In my view, the way questions are written is not useful for future readers.

For example, someone might ask:

"I'm looking for a [work] that I can remember from [time]. I can remember a [sidecharacter] who did on regular base [activity]. Also at some point he met [villain] on [strange occasion]. can you tell me its name?"

Which would be, as far as I can tell, totally on-topic for story identification. But I ask myself, is it likely that, someone is ever going to ask for the same story by using enough significant words to find this post by i.e. Googling?

I don't want to start a discussion about whether these questions should be banned here. I don't like them but I understand their relevance.

But when I saw this post, and noticed he asked and self-answered it immediately, I asked myself, how far is this tolerated here?

I had a look into the help center, which gave no evidence this could be off-topic. But is this really encouraged?

I could easily spam questions her,e summing up the significant pictures I have in mind of some stories, and then just answer them by myself.

This would be well written and totally on-topic (as I understand it).

But would this really help future readers in any way?


this isn't intended to be any kind of rant or whatever, so to make clear my intention to ask this I put in here my statement to Rand al'Thor's comment:

"I could easily spam questions in here summing up the significant pictures I have in mind of some storys and then just answer their titles by myself." Yes, and this would be abusing the site. Many on-topic subjects can be abused if someone really wants to abuse them. See also Should I flood the homepage of the site with these questions? – Rand al'Thor

I'm not asking this from the POV of someone who WANTS to abuse them. But as far as I know, the whole SE concept is encouraging self-answers.

But how is it here? Is it abusing in the moment I'm asking a question, while being aware of the answer?

Is it abusing in the moment I intentionally do this to flood the page? When it is obviously intentional?

And especially, if it isn't discouraged to do this, where is the border between posting well-written and meaningful questions to all stories I know just for adding high-quality content to the page, versus just flooding the site with redundant objective "spam"?

  • Have you looked at the other story-identification questions here on meta? The discussion of whether or not story-ID questions are useful has been hashed and rehashed MANY times here on meta, and the consensus has always been strongly in favour of keeping them.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:02
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor: Thats exactly why I said "I don't want to discuss about they should or shouldn't be kept".
    – Zaibis
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:03
  • 1
    "I could easily spam questions in here summing up the significant pictures I have in mind of some storys and then just answer their titles by myself." Yes, and this would be abusing the site. Many on-topic subjects can be abused if someone really wants to abuse them. See also meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/5304/…
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:06
  • @Randal'Thor: Why would this be abusing? Let me edit the question then please.
    – Zaibis
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:07
  • @Randal'Thor: please check my edit to get my point
    – Zaibis
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:17
  • 1
    @Zaibis Why single out Id questions? Any question on the site could be spammed this way.
    – TGnat
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:48
  • 5
    @TGnat - Story-ID questions are especially prone to this because it's pretty easy to generate a list of questions simply by working your way through the contents of an anthology or the Hugo awards nominations.
    – Valorum
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:54
  • @Randal'Thor I don't understand why the question of whether plot-explanation or other NON-story-ID questions should be allowed HASN'T been hashed and rehashed. It seems obvious to me that those questions have no redeeming value, that the people who ask them are either insincere—they are not seeking knowledge but just showing off ("I found a PLOT HOLE in a SCI-FI SHOW!!!!!")—or, if they are sincere, they need a different kind of help than what they can get here.
    – user14111
    Jun 7, 2016 at 2:18
  • @Valorum It's even easier to generate a list of non-story-ID questions. How many left-handed characters were there in The Attack of the 50-Foot Woman? In Lexx? In the Wonder Warthog comics? In Atlas Shrugged?
    – user14111
    Jun 7, 2016 at 2:23
  • 2
    @user14111 - Except that these questions would be worthless and we'd be back at "Don't be a jerk".
    – Valorum
    Jun 7, 2016 at 7:02
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    @user14111 Feel free to make a new meta post asking whether non-story-ID questions should be allowed or not. I can already predict which way the votes will go :-) (I did make a few points in my answer here about how story-ID questions are in some ways more useful than others, but you'll never get enough support to ban the rest, sorry.)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jun 7, 2016 at 10:42
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    "and noticed he asked and self-answered it immediately," I get your general concern, but 38 minutes is a bit longer than "immediately". That's fair time for someone to post a question, and keep researching and think of that one magic keyword that brings them to the answer.
    – phantom42
    Jun 7, 2016 at 12:12
  • @Randal'Thor: We already have a Meta question about non-story questions that are self-answered.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jun 7, 2016 at 16:07
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    @FuzzyBoots Yes, but I think user14111 was proposing to ban all non-story-ID questions, not just those that are self-answered.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jun 7, 2016 at 18:47
  • @phantom42: I was just seeing the hours. But this shouldn't change anything anyway in regards to the answer :)
    – Zaibis
    Jun 8, 2016 at 7:21

4 Answers 4


Self-answering tagged questions is perfectly acceptable behaviour. Not only is self-answering tolerated, it's positively encouraged by both the rules of the site and a strong community concensus.

