The General Reference closure reason has been a continuing source of contention.

I'm still not clear on what it is intended to accomplish (explanations I've seen have ranged from showing that the user has 'done their homework' to 'its for questions that are better looked for in other places', with a couple of variations in between.

It feels like implementing it here was a bit of an experiment, and it is only in use at a (relatively small?) subset of SE sites.

Is this closure reason still one we want to maintain here at SFF?

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Tempted to VTC as General Reference. –  Gabe Willard Nov 8 '12 at 6:13
    
So who do we need to pay off to get this implemented? Really would suck to have this fizzle out again like last time. –  user366 Nov 9 '12 at 22:55
    
@MarkTrapp we're showing a much stronger consensus here than in that other meta discussion. The more votes we get for answers that say "gr doesn't belong on sff", the stronger our case. –  Beofett Nov 10 '12 at 0:02
    
What can I say? I was ahead of the curve by five months. –  Gabe Willard Nov 10 '12 at 3:42
    
We could replace it with "EBCAIUG", which stands for "Even Babies Could Answer It Using Google". –  Gorchestopher H Nov 17 '12 at 22:33
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5 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I'm strongly in agreement with Beofett's answer here, particularly this:

Why is it not sufficient to say "if a question is trivial, boring, and demonstrates little to no research, downvote it"? Note that the hover-text for downvoting states quite clearly that a question or answer should be downvoted when it "does not show any research effort" or "it is unclear or not useful"!

I think the situation on SciFi & Fantasy is largely the same as that on Stack Overflow: a lot of simple questions that can be answered easily by external resources, some that probably should be, and folks who would rather post a lazy question here than do any of the legwork to find the answer themselves. Down-voting lazy questions should always be the first option, closing or deleting when they have serious problems of scope or quality, and directing folks to other sites (summarizing the answer found there) when there's nothing to be improved upon.

As a discrete close reason, the "General Reference" experiment has failed - even on sites where there are a tiny handful of canonical references that cover broad categories of questions, it would probably be better to simply identify those directly in the FAQ or close reason rather than trying to kill them with such a large hammer.

We'll be conducting a more extensive review of this close reason in the very near future, so I'll refrain from removing it here for the time being - but I strongly encourage you to avoid using it until it is no longer available.

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Kill it with fire!

The General Reference closure has caused nothing but contention here, and its current implementation has accomplished far more harm than good.

I recently asked about whether google is a valid resource for determining if a question is General Reference. Despite 19 votes between 3 answers (one now deleted), there is, as of now, no clear consensus.

I think the whole concept is rather poorly suited to our platform. It makes a lot more sense on EL&U, SO, and other sites where there are authoritative, widely recognized resources such as dictionaries and reference manuals that are obvious reference materials.

Several months ago, a meta discussion asking why we had the closure reason obtained 3 different answers, all evenly voted, saying, respectively, that:

  • We should get rid of it
  • We should keep it but heavily restrict its usage
  • It is useful but not necessary

The rationale given for we should keep it but heavily restrict its usage is that it prevents our site from being inundated by trivial, boring questions.

I don't agree that this is a danger, nor do I agree that GR, as it is currently implemented, is a valid tool to accomplish that task.

I believe (there's some ongoing discussion on the topic) that currently, only two sites are (generally) agreed upon as being an indication of possible General Reference: wikipedia.org and imdb.com.

To date, I don't recall seeing any question closed as GR due to an IMDB.com reference (although I may have missed some).

I also don't recall seeing many questions that were closed as GR due to a wikipedia.org reference that didn't include some form of debate or controversy. Usually involving established, active members of the community on both (or all three!) sides of the debate.

I certainly haven't noticed a huge flood of trivial, boring questions that would otherwise inundate our site if we didn't keep closing them as GR. How many General Reference closures have there been? How many have been reopened?

Most importantly, the system already has a tool in place that will be just as effective (imo) as closure for trivial, boring questions: downvotes.

Why is it not sufficient to say "if a question is trivial, boring, and demonstrates little to no research, downvote it"? Note that the hover-text for downvoting states quite clearly that a question or answer should be downvoted when it "does not show any research effort" or "it is unclear or not useful"!

For truly useless questions, most of them will likely fall into other closure categories (Gilles has mentioned on a couple of occasions that "too localized" in particular can usually cover some of the most egregious examples of "General Reference" questions.

Since we can't come up with a clear, consistent definition of what qualifies as "general reference", and since there are already other tools in our arsenal to deal with the low quality questions it was intended to address, I say we get rid of it altogether. The pay-off for having it just isn't worth the strife, contention, and confusion it has engendered.

Edit: Sometimes coincidence can be quite amazing.

We just got this question from a new user that seems pretty legitimate. However, I was able to find the Wikipedia page for the series with a simple Google query. In fact, it seems to fit exactly the general criteria for General Reference as it currently stands.

Yet it seems our new user is not the only person to struggle to find this title. I'd say that this is a valid argument against the idea of General Reference closure as currently defined.

