could be specific. If answer is none - just say so. But I'd prefer more specifics Ie rule out the bad list questions in your answer above but not rule out a list of references to a specific problem. My concern is saying "no lists" might be too broad itself and I'm worried about turning off expert genealogists. I am neither an expert genealogist nor an expert se user so I defer to the experts. I just want to make sure expert genealogists are weighing in. I reworded my question to try to say it better. – Duncan Oct 15 '12 at 11:37
  • Okay. Your question's clearer now. – lkessler Oct 15 '12 at 14:04
1

My post below follows a posting I made here.

This seems to me an educational issue.

Most list questions are low quality questions that could be re-modeled into great questions by adding context/specificity.

I'd much rather see a description, including specifics, of the problem that is to be solved.

(1) We may have some re-educating to do. Recall that that during the definition phase, questions were closed off as being too localized. Even though the concept of "too localized" was challenged, methinks some folks interpreted the closures and down votes as a signal that they should generalize their questions. At least I think that may have resulted in some of the overly general/broad questions we have seen.

(2) Answers are coming in quickly, before comments can be posted about ways to improve the question. Not sure we have found the best way to articulate the importance of improving the questions quality.

  • If a question gets answers, I think it's still okay to try to get the op (original poster) to clarify the question. Just leave comments on the answers letting them know to update their posts. Worst case scenario, someone writes better answers and the outdated ones get pushed to the bottom. Best case scenario, everything gets updated..... Also, keep in mind this is why it's sometimes good to close a post. Closing gives the op time to work w/the community to make edits before opening the answer floodgates. :) – jmort253 Oct 13 '12 at 3:25
0

My opinion is that they are useful and they should be allowed in the long run, but in these early days of beta we should not be having too many of them based on the newbie advice wrt beta (ie have more 'expert' questions at startup, not 'newbie' questions).

  • Just to clarify, my upvote on this is for the second part of your compound sentence. I tend to disagree with the first part, but that's a discussion and debate for later down the road. :) – jmort253 Oct 13 '12 at 3:23
0

This seems to me an educational issue.

Most list questions are low quality questions that could be re-modeled into great questions by adding context/specificity.

Rather than ... a good site to seek ... I'd much rather see a description, including specifics, of the problem that is to be solved.

(1) We may have some re-educating to do. Recall that that during the definition phase, questions were closed off as being too localized. Even though the concept of "too localized" was challenged, methinks some folks interpreted the closures and down votes as a signal that they should generalize their questions. At least I think that may have resulted in some of the overly general/broad questions we have seen.

(2) Answers are coming in quickly, before comments can be posted about ways to improve the question. Not sure we have found the best way to articulate the importance of improving the questions quality.

No doubt @Jmort253 covered much of this in his comment.

0

One of the differences between G&FH and many of the other SE sites is that, here, an answer from today will (on the whole) still be a valid answer in the future - after all, we are talking about the past. And by answer, I mean a proper answer, not just a link to another site, no matter how distinguished.

Many of the other SE sites are technologically cutting edge, so today's answer will be obsolete in the near future.

As such, lists (of lists) are probably a very useful feature - but not in a question format.

As Luke mentioned in his comment above, perhaps this is a topic to consider the Community Wiki for?

-2

I see nothing wrong with allowing such questions, and the answers as well.

Yes, the more correct one will probably get voted up, but such lists can sometimes make a huge find for anyone that is looking for info.

The general knowledge of the mass, is always better than the private knowledge of a single researcher.

Also, as the site will grow, and new sites/apps are been created and developed, these lists will get updated.

A good example can be such lists on SO. A question from 2009, will have answers related to that period, but the newer answers will provide more relevant solutions for today.

All in all, we need to make sure that there is no hidden marketing/commercial in the answers/quesions.

  • 1
    I disagree. Such questions on SO are very rare. And they've never been useful to me. – user47 Oct 10 '12 at 13:31
  • They have been working the last few months to close every "list" question on Stack Overflow. Try to find some. – lkessler Oct 11 '12 at 3:22

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