It's subjective, isn't it? What's easy to find for one might not be for another. Who gets to decide what's easy to find? The twenty-something with vast experience using the internet and frequent visitor to any number of scifi encyclopedia-like sites out there? The 50-year-old who only uses the internet to send email, stumbles on the site and has a question? Are we going to exclude him because we think the answer could be easily found if he'd just done X, Y and Z? How do you benchmark that standard so that it's far and consistently applied? I don't think you can.

Where do we draw that line?

  • Questions that Google (or some other Search Engine) knows that answer to? That's all of them. And if most of the traffic to this site is supposed to come from search engines to be considered viable, then don't we want to appear in the search results when someone puts that question into the search engine? Using this as an excuse to close questions seems like a double-standard.

  • If it's on IMDB? So, strike every single question about directors, writers, producers, actors and almost anything film related, because the answer will be there in some way or another.

  • If it's on MemoryAlpha? Okay, every single Star Trek question is out. The answers are all there.

  • Is it on Wikipedia? Well, then. Every. Single. Question. Is. Out.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be a line. I'm saying it's going to be incredibly difficult to consistently define and if it's used by one moderator as an excuse to close question without community input, we're going to have a site with a bunch of closed questions. Maybe this can be a reason to close only if some other reason exists in tandem?

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5 Answers 5

I am considering a new close reason

not sufficiently interesting: this question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference site with no additional explanation necessary.

I think that says it all, but you have to read carefully as each word is there for a reason.

Meaning, if your question is so trivial that a single link to Wikipedia (or IMDB, or any other major "standard" reference site) would answer it with no additional elaboration necessary...

Then, well, it's not a sufficiently interesting question, now is it?

edit: proposed alternate wording from Robert Cartaino:

general reference: this question is too basic; the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information.

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There's a difference off course between providing a link to a specific answer or to a 10-page essay where you'd still have to know when and where something happened to find it. The first is trivial, the second obviously isn't. –  Ivo Flipse Jan 23 '11 at 12:51
    
Perhaps we should have the 'Meeh' vote from Area51 here as well? –  Ivo Flipse Jan 23 '11 at 12:52
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There would have to be some safeguards built in, I can see people using this as an excuse to close questions they find uninteresting, despite the fine print. Perhaps "not sufficiently interesting" could be replaced with something like "too simplistic"? –  neilfein Jan 23 '11 at 19:24
    
@jeff I think having a close reason that actually fit the reason for closing would help considerably. @neilfein you need five close votes (assuming the moderators don't do that), so that is a safeguard. –  Tony Meyer Jan 23 '11 at 20:41
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If this does get added, we should add (perhaps as a FAQ) a list of sites that we consider a "standard Internet reference site". Since practically every SF TV show ever made has a dedicated wiki, if we include those, we're nearly banning TV questions. –  Tony Meyer Jan 23 '11 at 20:45
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No @Tony, we're banning trivial questions that only required one to watch or read it, not questions that require you to think about what you saw. –  Ivo Flipse Jan 23 '11 at 20:59
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@ivo have you read these wiki sites? They aren't just summaries of the story. –  Tony Meyer Jan 23 '11 at 21:24
    
If the answer is clearly spelled out in the book or movie, you don't have to be knowledgeable to find or know it. That's where the difference is. Where this analysis was found is irrelevant. –  Ivo Flipse Jan 23 '11 at 21:42
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@ivo it is relevant, because the the close reason says "by a single link to a standard internet reference site". There is a considerable difference between the seconds it takes to find a resources online and the difficulty of renting/purchasing books/dvds (especially when they may be out of print or otherwise rare). –  Tony Meyer Jan 24 '11 at 6:43
    
You know that's not what @Jeff meant, that standard internet reference site doesn't provide you a thorough analysis of all the possible murders in some plot. Those sites that do aren't 'standard' like Wikipedia and therefore are allowed. –  Ivo Flipse Jan 24 '11 at 9:56
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@Tony: If you read the second version it makes this clearer - "general" sources vs. "standard" sources. Wikipedia is general reference, Wookieepedia is not. Still, I wouldn't want to see the site flooded with questions directly and clearly answered by either of those sources (to the point where a correct answer would be just a link or copy-and-paste). –  Aaronaught Jan 24 '11 at 14:08
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This is the biggest reason I'm afraid to post questions.

