I noticed on Movie:SE that they have a rule regarding abandoned questions;

Identification questions are of limited use to other users of the site, and are asking people to spend some time identifying the Movie or TV show, so it is the responsibility of the person asking the question to try to answer clarifications within a reasonable amount of time, certainly within a day or so.

Identification questions may be deleted if it is considered that they are unanswerable and the person asking is not answering clarification comments. Questions from unregistered users unanswered after 2 weeks are liable to be deleted. Questions lacking in research, i.e. being easily answered from an actor's name on IMDB or Wikipedia, might get closed.

Should we have a similar rule here on SF&F:SE?

  • 2
    There have been some story ID questions that seemed way too vague to me, having almost no details, and someone was still able to find the correct answer.
    – phantom42
    Nov 6, 2014 at 14:54
  • 2
    @phantom42 - I agree that that's true, but some 90% of the unanswered questions are story-ident. That can't be healthy.
    – Valorum
    Nov 6, 2014 at 15:03
  • 2
    I get what you're saying, but I'm not sure I see an actual problem with that. A good question has an answer, so it makes sense that most questions will have an answer of some sort. Ask a question about a specific work, and someone else is likely to be familiar enough to offer some sort of answer. Story ID questions are different. There's less guarantee someone will recall the same details or be able to ID it based on the recalled details.
    – phantom42
    Nov 6, 2014 at 15:07
  • 7
    The fact that 90% of unanswered questions are story ID isn't really a problem. Now, if 90% of story ID questions are unanswered, then I think there may be more reason to look at our policies.
    – phantom42
    Nov 6, 2014 at 15:08
  • 4
    @phantom42 - Many of them are completely abandoned. No responses to comments going back multiple years. Even if the right answer was posted, there would be no way to tell.
    – Valorum
    Nov 6, 2014 at 15:19
  • 3
    @phantom42 - a good question has an answer, but it's doesn't necessarily follow that all questions with answers must be good. It's a square/rectangle thing.
    – user8719
    Nov 6, 2014 at 18:40
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    I agree with @Richard - if the OP doesn't comment or accept an answer, we have NO way of knowing for sure that a posted answer is the correct one.
    – Omegacron
    Nov 7, 2014 at 19:54
  • I agree that there are cases where an answer appears to be the obvious one. But without confirmation, we're just guessing and offering a list of choices.
    – Omegacron
    Nov 9, 2014 at 3:49

5 Answers 5


By metrics, this is a minor problem now, and could become a major problem in the future.

Story Identification questions account for nearly twice that of any other question type on the site, and are the only questions that are tracked by asked-per-week in the most popular tags. And the highest-voted Story-ID question has only two answers, both heavily downvoted. And hasn't received a new answer in weeks.

These aren't bad questions - some story identification has been very insightful, and that highest-voted question had over 100 votes, so there's clearly some interest in identifying stories. But, as more and more accumulate, there needs to be some measure of cleanup, and possibly some new rules regarding how Story-ID questions are handled to fight the inflation rate (read: possibly a topic for another Meta question).

  • I heartily agree. I think that a cleanup is well worthwhile.
    – Valorum
    Jan 24, 2015 at 21:19

No, I don't think so. They had a significant influx of Identification questions in their early days, so they established rules to get rid of some of them. We don't have that problem here; we have a healthy balance of questions of all manners, so there's no need to create special rules for removing some questions.

  • I disagree. The majority of unanswered questions are story-ident, with the number growing daily.
    – Valorum
    Jan 24, 2015 at 21:37

Yes, we should at least close them (and eventually, delete).

If the ID question is vague enough as to not be able to be correctly answerable, it's NOT a good fit for SE site, no matter how much fun it is for people to try to guess the answer.

They are absolutely no different from book recommendation questions:

  • Please identify a book that fits {{this vague set of attributes, not enough to identify it}}

  • Please give me a list of books that are like this book in {{this vague set of attributes}}.

The ONLY practical difference between these 2 questions is the tag.

Such questions fit BOTH of the close criteria:

unclear what you're asking
Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

and even more so:

