Despite Jeff's latest SE Blog post, I think story ID questions should still be ok here.

I think there can be good and bad story ID questions, and while the bad ones can fall into the categories Jeff doesn't like, most of the ones I've seen here seem fine - they aren't guessing games and they can help others.

The issue of duplicates is easily solved (not that it seems to be a problem here), if there's a story ID question for a particular tale, and someone comes along later and posts a sufficiently different description of the same story, just edit the original post to include the new description and close the new question as a dup. That said, when you're talking about a story, there are unlikely to be multiple non-overlapping ways of relating the main features.

Jeff's comment about this type of question being unfair seems to be just another way of saying they're guessing games. Again, for story ID, most of the ones I've noticed give reasonable detail and the ones that don't give enough seem to get zero answers and so will be autodeleted at some point.

Basically, I think story ID questions should still be allowed here, but there should continue to be diligence in nuking bad story ID questions. Not just because they're story ID questions, but because they're bad story ID questions.


Story identifications will be banned on this site over my dead body.

To clarify: if this site was to ban story identification questions, I don't see it could possibly become a reference for SF questions. The site would be effectively dead to me. An SF Q&A site without story identification questions would hold no interest to me, and I would warn people away from it rather than recommend it.

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    I'm sure some people will take issue with this unless you plan on suicide if the community decides against you. (Even more people are surely against your suicide, so I recommend a less extreme position!) – Matthew Read Mar 1 '12 at 0:47
  • @MatthewRead Yeah, so that was hyperbole. I would definitely resign my ♦ over this. I might keep my account on the site. – user56 Mar 1 '12 at 0:51
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    That's quite the strong support then. Thanks for clarifying ... the thing with hyperbole is that the degree of it isn't obvious. – Matthew Read Mar 1 '12 at 0:52
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    @Gilles: Late to the party, and I'm sure this is covered elsewhere, but there's too much history for me to wade through. Can you explain in short (Or point me to) why you a [story-identification] question is a good question? Basically to me it is "too localized" -- in this case localized to the particular user's brain! (Yes I realize there's no 'too localized' anymore). What is the practical use of "What is a work that satisfies the following random set of elements?" except to OP?? I'm sort of dumbfounded the community seems to think this makes sense. – ThePopMachine May 21 '15 at 15:01
  • @ThePopMachine Story identification questions are useful to more people than, say, debug-my-code questions on SO. I've seen many “me too” answers on story identification questions. This “too localized” idea is something that a number of people who don't participate here keep saying, but the facts don't agree. – user56 May 21 '15 at 21:52
  • @Gilles-- I read this argument elsewhere but I fail to see why debug-my-code on SO is any kind of argument at all about what should happen in SFSE. And I may not have 21k rep, but it's not like I don't participate and I'm no newbie. – ThePopMachine May 22 '15 at 22:30
  • and neither is @DVK (Sorry for the name drop.) – ThePopMachine May 22 '15 at 22:31
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    and again -- I'm most certainly not saying there doesn't appear to be the stats. I'm saying I literally can't understand why a number of very high-rep users, generally held in high esteem, think this position makes sense. There's a difference between agreeing with a position and understanding the logic behind it, and in this case it totally eludes me. – ThePopMachine May 22 '15 at 22:34
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    @ThePopMachine The logic behind what? The only logic I've heard to oppose story identification is that they're not appropriate for Stack Exchange because they're only useful to the asker. I understand and agree with that logic. However, it relies on the empirical determination that story identification are only useful for the asker. Experimentally, this is false: story identification questions get plenty of “me too” answers. Since the premise is false, the implication is not relevant. Since there is no reason to ban story identification, why would it be banned? – user56 May 22 '15 at 22:38
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    @Gilles: Here is a random set of facts that I happen to remember about something I was exposed to a long time ago. Find me the story that I happen to have associated with that random set of facts and that's the right answer. --Oh, oh, me too, I happen to remember exactly the same facts??? No! How is this possibly a good question? – ThePopMachine May 23 '15 at 17:26
  • @Gilles: Hyperbolically carrying on. If I ask, What's the story that uses the word buffalo exactly five times more than it uses the word elevator?, is this a good question? No. It is basically asking to match a story to a totally random set of facts: in one case what I remember and in another case an arbitrary property of the text. This is not a question anyone else is going to ask or look up because no one else has your experiences and memories. (Out of universe, anyhow, that is.) – ThePopMachine May 23 '15 at 17:30

I happened to look through the tag, and here are some statistics comparing it to the overall site and the top non-genre tags.

Overall site:

  • 5,262 questions
  • 276 questions with no upvoted answers, or 5.2% of the total
  • 209 questions with no answers at all, or 4% of the total1

tag statistics:

  • 557 questions, or 10.6% of the total questions on SFF.SE
  • 77 questions with no upvoted answers:
    • 13.8% of the tag
    • 27.8% of all questions with no upvoted answers
    • 1.5% of all questions on the site
  • 51 questions with no answers at all1:
    • 9.2% of the tag
    • 24.4% of all questions with no answers
    • 1% of all questions on the site

tag statistics:

  • 618 questions, or 11.7% of the total questions on SFF.SE
  • 5 questions with no upvoted answers:
    • 0.8% of the tag
    • 1.8% of all questions with no upvoted answers
    • 0.01% of all questions on the site
  • 1 question with no answers at all1:
    • 0.2% of the tag
    • 0.5% of all questions with no answers
    • 0.02% of all questions on the site

tag statistics:

