Over the past few months, or almost a year now, since I saw Arqade's call for input I've been thinking of ways that we can do the same here on SFF. So taking and tailoring the questions from that post we have:

  • In your opinion, what are SFF’s strengths and weaknesses?

  • What are the day-to-day challenges or issues you face with SFF?

  • What’s that ‘one thing’ you wish the site had, handled, or did differently?

  • Do you have any suggestions, feature-requests, or other wishes?

  • Got an idea for a tournament, contest, or other community get-together?

  • Would you like a followup to an old meta/bug/feature-request?

  • Can we look over a reviewed/edited/closed/deleted question for a second opinion?

  • What can we do to facilitate community events or otherwise help you out?

  • Can we do more to promote SFF?

These aren't the only points I want to talk about but just some general starting points to get some ideas flowing.

So, the plan for this post is to have a separate answer per idea, the community can then vote them up or down and after so long I, or someone else, can come along and post a specific meta on that point made and we can develop the idea further there.

Please post your ideas and improvements below!

  • 5
    General note to voters here: since this thread contains many answers by the same person, if you vote on all of them too quickly, your votes may be invalidated by the system (thinking it's "serial voting").
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:31
  • @Rand can you fix that with your Diamond of Power? It hasn't happened to me, I'm just curious :) // Edit: what if they were made into community wiki? Would the system be okay with that? Commented May 14, 2020 at 18:47
  • 2
    @marcellothearcane No, site moderators can't invalidate votes directly. "We're gonna need a bigger diamond", i.e. SE employees or the automated system. Not sure if CW would affect anything, that's a good question.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 19:48

12 Answers 12


A topic challenge program has begun in 2021. Topics for future challenges can be suggested here: Propose future topics for SFF topic challenges!


Topic Challenges run on some various sites across the network, for example on Literature, and are a good way to bring in traffic, certainly to low traffic tags. They are featured in the side bar in an "Upcoming Events" section and help promote certain things.

Something I've seen around the network but mostly on Movies & TV are answer challenges. Their ones take the form of "Solve old unanswered questions!" which is a good idea but this can be applied in other areas as well and not just to answers: best question/answer by new user (votes or nomination), best late answer (votes or nomination), best low scored question etc.

These two can even run in parallel or we can only do one or neither. But they draw traffic and could be a good idea for some events to run. So some things to think of:

  • Do we want these? Just one? Both? Neither?

  • How frequently should they run, at least initially?

  • What types of Challenges can we run?

  • How would we award the prizes and what prizes would we award? Someone would likely have to volunteer to give up the bounties so something to think about.

  • 2
    I like the idea of topic challenges, especially when someone chooses a film or property that I've not had much engagement with, since it's an excuse to watch/read something new
    – Valorum
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:47
  • 2
    This is something some of the mods were discussing ... er, years ago, and never got around to actually doing. I like the idea of focusing on low-traffic tags (again tying in to some of my previous efforts). A topic challenge on Star Wars would be a terrible idea, but a topic challenge on say Blake's Seven would help to breathe life into a smaller tag, and hopefully (as Valorum mentioned) encourage people to expand their reading/watching experience.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 10:22
  • @Randal'Thor FWIW a topic challenge on Star Wars would be a bad idea most of the time but would be an excellent idea to run the week a new film comes out. Getting in some of the early questions is very important in attracting traffic.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 9:08
  • 5
    The week a new film comes out, we're inundated with questions in the tag anyway - no need for a challenge to get that spike in traffic.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 9:56

I can think of another important one. One that has been lying dormant for a while. Unfortunately, it does need attention from SE and isn't something we can just do off our own backs.

A re-improved site theme.

  • 2
    Yup, Anime.SE and Worldbuilding have great custom themes, gotta be doable to give SFF one back as well.
    – Jenayah
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 6:47

Updating the FAQ

This recent comment got me thinking.

As a side note, I think that having unwritten rules, undocumented common practices, rules based on some old posts on meta, and generally speaking any rule that is not explicitly explained in the help center, is a problematic practice. There should be a way to have some clear information about these things, both for new members, or even more experienced ones that are not always present on the site and do not partecipate much in chat and meta. – Sekhemty

Now we can't do much outside of meta and I'm not sure what parts of the help centre the mods can customise; and to an extent how much that should be customised. However, the seems somewhat out of date and there isn't really a collection of meta policies anywhere. I think it would be helpful to have one main post that links to our policies and we keep that up to date.