too broad
There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

  • 1
    This is especially applicable if the OP is totally absent and fails to answer questions about the ident.
    – Valorum
    Nov 6, 2014 at 22:37
  • a) What limit do you propose for the OP to answer? b) Does this limit change if the OP is active elsewhere on the stack / elsewhere in the SE network? c) Does this mean that the OP must respond to each and every question?
    – SQB
    Nov 9, 2014 at 21:57
  • 1
    @SQB - (a) I think a couple of days (2-3) is reasonable. May be a week if you want to be unreasonably charitable. (b) If they are active elsewhere on the network, 2 days for sure. (c) Yes, they should. It's OK to respond with "don't know/don't remember". It's also seemingly a strawman question on your part, since I have very rarely seen cases where people answer only some clarifications, but don't bother to answer others. We can put a 50% threshold on that. Nov 10, 2014 at 2:47
  • There need not be a policy specific to StoryID questions for this. Bad questions are bad questions, and they can be closed on their own merit no matter the type of question.
    – Tritium21
    Nov 11, 2014 at 1:18
  • 1
    I didn't intend to strawman, what I meant was the situation where a story-id question is asked, OP interacts with other users, but no answer is reached. Should the OP stay on the lookout for and answer any follow-up questions for months to come? Take for instance Story where the number 3 is the monster?, our highest voted story-id - and unanswered. If we ever find an answer, I do hope the OP notices, but three years after asking, I can imagine the OP doesn't check daily or even weekly for new follow-up questions.
    – SQB
    Nov 14, 2014 at 9:54
  • @SQB - Yes, they should respond to any questions posed. If they're checking the site semi-regularly then new questions will be highlighted in red at the top of the page. If they're not checking regularly (or responding to queries) then the question should be deleted.
    – Valorum
    Nov 16, 2014 at 16:01
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    @Richard, yes, but if it's just the one question asked by that user, I can imagine them not checking daily after the first week.
    – SQB
    Nov 16, 2014 at 16:06
  • 1
    @SQB - Daily, no. But weekly seems reasonable, even after a few weeks. Heck, let's call it a month. If you're asked a question and don't respond (or even visit) for 30 days, your question gets deleted. That seems quite sensible and even-handed to me.
    – Valorum
    Nov 16, 2014 at 16:08
  • @SQB - any comments are showed on user's notification thing on every single SE site - they don't need to visit SFF specifically Nov 16, 2014 at 17:01
  • Agreed, but being active on other stacks while having a single question on SFF (and not answering questions) indicates drive-by behaviour, while being active on SFF says to me that they're probably more interested (and may possibly be thinking about an answer).
    – SQB
    Nov 16, 2014 at 17:04
  • 2
    @SQB - their behavior and motivation is irrelevant. They get notification that there's a need for clarifications. All that matters is whether they bother responding. Nov 16, 2014 at 17:05

I agree with DVK, but I'd like to be a bit more specific and add some conditions. I don't think (or don't know if) these are enforcible through SE itself, so they're more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

  • Age
    The question should be older than X days, for instance 7.
  • Vote threshold
    The question's total score should be less than Y, for instance 3.
  • Last reaction
    The last reaction by the OP shouldn't be too long ago, but I think it should depend on the age of the question and other activity by the OP.
    • If the question is still young, say under a month, I'd expect the OP to answer within 2-3 days.
    • For older questions, within 2-3 weeks.
    • If the OP has been active elsewhere on the stack since the request for clarification, or elsewhere on the SE network, one can expect them to respond more quickly than when they haven't been (possibly indicating vacation or otherwise AFK).
    • I'm not sure what it should mean if this question was the OP's only activity. It could indicate a drive-by question, but I'm not sure how to define that.
  • Relevance
    Of course, not answering irrelevant questions shouldn't put a question in danger. I don't think the OP should have to dignify "what's your shoe size?" with an answer.

I think that questions too which these conditions apply, should be closed as "unclear what you're asking". This shouldn't even have to be confined to questions, but should be applied to all questions that are unclear.
If requests for clarification are not met, the question should be closed. Perhaps the close reason can be edited to include something to the effect of "requests for clarification went unanswered" or "despite requests for clarification".

  • I like this close reason.
    – Valorum
    Nov 16, 2014 at 16:10

I don't see it being necessary to have a specific policy for story ID questions.

The existing "unclear what you're asking" close reason can cover obviously abandoned questions where follow-up is needed but where the OP isn't providing it, but on the other hand, and if such a question is no longer being updated, I don't see any harm caused by leaving it open anyway.

Such a question will still be there to be potentially answered if someone knows the answer and comes across it while rep-hunting on unanswered questions. They're not cluttering the front page, abandoned questions will quickly fall off, and the rest of us can get on with the business of asking and answering questions, and managing the site within our remits.

In extreme cases where the question is really poor, as I said the standard "unclear" close reason already exists and can suffice. There's no need for anything more specific, and this is the same basic procedure as may be used for any other such question. But otherwise it would have to be clearly demonstrated that leaving these open is actively detrimental to the site.

  • I don't think you can use the "unclear" VTC simply because the question has been abandoned, even if the detail is a bit sparse.
    – Valorum
    Nov 6, 2014 at 18:54
  • Perhaps "too broad"?
    – phantom42
    Nov 6, 2014 at 19:39
  • 2
    If there isn't enough detail and the OP isn't around to add detail, unclear seems appropriate, although too broad could also apply. The reasons for voting and voting to close are all guidelines - there isn't (and I'd say there shouldn't be) complicated, legalistic rules for when they apply. Nov 6, 2014 at 22:16
  • @Ward - I agree. Neither close reason seems ideal. A new close reason "OP is refusing to assist" (or something similar) would be more appropriate.
    – Valorum
    Jan 24, 2015 at 21:20

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