Now, here's where it can get a bit tricky;

Firstly you need to be aware there are some users who will insta-downvote practically anything that's self-answered, regardless of the quality of the question and the answer simply because they disagree with the site policy and this is their way of showing it.

Secondly, if you were to decide to start spamming story-identification questions and answering them yourself, it would become apparent very quickly that you're not looking for genuine answers, you're playing a guessing game with the site or attempting to gain rep quickly. That's not something that would be tolerated and is likely to lead to downvotes and would eventually result in your receiving a rap on the knuckles from a friendly moderator.

See also - Don't be a jerk

  • What's this, your day of ticking off points related to why I left via meta answers? :))) "insta-downvote practically anything that's self-answered, regardless of the quality of the question and the answer simply because they disagree with the site policy" is another thing about this site that makes it far less enjoyable. Jun 6, 2016 at 20:57
  • @DVK-in-exile - It's one of my pet peeves.
    – Valorum
    Jun 6, 2016 at 21:18
  • "attempting to gain rep quickly." Would this ever be a problem, as long my posts are on topic and the votes aren't fraudulent? I mean as long it is ontopic and it gets voted up, even If I had a bot that generates good questions + answer on a rate of 1 q&a per minute, as long it are good questions that are ontopic and get high votes, would anyone be upset?
    – Zaibis
    Jun 7, 2016 at 6:06
  • @zaibis - While that's theoretically possible (see imgs.xkcd.com/comics/constructive.png), in practice your decision to swamp the front page would result in your being banned
    – Valorum
    Jun 7, 2016 at 6:59
  • @Zaibis There's also a daily Rep cap. You can't just keep racking up points. You get stopped. Aug 11, 2018 at 20:59
  • @MeatTrademark: I know. But that has nothing to do with my point :P
    – Zaibis
    Aug 12, 2018 at 17:14

Are story-ID questions useful?

Playing devil's advocate for a moment: are any questions on this site useful? We're all here discussing issues of whether, why, or how this or that happened in this or that fictional work, which at the end of the day is not going to be useful to anyone. This isn't Stack Overflow or Maths SE, where people's careers might depend on solving these problems correctly. As the co-founder of Stack Exchange recently put it:

this is like a scifi stack exchange question, the correct answer to every question there is "who cares"

When you look at it this way, story-ID questions are actually more useful than most of our questions here. People ask questions like Would the One Ring even work for anyone but Sauron? or Who or what was Tom Bombadil? out of idle curiosity, and the answer is going to have no effect on their lives whatsoever. People often ask story-ID questions because they want to find the work and re-read / re-watch it. Sure, if they're unsuccessful it won't ruin their lives. But if they're successful, it'll have more of an effect on their lives than knowing the answer to Why does everyone think that the Millennium Falcon is a piece of junk?

Are they useful for other people?

We can actually gather some statistics for this.

Story-ID questions are closed as duplicate if and only if they have the same accepted answer as the other question, i.e. both OPs were looking for exactly the same work. There are currently 262 duplicate story-ID questions; that makes 262 people who were looking for exactly the same work as someone else and were helped by an old question. In fact the figure is much greater, because a lot of story-ID askers wander off without accepting an answer, which means the question can't be closed as duplicate even though the answer is almost certainly correct.

There are also a great many people who post answers along the lines of "I was looking for the same story!", which rapidly get deleted or converted to comments. I ran a search (this only works for mods, but the link at least shows you what search terms I used) which yielded 123 deleted answers to story-ID questions containing the words "the same". There might be a few false positives, but almost all of these will be from someone who's not the OP but still found the question useful.

So yes. Although they're not as likely as non-story-ID questions to be useful to people besides the OP, often they still are.

You've now edited your question to be about potential abuse of story-ID questions rather than whether they're useful. I'm leaving this answer since it has some hopefully useful thoughts and statistics, but for a more pointed discussion of the issue of possible abuse, see Valorum's answer. I'll just note that the following has been proposed in the past (by a then-moderator):

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

This idea didn't get much support, for reasons that are probably obvious. Anyone can ask a story-ID question knowing the answer and just not saying they know it - hell, I've done this myself.

Finally, self-answered story-ID questions can be useful to set a good example. FuzzyBoots is the top asker in the story-ID tag and also has a gold badge for answering story-ID questions, reflecting his very good record in both asking and answering. He's done several self-answers in this tag, and all his story-ID questions that I've seen have been exemplary. If he wants to do a self-answer to show how a good story-ID question should be asked and answered, then I won't get in his way.