  • How do we do this?

    • One post linking policies?
    • Keeping the up to date?
    • Update the help centre pages?
    • All/none of the above?
  • What needs including in the post?

    • What's missing?
    • What policies should be there?
    • Any helpful guides there too? Story id guides, etc.
  • 1
    I spearheaded an effort to update the faq tag soon after becoming a mod: see this old meta. Haven't re-checked in a while, so quite possibly it could use some updating again. Very few help centre pages are customisable even by mods: I think help/on-topic may be the only one.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 10:26
  • @Randal'Thor I think it might be more of a case of making a mega post linking to policies and what not to avoid the faq becoming to overcrowded the more I think about it.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 10:30

A meta post about this has been created, discussion about this should be directed there: Do we want a custom close reason for the Future Works Policy? Revisited

New custom close reason?

This is a bit more specific than most of your answers, but something I've been thinking about for a while.

Background: we have a long-standing policy to close questions about future works (with clarifications about what that means) as Primarily Opinion-Based. In 2016 we proposed a custom close reason for this, and the consensus was that it shouldn't be a custom off-topic close reason since these questions aren't off-topic only opinion-based. If Categories other than "off-topic" should allow custom close reasons was implemented, we could revisit that decision.

Recently, SE made a lot of changes to the question-closing system, one of which was to replace "off-topic" by "community-specific reason" which essentially does implement the above-linked main meta proposal. Now, creating a custom close reason for Future Works would not imply that such questions are off-topic, only that they're unsuitable for our site for some site-specific reason, which is true.

Maybe we can revisit the discussion about this proposed custom close reason?

  • Wait can we have 4 custom close reasons not 3? If so we only need to add a reason not change one right?
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 9:03
  • @TheLethalCarrot The default max is 3, but we can either ask to have that increased, or perhaps deactivate the "default" close reason of "this is not about sci-fi or fantasy" (which IIRC we only added as a "custom" close reason after deciding not to add one for FWP).
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 10:11
  • After looking the "this is not about sci-fi or fantasy" is one of the most used ones. I see Arqade has 4, I think, so asking to increase might be the way to go.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 10:13
  • @TheLethalCarrot It's probably the most used one because it's basically a cop-out when noone can be bothered to come up with a custom reason. It's simply the overall "blatantly off-topic" reason that is offered to flaggers (who can't type in a custom reason) as a general catch-all, but was turned into a custom site-specific one at some point for some reason. Yes, asking SE for 4th reason can't hurt, but I wouldn't count on it, they tend to be really conservative about doing that, especially when they see one of the 3 being used as a catch-all.
    – TARS
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 11:48
  • 1
    @TARS There's no point in using a custom reason when something is blatantly off topic. We get a lot of id requests for stuff that isn't SFF-nal. A custom text reason isn't needed in those cases, so the general off topic is useful.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 12:02
  • @TheLethalCarrot That would be the case if the close-reason was talking about the work being asked about not being scifi, rather than just repeating the catch-all close reason and making it sound like the question is off-topic (for unknown reasons to be filtered out of the help center). But I guess that's a discussion for a different time.
    – TARS
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 12:19

Updating custom close reason text(s)

After new changes by SE to the question closing system, we have the ability to write multiple different texts for each close reason, to be displayed in different places according to context. (See this image for all the text boxes to be filled when creating a new custom close reason.) Other sites such as Academia SE have updated all their close reason texts accordingly, showing a different chunk of text to close voters, to the general public, to the OP, and to privileged users in general.

Currently each of our close reasons has the same text showing in all contexts, namely:

Let's brainstorm it and decide how these texts should be adapted for each of the four different contexts in which they can be shown. After we've reached an agreement, the mod team (liaising with CMs if necessary) can update the close reasons. There are four text boxes, plus the "brief description", to be filled. Note that each one has a 500 character limit.

