All successful SE sites are basically focusing on a problem that someone has, and tries to find a solution by phrasing it as a question and applying answers as solutions.

This was originally established on Stack Overflow and the entire system was optimized for that use case. For example, upvotes mean that the answer is a good one, downvotes might mean that it is incorrect or dangerous, and the accepted mark indicates that it is this particular answer that solved the askers' problem. And it worked great.

The concept was afterwards copied to areas other than programming, and it was mostly successful exactly in areas where the question is in fact a problem to be solved. To name some examples:

  1. Mathematics
  2. Cooking
  3. Parenting

And it worked great there, too.

What I'd especially like to point out to here is example #3. As it was posted on the blog post, it was an experiment with subjective questions, since raising children clearly has to be subjective. The experiment was seen as success, albeit having both subjective questions. It is my opinion that it was successful because it had problems to be solved phrased as questions, and solutions phrased as answers. That was enough to beat the subjectivity issue and make a good Q&A site.

What I'm arguing here is that the main problem of this site is absence of a problem to be solved. I mean really, what problems do we have that need to be solved using a Q&A site for Science Fiction.

The only common problem I can think of is What to read/watch next?, which obviously led to a big number of questions, later slightly disguised as question. And the main trouble with these questions isn't objectivity at all, some of them aren't even subjective. It's the fact that they don't have an answer - they are open ended.

Gilles's analysis: A first look at questions so far shows us that list questions are so far most common. But it also shows us that there are more than half What do I read now? questions. (list, online resources, favorite X, identification)

So, my question here is What problems does answering a question on this site solve? As soon as we find out that, we'll know for sure what questions are on-topic here or if this subject can be used on a SE site at all.

As it is now, it seems that most (or all) questions are either google-able trivia or hidden recommendations. I'm not really sure if an on-topic question for this site really exist as it is now.

  • 2
    Excellent question. but the title should be "What problems does answering a question on this site solve?" instead of "Does an on-topic question for this site really exist as it is?" because answering it is pointless and only lead to confrontation.
    – DavRob60
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 16:00
  • @DavRob60: A good suggestion, but I was actually counting on that effect to attract attention and it is the whole point of this question. Hm.. maybe I could swap them. Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 16:37
  • You just found the one problem a SF Q&A site can answer! And then be shut down.
    – morganpdx
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 0:58
  • Oops I take it back. That question belongs on meta.scifi :)
    – morganpdx
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 0:59
  • I think this is related to: Sci-fi & Fantasy not a "how to" - is this a problem? Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 14:00

5 Answers 5

  • Trivia debate problems - "Who was Java the Hutt's dad?" questions nerds love
  • Finding new works - helps someone figure out where to go with their exploration of sci-fi Lists of works or recommendations are explicitly off topic.
  • Understanding a genre - "What is steampunk?" style questions
  • Wanting a spoiler - "What is the goal of the aliens in 2001?" about what happens in a saga or story.
  • Attempting to understand sci-fi literature - "In Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep, what does the mechanical sheep represent?"
  • Understanding where sci-fi meets reality and it's history - "Did Arthur C Clarke invent the satellite?"

Any more, or less?


These are all problems I have with fair frequency that are absolutely solved by this site. Aside from which, trivia questions can be fun and worthwhile.

  • What was that sci-fi story that I read once?
  • Is this bit considered canon in sci-fi X?
  • What is the point of this story?

In any case, I think we should give this site a chance to evolve and see where it goes. It might turn into something useful.


Sci-Fi May have this 'problem', but it's definitely not the only site that has it.

  • Arqade: Other than how to press buttons correctly, every other question on this site belongs in a GameFaq.
  • Anime/Manga: The same 'problem' we have here.
  • History: If we enacted this rule here, the only question would could ever ask is "where to find history?"
  • Movies & TV: While the technical aspects of movies and tv are interesting questions of their own, this is not the only focus of this SE.
  • Skeptics: This is definitely not just a "How-to" SE, as most of the questions here answer questions that skeptics pose, not how skeptics SHOULD answer posed questions.

These are the more obvious examples, but the main point is this - SE sites are not just about "How-To". At least not in a direct practical problem-solving sense. Historic trivia, in itself, can be a valid question, and filling in those details that seem to be missing from shows, video games, or other mysetries of life are a part of SE's lifeblood.

While there are definitely good how-to questions, I dont' see it as a huge problem that Sci-Fi in particular focuses more on these "why" and "what about" questions, which in this particular field are equally if not MORE valid to ask in certain situations.


I think we can all agree on one thing. This site just doesn't fit the traditional SE mode. So, what can we do about that? There's a few possible answers that I see.

  1. Try to brute force fit the site into the SE mold, closing all questions that don't fit the mold.
  2. Close down the site.
  3. Let the site run amok, and see what ends up being the result.
  4. Prune out the worst questions, and hope we can filter this into a useful site.

Right now, I think there's at least 2 very different opinions on what this site should be. I'm starting to feel like it's the mods/SO crowd vs the newbies, and a hostile environment just won't work for this kind of a site. It will end up getting closed. But there are some very good discussions going on here, there's obviously alot of interest. I think the best option is prune out the worst questions, and work towards agreeing what this site should and shouldn't contain. If a decision has been made, then stick to it. If the site seriously starts to degrade, then start pruning a bit tighter, otherwise... Still, this is just my $0.02.

  • Just wanted to say it's not my intention to create a hostile environment - and please if I come across that way at any time call me out on it so I can re-word my answer/comment/etc.
    – Zypher
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 18:45
  • I know it's not yours, nor any of the other mods, intention, I'm just starting to get that feeling, and that others have that feeling. I'm trying to be somewhat of an in-between person between the groups, having some experience with SO, but not so much that I'm fixed in my ways. Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 18:58

The fact is that there are no problems that can be solved by this Q&A site. Perhaps we need a new definition for sites such as this. That, or shut it down.

I'm not quite sure I understand the apparent reluctance in expanding the definition of what an SE site can do. I mean - if sites like this one boil down to just glorified forums, it's quite a lot better than many forums I've participated in. Then again, I'm somewhat new to the whole SE construct, so if there's a historical basis for this, I'm not aware of it.

  • This answer was posted in the Programmers SE, but I think it may help you understand the reluctance in expanding the definition. meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/971/…
    – Pat Ludwig
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 18:42
  • @Pat Thanks - I think I had come across that in my searching for clarity about this.
    – morganpdx
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 18:20

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