  • As someone who answers quite a lot of story-identification questions, I don't really bother myself with whether it's helpful to other people. It's helpful to the person asking the question and that's really enough for me.
    – Valorum
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:37
  • 1
    @Valorum Indeed, but the OP seems to be concerned about their broader usefulness. In any case, your answer is better and more on-point than mine for the new version of the OP's question, as reflected by my latest edit :-)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:45
  • Thank you for the props. :)
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jun 7, 2016 at 11:39

As best I understand it, your concern is that people might unfairly game the system by asking questions that they already know the answer to, and then just post the answer.

Why is this a problem?1

You're right that this is not against the rules, nor should it be. The goal of this site (as much as some of us might forget that in our mad quest to inflate imaginary numbers), is to be a compendium of useful knowledge; According to the tour, our mission statement is:

[T]to build a library of detailed answers to every question about science fiction or fantasy.

Any action that contributes positively to this goal is a welcome one. It's already encouraged to answer your own questions, because doing so increases the collective knowledge base of the site. Why should be any different in this regard?

But Story-Id isn't useful for future travellers

This is the obvious response to the question I posed above, but it is simply not true. answers are immensely useful for people beyond merely the original poster.

I don't think I could very easily amass statistics on this, but I can tell you from personal experience that many, many people post "answers" to questions that resemble some form of:

Thank you! I've been looking for this story as well, and you helped me find it.

There's a more legitimate concern that people who might be looking for a particular story won't find the question identifying about it, because they're searching for different keywords. This is one of the problems our story-id duplication policy was meant to solve, and is why we discourage deleting questions that have been closed as duplicates.

My warning to you

There is nothing at all preventing you from doing as you suggest, asking a question for every movie you can think of, self-answering it, and then sitting back as the imaginary Internet points roll in.

However, as Rand al'Thor has already told you, that would be a bad idea. Asking the questions is allowed, but asking them in excessive quantities such that it interferes with other people trying to use the site will not end well for you.

1 That's a rhetorical question; it isn't a problem.

  • Just to address your first paragraph: absolutly the otherway round. First I asked this by thinking about how much noise too many questions of this tag could be, if people started this on regular basis, without even any bad intention. Now after randals comment which declares it as abusing. Im worryed that while I intend to add highquality content I might become a penalyty due to itentional abusing the site.
    – Zaibis
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:32
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    @Zaibis It is not abusive to answer your own questions, or to ask questions to which you already know the answer, and then answer them. It's not even abusive to do that a lot. What is abusive, and is abusive no matter what tag you do it in, is posting huge numbers of questions in a short frame of time, for what appears to be no good reason. If you're looking for a hard rule you can follow to avoid that, I don't have one for you: it's a judgement call, which is why we have human moderators. The best advice I can give you is to ask yourself "will doing this make me look like a jerk?" Jun 6, 2016 at 15:40

As the person who posted the question in question, I figure I ought to weigh in. Funnily enough, I've previously asked my own questions about self-answered questions because they happen to me. I'll genuinely not know the answer and, in the process of writing the question, I'll realize the answer and post it. Because SF&F is my primary location, it's usually here where it happens, but it happened at least once in the main site, Stack Overflow. It's even got a term associated with it when it's programming, "rubber-duck debugging," the idea that a lot of problems get solved because the act of explaining them causes you to think about them in a different way, so sometimes asking your question to a rubber duck (an audience surrogate who will, being mute, listen patiently) is all you need to get an answer.

Now in this case, I didn't know the answer by the time I finished writing the question. It was actually some time later, after two good answers that had been posted addressing the canonical status, that I had a vague memory of a fanfic that had an Imperial trooper providing Vader with Luke's test results and that it had something to do with Life Day. So I did some searches and came up with a match. At that point, even if self-answered questions didn't have some value, not posting what I'd found would deprive others who might be looking for a similar confluence of plot threads, and I couldn't exactly delete the question when two people had provided answers that would be useful for others exploring Luke's Imperial record.

On the other hand, thank you for bringing the topic up. I at one point worried that, by having these cases where I posted the question and answer, I might be seen as trying to farm rep (although, at this point, I have all of the privileges, so it would be for bragging rights like Richard Valorum). And, in this case, having an answer got me one step closer to a tag badge, so I was doubly worried about people thinking I was trying to game the system, so I'm glad to have a forum to explain myself without posting yet another self-answered question.

  • 1
    Who's this Richard guy?
    – Valorum
    Jun 7, 2016 at 15:48

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