  • 1
    Excellent idea, I'd somehow missed this option in the announcements. Better guidance to help users out is always a good idea.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 10:13
  • Yeah, this is pretty important but will be a big effort to organise. After seeing W... (that mod with the difficult name) updating the close texts on his 3 sites, understanding exactly what needs to be done here and organising an effort to do it has been on the to-do list.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 10:15
  • This seems like a good idea regardless, and also one that can largely proceed independently of any of the other suggestions here. Why not kick this off maybe starting with a question about "not SF&F" which is probably the easiest to start with?
    – DavidW
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 23:49
  • 1
    @DavidW I'm thinking to start off with the other two, since (see comments here) I might even propose for discussion the idea of getting rid of the catch-all "not SF/F" close reason. Also I want to space out all these meta discussions reasonably, to avoid "meta fatigue". If we have like five featured-worthy meta questions in a week, people are going to get bored and not participate in all those discussions. Let's allow this one to get some more attention/votes before starting any of these new discussions.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 0:13

Movie Nights

s used to be quite a frequent run community event around here. It might be worth starting them up again.

  • How often should these run?

  • What types of movies?

  • How do we organise them?

  • Is there a common place to watch together?

  • What times should it be ran?

  • Why did we stop, anyway?
    – Laurel
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 22:04
  • @Laurel the event needs an organiser, I guess the last one decided to stop doing that.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 22:06
  • 1
    @Laurel No organizer, and low participation. See commentary on the last one: scifi.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/11415/…
    – Skooba
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 14:14

What’s that ‘one thing’ you wish the site had, handled, or did differently?

Well, that's easy: stop closing questions as duplicates because of similar answers. Either the questions are asking the same thing, or they're not. If you can't tell until you look at the answers, please consider whether you truly have enough domain knowledge to make a decision. (Not saying there can't be exceptions - for example, English is not everyone's native language, in which case an answer, especially an accepted one, can be a pointer towards the correct interpretation of the question - but that's hardly a majority of cases.)

If you're determined to consider answers as a factor in figuring out whether questions are duplicates, then keep in mind that question A and question B can only be the same if all of the good answers to A will also answer B, and vice-versa. If a single good answer to A also mentions something that's an answer to B, but this is not vital to the answer - as demonstrated by the existence of other good answers to A that do not mention anything about B - then question A and question B are not duplicates. Similarly, if there exist (or there can exist) good answers to B which do not answer A, then question A and question B are not duplicates.

Above all, if you find yourself wishing that your duplicate link could point to a specific answer instead of just the question, you're probably doing it wrong.

  • Could you provide some specific examples?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 16:25
  • 1
    While you make a reasonable albeit oft-repeated point, I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing this meta post is about. It seems to be more for community promotion and site building activities, rather than policy complaints.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 19:01
  • @Randal'Thor The focus is mainly on that sort of thing but policy complaints, changes or introductions are well within the scope of what the post is about. Pretty much a general everything post to gather feedback, ideas etc.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 20:09
  • 1
    @FuzzyBoots: in the interest of keeping my blood pressure under control, I'll have to respectfully decline to provide examples.
    – Martha
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 22:17

Off topic meta

I'm not sure if this is needed but a detailed meta on where to ask off topic questions might be quite a handy thing to have to point users to. Unfortunately, we get a lot of off topic questions, especially [story-identification] ones. It would be helpful to have a meta we could write up together for where these off topic questions could be asked around the network.

Looking around we already have this one but it is quite outdated and doesn't include a lot of the newer Stack Exchange sites never mind other platforms.

  • Do we want to update the old one or create a new one?

  • Should we have a separate one dedicated to [story-identification] posts?

  • What sites should we link to? Movies & TV, Literature, Arqade, Writing, World Building, Physics, Biology, etc.?

  • 1
    There's already a thorough off-topic story-ID guide written by Laurel here scifi.meta.stackexchange.com/a/12396/98028
    – Jenayah
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:56
  • 1
    @Jenayah Ah knew it rung a bell. Best course of action might be to update the old off topic post then.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:58

Onboarding of new users

This is a complicated problem and as the top reviewer in the First Posts queue one I have quite a bit of experience dealing with. Onboarding new users to learn about the site and for them to want to continue participating is a hard thing to do and I'm sure we could do more. A discussion into what we could do seems like a good idea: after all the more users, the more content (generally).

I know we get drive by users and there's not much we can do to stop those but there are those that want to continue participating but might not for whatever reason.

Things to think about:

  • How easy is it to know our rules?
  • What makes people stay?
    • Content
    • Interaction i.e. not just canned comments
    • ...
  • Easy to find guides?
  • etc.

  • Why did you stay/join? What made you? What might have made it better initially? Etc.