  • 536 questions, or 10.2% of the total questions on SFF.SE
  • 1 question with no upvoted answers:
    • 0.2% of the tag
    • 0.4% of all questions with no upvoted answers
    • 0.02% of all questions on the site
  • 1 question with no answers at all1:
    • 0.2% of the tag
    • 0.5% of all questions with no answers
    • 0.02% of all questions on the site

tag statistics:

  • 498 questions, or 9.5% of the total questions on SFF.SE
  • 4 questions with no upvoted answers:
    • 0.8% of the tag
    • 1.4% of all questions with no upvoted answers
    • 0.08% of all questions on the site
  • 0 questions with no answers at all1.

tag statistics:

  • 259 questions, or 4.9% of the total questions on SFF.SE
  • 7 questions with no upvoted answers:
    • 2.7% of the tag
    • 2.5% of all questions with no upvoted answers
    • 0.1% of all questions on the site
  • 3 questions with no answers at all1:
    • 1.2% of the tag
    • 1.4% of all questions with no answers
    • 0.06% of all questions on the site

tag statistics:

  • 175 questions, or 10.6% of the total questions on SFF.SE
  • 0 questions with no upvoted answers.
  • 0 questions with no answers at all1.

Note 1: no answers at all is a subset of no upvoted answers

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    Yes, Jeff posted similar statistics in his blog post. Now how about some meaningful statistics? We already know that popular works (such as HP, Tolkien, ST, SW) get more views and more answers than the average. Popular works are more popular, whodathunkit? – user56 Jun 24 '12 at 22:10
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    @Gilles Actually, Jeff didn't mention any statistics other than story-identification being the 2nd most popular tag on the site: a lot of people are asking story-identification questions, but they're not getting as many answers as the other popular tags on the site, or even compared to the site in general. – user366 Jun 24 '12 at 22:15
  • Ok, not in the blog post itself, in a comment. blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/02/lets-play-the-guessing-game/… – user56 Jun 24 '12 at 22:19
  • @Gilles That's views, not answered stats. If story-identification questions were low-viewed but as answered as the rest of the site, that'd be similar to the low-traffic sites like Lego that get saved because they have a 99% answered rate. Low viewed and a 72% answer rate? That's something else. – user366 Jun 24 '12 at 22:25
  • Still a meaningless statistic. Popularity gets more answers, and story identification questions are inherently difficult. Are you seriously arguing that we should ban a type of questions because they are too difficult? – user56 Jun 24 '12 at 22:27
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    @Gilles I didn't say anything about banning the tag: I just provided some stats as supplemental data to the opinions and colorful language in the answers here. If % answered on a Q&A site isn't a meaningful statistic, what would be? – user366 Jun 24 '12 at 22:34
  • Comparing answer rates with works of similar popularity. This might be difficult, since you'd have to aggregate low-count tags with a lot of cluster effects. Another statistic that I'd like to know is what retention rate we have: if a new user asks a story id question and receives an answer, what's the probability that they stay around? How does this compare with the site average, and with the site average excluding popular works? – user56 Jun 24 '12 at 22:41

I'm currently the all-time top user for the story-identification tag, so it's probably not hard to guess that I'm in favour of retaining it. It's by no means an arbitrary guessing game; many (although of course not all) questions have more than enough detail to uniquely identify the work that they have in mind.

Or in other words, the story-identification tag has good questions with unique and verifiable answers and bad questions that can't be answered based on the question. Which is the same as for any other tag.

If we're going to ban anything, let's ban questions that ask for in-universe answers, which either can't be verified as correct or could easily be rephrased to not be in-universe ("What is the textual evidence for...").


I am going to add a bit of a proposed policy to this.

If the OP knows the answer to the question when he is asking the question, then it should not be allowed.

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    I'll support this for well-known works and with emphasis on story ID questions only. We've at least twice had internal strife caused solely by a poster asking to ID a story they already knew, and such artificial questions are unlikely to help anyone in the future. – Kevin Apr 2 '12 at 3:07
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    How are we to prove that the OP knows the answer? – OghmaOsiris Apr 2 '12 at 6:07
  • See Appropriateness of seeding an identification question But as OghmaOsiris points out, making this a rule is iffy since it's easy to dodge. – user56 Apr 2 '12 at 7:31
  • @OghmaOsiris: It is difficult to prove, but occasionally, it is possible. Best judgement must be used... – PearsonArtPhoto Apr 2 '12 at 13:25

I actually think that these questions are important even though there has been a rash of trolling lately. If you are looking for something and haven't found the information then why not ask a community that might help you find the answer. I do think that there should be more rules imposed on a identify this question and maybe they should be moved up on the privilege ladder since a lot of trolls are showing up. I only joined Science Fiction and Fantasy StackExchange because of a story identification question I had. I gave a good description and received an answer right away. I had been searching for years and now I have peace of mind on that question.

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    The recent spate of low-quality questions is just one troll. We can't restrict new users from asking questions (this would violate a basic tenet of Stack Exchange). I expect he'll get tired of it soon. – user56 Mar 15 '12 at 21:02

I happen to agree with Jeff Atwood's blog.

Case in point:

Story Identification: Young adult novel, horror, teens play a D&D variant, but things start to turn real

You can't complain that it's a poorly written question - Keith H Weston is a long time user and it shows that he put in a decent amount of effort to make the question as concrete as he could.


It has 4 answers (with 5 guesses between them), ALL wrong, yet some upvoted despite "no" comment from OP.

It's a guessing game. Pure and simple.

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    I think that's more a problem with people voting for an answer that they don't actually know is correct. I, for one, don't upvote story-id answers until the OP acknowledges they are correct. – Kevin Mar 19 '12 at 20:24
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    @Kevin - yes, and it's no more - but no less - of a problem than with any other guessing game questions. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 19 '12 at 22:45

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