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- Should we burninate General Reference? 5 answers
In Mark Trapp's recent question about why the Tom Bombadil question was deleted, he mentioned a couple of points that really stood out to me. I never realized this, but apparently Scifi.SE is one of only two sites that use a "General Reference" close reason. Jeff Atwood's answer on SO.Meta states that
and after his summary of what "General Reference" is,
I believe this close reason has too much potential for abuse and misunderstanding. It is unlikely we will ever adopt this close reason network wide.
I have agreed with Jeff's statement that "General Reference" leads to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding since I really began to use the site. As someone who is fairly a newbie to Stack Exchange, I've always been somewhat confused by the "General Reference" close reason.
One only has to look at a few discussions on Scifi.Meta, or even some of the questions closed for this reason to understand some of the confusion. It really seems like a very subjective reason to close something. I understand why it was implemented; having people ask things like "Is Anakin Skywalker really Luke's Father?" is unproductive and a waste of time. My issue is that things which are not evident with basic reading and/or viewing of the topic are being closed for nebulous reasons like "Googleability."
For instance, "Who is Tom Bombadil?" is an excellent question that has been discussed by Tolkien scholars since the books where released. Sure, a Google search leads to a lot of resources on the discussion, but why is it inappropriate to have a readily available and excellently researched answer (like Mark Trapp's was) on a Q and A site renowned for expert content? We bring a lot to the table that a Google search cannot: human made conclusions from experts on a subject, independent and ideally sourced research, and the all important element of provided context. A good Wikipedia article gives a summary of a character and what they did; a good Stack Exchange answer can give so much more: insight into the character's motivations, background, the author's insights on that character, quotes from source materials on that character, and a valid conclusion to a specific question provided by an expert on the story's canon.
I can see the argument to keep "General Reference" as a way to close questions that are just too simple. Questions like "Was Darth Vader really Luke's Father?" are obviously ridiculous and should be closed. However, if "General Reference" is to be kept for that purpose, it needs to be clearly and precisely limited to simple questions of obvious plot points. My personal feeling on it is to just get rid of "General Reference" entirely, as it is too fundamentally subjective. For instances of banally simple questions, perhaps it would be better to close them as "Too Localized," since it is unlikely that many people would need an answer to "Was Darth Vader really Luke's Father?", explaining to the asker that such a simple question is easily answered by watching the movie, and the answer won't be useful to others.
Now that Jeff Atwood's test of the feature is over, do we still need the "General Reference" close reason? Can we get rid of this generally confusing feature? Or should we greatly limit its uses to questions that are just painfully obvious and simple?