  • We can attract users all day long through contests, challenges, content, etc. but if those users can't find our rules easily or want to continue to participate then we've failed. Drive by and short term users are good but we want to get those long term users in too.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 10:38

This proposal has started with the main page being asked here.

Guidelines for Migration1

1When I say migration here I don't necessarily mean formal migration but also for us recommending the OP ask their question elsewhere.

This is on a similar idea to Off topic meta but instead reaching out to some of those communities and finding out what specific guidelines they want to give us for migrating off topic questions. This would be beyond the usual don't migrate crap and don't migrate stuff that would be off topic there.

We get a lot of people recommend migration to certain communities when their question would just get closed there as well.

  • What communities should we ask this of? Movies & TV, Literature, Arqade, Writing, World Building, Physics, Biology, etc.?

  • Should we also reach out to them with our guidelines for them migrating stuff to us?

  • 1
    We don't do a lot of migrating, and when we suggest it we often get people from those communities saying "please don't direct this question to our site"
    – Valorum
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:50
  • 4
    @Valorum Which is the point of this, we get those comments because people suggest migrating stuff that isn't a fit for the target site. If those sites give us some guidelines those comments should start to disappear.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:53
  • 1
    Well, the general advice seems to be "unless you're an active user of community x, don't waste your time recommending a migration because it's probably wrong"
    – Valorum
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:54
  • 4
    @Valorum Sure but that won't stop people recommending so it seems like a good idea to get some basic guidelines in my opinion.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:55
  • 1
    Literature welcomes migrated questions if they are on topic — we have had successful migrations from english, writing, movies, history, linguistics, scifi, and other sites. Here's a good example originally asked on scifi. Commented May 24, 2020 at 11:41

Community Ads

I think we can do better Community Ads-wise... in fact I don't even know what ads we have out there. So, we should think about:

  • What Community Ads do we currently have on other sites?

  • What sites are missing and could be targeted?

  • Some new designs for old ads and new ones: keep them up to date should we need to.

  • Is there some way to view a gallery of the existing ads? Obviously community ads have at least some potential, but there's no way to know how much we're falling short of that without knowing what's being run already.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 23:45
  • @DavidW only by checking the other sites I believe
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 6:14
  • @DavidW I made a meta about this in 2017, and listed sites where we might like to promote SFF. But the ads list updates every year, so I'm not sure how many of those sites still have an SFF ad now.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 8:30
  • @RandalThor We could probably target a site like Board Games with ads based on (for example) WH4K or Battletech, where there is a substantial body of fiction written in the universe.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 14:43

Image of the Week Contest

Something originally from Photography is the photo of the week contest. Following Arqade's call for input they have started a successful Screenshot of the Week contest as well and are in the process of getting the widget in place.

This works on those two sites because one can freely take pictures within nature or the game to get what they want. We're more restricted. However, the visual element of a themed image on the side bar on the home page would be quite nice and it would invite some community events and potentially draw in visitors.

So some things to think about here:

  • Do we want this?

  • What would it be restricted to? Movies, comics, cartoons, shows etc.? But also include cosplay, drawings (fan art, concept art)? Obviously all keeping within the Code of Conduct.

  • How often would it run?

  • If we do, do this would we want the widget on the home page?

  • What sorts of themes could we use?

  • 1
    I like the idea of this, but I can't think of any specifics. Maybe one of those "what are all of these" type community questions?
    – Valorum
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:56
  • @Valorum The general idea in these isn't to post questions but to post answers to a meta question with images and the highest voted one is the winner and is featured for a week or so on the home page widget. So there could be weekly themes or even specific to a certain work and fan art is drawn, screenshot taken etc. and the top one "wins".
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 9:59
  • Ah, ok. In that case it's got my upvote. I'm not artistic, but I'd like to see other people's works
    – Valorum
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 10:11
  • 3
    My worry about this is that I'm not sure it would get enough engagement. Both Photography and Arqade are much more visual-oriented sites than ours. Featuring images of fan art, cosplay, etc. would be brilliant, but how many of our users are going to actively share such stuff?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 10:33
  • 2
    A flip on this idea could be a caption/meme contest. Post a screen shot/book cover or illustration/comic book panel and invite the community to post an caption to go with the image.
    – K Mo
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 14:59
  • 1
    @KMo Or something along the lines of "guess the plot of the book from the cover image" where we pick some egregious examples of all-too-common unfortunate cover art and post them for laughs?
    – DavidW
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 23:53

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