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@Kyle - sorry to hear that. I don't think anyone should be afraid to post questions here. Something is wrong, in that case. –  Wikis Jan 23 '11 at 21:00
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@Kyle, there is nothing wrong with having your question closed. Just give your question a try. –  user1320 Mar 23 '11 at 10:49
    
It's not just having one's question closed, but receiving snarky comments like Gilles's here: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1227/… –  Kyralessa Apr 16 '11 at 19:16
    
@Kyralessa: The comment in question is presumably “Is the wikipedia article not detailed enough for your?”. There is a typo in this comment, but no snark. It's a request to clarify the question: did the asker read the WP article, and if so what was missing? –  Gilles Apr 16 '11 at 20:13
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@Gilles, whether you intended it as snark or not, it certainly comes across that way. –  Kyralessa Apr 16 '11 at 20:52
    
@Kyle Go ahead and post a question. I came over hear from SO and wordpress.stackexchange and posted 4 questions that I thought I could get some interesting answers to and I did. Scifi is a refreshing break from the programing logic Q&As from the other sites. The subject matter is fun and shouldn't be taken so serious. –  Chris_O Apr 29 '11 at 6:39
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The principle behind Stack Overflow (and Stack Exchange by extension) is to be that first search result on Google. So the mere ability to find information on Google/Wikipedia/Wookiepedia is not necessarily a black mark against a question. That, I'll grant you.

But I'll expand on what I said in the elevator pitch. The key word here is "trivial" and yes, that word does have an objective meaning. In order for a question to be more than mere trivia, it has to require one of two things:

  1. Some education, training, or experience that makes a person uniquely qualified to answer; or

  2. A certain degree of research, i.e. interpreting or applying publicly-available information.

Any site based on fiction - including SF.SE - is really going to struggle with point #1. There's nothing to study or practice in the context of passively-consumed entertainment. But #2 is possible, and in fact, serious SF fanatics love to pore over scripts and scenes trying to fill plot holes and try to unravel the mysteries of the author's universe. That's what being a fan really means. If that doesn't interest someone, then they are a passive consumer and don't need or deserve an exchange for it.

Trivia is actually one of the more common reasons that SF (and fantasy and other fiction) forums and groups die out. While serious fans are trying to make sense of all the ret-cons and make sure their fan fictions are actually consistent with canon sources, the bottom-feeders are wasting time with stupid trivia games. "When was Q's first appearance on TNG?" Who cares?

It's not so much that the questions are terrible by themselves, it's just that there are endless permutations of them and not a single one of them - not a one - actually adds any value to the site or community, because somebody could just as easily find the answer somewhere else within 5 seconds.

The criteria for "trivia" is really actually rather simple on a site like this:

  • The question can be answered from a single source - either reference or canon;

  • The source provides a direct answer, not requiring the viewer/reader to extrapolate or connect dots; in other words, there is no obfuscation of the answer, deliberate or accidental;

  • The source provides a clear and simple answer, not requiring any in-depth analysis of its own in order to understand.

That's basically it. It's very easy to grok. But just to be sure, I'll put it another way, from the perspective of the person asking the question. Ask yourself, am I asking this question because:

  • I've read all the books / watched all the episodes, and just cannot put together all the clues? or

  • I just can't remember and don't have the time or inclination to look it up myself?

In fact, I can dumb it down even more than that:

  • Does this question help me, or other fans, gain a deeper appreciation for the work? Or, is it just idle curiosity?

I see people complaining that some here want to restrict this site to trivia questions. But nothing could be further from the truth; keeping the trivia off a site like this is where the value will come from. The "sci-fi forum" concept has been done to death. Hell, there are conventions for it. The only thing I can think of that would set this site apart from all the others is thought-provoking questions.

So yes, "trivially answerable" should be a benchmark, but with proper definition around the word trivially. If somebody has to cite multiple sources, interpret the (pseudo) scientific claims, or decipher clues left by the author, then that's not trivially answerable. If posting a single link to Memory Alpha definitively answers the question, that is trivial, and such questions shouldn't be here or on any other SE.

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great post; see my edit on my answer for Robert's proposed alternate wording of this close reason that might have a less .. judgmental .. tone. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 24 '11 at 3:54
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@Jeff: I definitely like the polite wording better. The only thing it doesn't quite capture, which is unique to SF and other fiction, is the concept of canon sources in addition to general Internet references. Although some may disagree, I think it would be a poor value proposition for this site to become a Q&A of plot synopses and character profiles, so questions that are easily answered by the book/show should probably be included in the SF version of the close reason. –  Aaronaught Jan 24 '11 at 4:56
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I think a shorter version of this answer would make a great FAQ. –  Tony Meyer Jan 24 '11 at 6:42
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This is why I voted to re-open a few of the questions that were "trivially easy to find". If there's a question with an easy answer, it's alright. I probably won't vote for it, but, well...

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And isn't that the point? Let the good question rise to the top with votes? –  Slick23 Jan 22 '11 at 18:21
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Ugh, @Final, it's like you just walked in off the street yesterday. This has been debated to death. Votes don't mean a thing when the question itself has no substance. That's one of the reasons it's so important to keep those questions off the Stack Exchanges; they force people into a mindset where answers and votes become based on mere opinion or entertainment value. –  Aaronaught Jan 24 '11 at 1:33
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There is now a new experimental close reason, as previously discussed:

general reference

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

Give that a try; we're evaluating the results. Also refer to the blog post on the topic with its handy chart:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/02/are-some-questions-too-simple/

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