If there are books that I read a long time ago that I'd like to re-read but I've forgotten the author and/or title, may I post a question asking if other users can identify it? The same for movies or TV series that I'd like to watch again.

If such questions are allowed, what guidelines should we have for posting meaningful question titles (i.e. no "Plz id this book") and preventing plot spoilers in the question?

5 Answers 5


I say yes, because a questions and answer site is exactly the right format for these. The question goes up and stays up; maybe someone will answer it months later, and the answer is still likely to be useful to the asker. And there's no need for extended discussion, just the occasional comment asking if a certain detail triggers an extra memory.

There have been such questions on Gaming Stack Exchange, in the identify-this-game tag. As far as I can see, it's working pretty well. The question of whether to allow them has been debated there; it's mostly Jeff against and the community in favor. Note that the site-wide policy is that it is up to individual sites to decide on the viability of identity-this questions.

For an example of a place where it works (as long as someone knows the answer now), if you manage to navigate through the spam, search for yasid (yet another story id) on rec.arts.sf.written and other newsgroups. Story identifications definitely bring good traffic there.

Just to insist: in 2010, people still came to a spam-ridden, politics-rant-infested newsgroup to have their YASID (yet another story identification) questions answered. Being good at story identification is definitely a benchmark at how attractive a discussion site about SF is. And story identification is ideally suited to a questions and answer format: one question, several possible answers, one of them correct.

If the questions offend you, put (or whatever we end up using) in your ignored tags list. And if the question is really terrible (“I read a book and it maybe had a green cover”, it can be closed, on merits, not because of its nature.

  • 1
    I agree with Gilles, if there is an answer we should allow those Questions.
    – Iceag
    Commented Jan 12, 2011 at 11:19
  • 2
    identify-this-game isn't exactly appreciated by everyone as they aren't really a question and the only problem they solve is filling a void in the users memory... Read @Grace Note's answer explaining why: meta.gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/1455/…
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 22:16
  • @Ivo: I've read that thread (ok, I skimmed through some bits), and I disagree with “they aren't really a question” and don't care whether the “problem they solve is filling a void in the users memory” (what's wrong with that anyway? We answer people who can't be bothered to read the first Google hit, why not answer people who have the normal human trait of an imperfect memory and can't get an answer to their question without human assistance?).
    – user56
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 22:32
  • Because the description in most of those questions are a vague description of mixed up memories, to whom does this carry any value? Someone who likes the outlined vague description and wants to read it too? Sounds like a really bad recommendation to me. Furthermore, just because you can ask such questions doesn't mean you should. There are plenty of 'real' questions that are actually worth answering.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 22:37

A lot of the objection to these questions over on Gaming seems to be on the basis that people's vague recollections aren't actually enough to give a positive identification. And that's not proving to be an issue over here -- I've recently answered a couple of identification questions where it was quite clear what the right answer was.

  • 1
    I tend to agree with you, but it seems there was an arbitrary decree from on high about this -- and something about how the question is only useful to the person who posted it, which is ridiculous.
    – Slick23
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 16:01

I see no logical reason to ban this question type. I've seen many citations of Jeff's comments at gaming.se to justify outright banning them. That's a busy page - lots of discussion - so I may have missed something. However, the standout comment for me came at the end of Jeff's question:

The only positive attributes of these questions I can think of, based on the comments:

If we get an excellent user who asks a good, thoughtful identification question and sticks around in our community to participate, then it's worth allowing it in those rare cases as a high quality "getting to know you" fun question.

if the user can produce a screenshot or some other reasonably concrete identifying artifact to work with, other than "I kinda remember.." I have less objections to these questions. I'm still not a fan of them, but I think that's a fair way to limit how many we have.

I will be personally monitoring this [identify-the-game] from now on and aggressively closing any that I find which are insufficiently clear, as Not a Real Question.

That comes from the end of his question, where he edited it to include a summary of the discussion that the question launched. My take on it -- identification questions were held to a high standard for clarity and asking-user participation.

While I disagree with Jeff's overall dislike of the question type, I agree that they need to be held to a high standard.

The asker needs to

  • Provide as detailed a description as possible of the story/book/movie/etc
  • Participate in the question by answering clarifying questions, editing to include ruled out incorrect answers

I'm going to say no. Clearly, this is going to be a contentious subject, but I'd point you to this discussion over on Gaming.SE's meta to get a sense of some of the arguments both pro and con.

The key thing to keep in mind about the Con argument in my mind is this: While 'Identify this X' questions are often sound in concept, in practice, they invariably become, by and large, the worst questions on the site. A quick perusal of the Identify-this-game tag over at Gaming shows a whole lot of really really terrible questions. While the success rate on answering them is reasonably high, I seriously question the value of those questions to the growth of the site or the internet as a whole.

As to the argument of "Closing these questions drives away users" - again, take a look at the tag on Gaming - especially the number of terrible questions asked by users with below 50 rep who have not logged on since asking their question.

Part of the mission of Stack Exchange sites is to make the Internet a better place. "Identify-this-X" does exactly the opposite, and encourages the worst sort of lazy, unproductive use of the site.

  • 1
    I haven't been following Gaming, but it looks to me like it's working there. I think identify-this-X would bring good traffic there (as it does, or did, in newsgroups). I really don't get why you call it “lazy, unproductive”: identify-this-X is very much non-googlable, you need humans to answers!
    – user56
    Commented Jan 12, 2011 at 8:36
  • 1
    I actually find these questions fascinating, because I may not have heard of the work, and might also find the idea interesting.
    – Martha F.
    Commented Jan 16, 2011 at 18:05
  • 1
    I suspect that identification questions where the OP actively participates will be good, where the Q goes up and is not maintained won't be. Much like Qs on SuperUser where the only initial response can be to ask for more information -- and it is never provided.
    – Richard
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 11:00

Why not? If the original SO allows questions like "why this code doesn't work" (i.e. having value for the asker, but less for general public), why scifi site couldn't allow same type of question, if taken in moderation?

  • 2
    Because it's not the same kind of question. "Why this code doesn't work" has nothing to do with "what's the TV show with [foo]?" Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 7:53
  • 1
    @nelifein I described in the comment what it has to do - it has value for the asker, but not for many others. While these questions are not the same, they are same category of questions.
    – StasM
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 8:42
  • Arguably the question about book may function as recommendation (book someone is returning to) while why code does not work if not described precisely (i.e. stated problem and attempt rather then just posting code) are rarely useful. Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 3:46

You must log in to answer this question.

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