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-1 We do have a clear, consistent definition of GR: If there's a Wikipedia or IMdB page directly answering the question, it's GR. It's just not implemented rigorously. –  bitmask Nov 7 '12 at 16:38
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@bitmask Sorry, but that is only part of the definition. The whole issue of "is googling it sufficient" has no clear consensus, and there are contradictory opinions demonstrated in the accepted Wikia and "what sites are GR" answers. According to the later, your definition is incorrect: if it is on Wikipedia, but not easily found through google, it is not GR. –  Beofett Nov 7 '12 at 16:43
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Continued: - According to the former, Google does not enter into it. According to my question on google, there is no consensus. –  Beofett Nov 7 '12 at 16:44
    
Also, perhaps it is not implemented rigorously because there is some lack of clarity on its definition, and also because it seems like every time it gets implemented, there're complaints? –  Beofett Nov 7 '12 at 16:52
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"easily found" is subjective. Whether or not there is a dedicated page to the main franchise featuring the answer is not. I don't see what Google would have to do with this. How would you close a question asking for "Who wrote The Lord of the Rings books?"? It's patently general reference---closing it as anything else is just be an improvisation because we got rid of GR. Maybe we require additional effort to define GR more clearly, but in principle it's useful. –  bitmask Nov 7 '12 at 16:58
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Why does "Who wrote the Lord of the Rings books?" need to be closed? Why can't it simply be downvoted? And yes, "easily found" is subjective. Yet it is part of the accepted criteria for GR. I think its pretty clear that we need a better definition for GR if we want to continue using it, although that's not possible if people continue to disagree on how it should be used. I don't disagree that the concept is useful. I do disagree, though, with the ideas that it is necessary, or that the way it has been used so far has been a major help. –  Beofett Nov 7 '12 at 17:08
    
Well, by that reasoning you can stop closing questions all together. You can just as well keep duplicates and too localised questions open ans simply rely on the community to down vote. But if you want to have the close-feature, it makes sense to keep the GR reason. And I do think we should keep the ability to close questions. –  bitmask Nov 7 '12 at 17:21
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@bitmask That's quite a strawman. Closing duplicates has a direct impact on searching, as well as avoiding duplication of reputation for posting the same answer in multiple locations. "Too localized" means it is not going to be of any interest to anyone, and will therefore eventually be deleted. Regarding "if we want close, then it makes sense to keep GR", most other SE sites do not even have the GR option, yet they do perfectly fine on closing questions without it. –  Beofett Nov 7 '12 at 17:24
    
Well, my problem is that you say "If we don't have GR any more, we can still close general-reference questions as too localised". That doesn't make sense to me. –  bitmask Nov 7 '12 at 17:31
    
Side note: As the person who advocated with "heavily restrict, but keep for super-trivia" option, you convinced me to fully support burnination. –  DVK Feb 18 '13 at 17:02
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You do have a point that the application of GR as close reason is done somewhat inconsistently. That doesn't mean the legitimation to close blatantly trivial questions is invalid. It just means that we have to do a better job in defining what constitutes general reference.

These types of questions should be closed for similar reasons that make duplicates, too localised, not constructive, and NARQ close-worthy. If such questions should be closed rather than just down voted, so do trivial questions.

You propose that some questions are "too localised" and "general reference" at the same time so we don't need GR. The premise might be true, but the conclusion is invalid. Sure, these questions can be dealt with with TL but questions that are not localised but trivial are still not questions we want to endorse on this site, so they should be closed too. If we got rid of GR, we would have to close them with some other reason just because, well "we got rid of GR, so we cannot close as GR ... let's see what other close reason we can get away with". We are in the situation that we don't need that improvisation because we do have the option to call it what it is: General Reference.

Proposal

Now, what is GR and what is not? That is the source for contention. I propose we call something GR if you don't need any expertise whatsoever to find the Wikipedia or IMDB page that answers the question. For example: is (typically) not GR regarding this definition as you need the expertise of the community to find the correct WP/IMDB page to begin with. Answering this requires knowledge of sff works, even if only superficial knowledge.
Genuine GR candidates are different: They ask for a detail in a work of sff, where the OP already knows which work of sff. If there is a reference page for that work, the OP does not require any expertise to open that page. Differently worded: If there is a tag for a work of sff it's likely the most trivial information can be found on Wikipedia/IMDB. If it is, this is objectively general reference.

Summary

We should keep GR for these patently clear cases. Rule of thumb: If you can picture an argument whether or not something is GR it most likely is not. If you have to rely on somebody else having posted a similarly worded question/blog-entry somewhere else, it is not. If you can find an answer on WP/IMDB's (main) article on the franchise/work it is.

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'You propose that some questions are "too localised" and "general reference" at the same time so we don't need GR.' You're playing fast and loose with what I said. The overlap of TL with GR is far from being the only reason I feel we don't need GR. Regarding your proposed solution, saying "you don't need any expertise to find the wikipedia or IMDB question" is far too subjective, imo, and will lead us to being in exactly the same boat we're in now. –  Beofett Nov 7 '12 at 18:59
    
@Beofett: Well, that was one of your points. I singled that out as I thought it was the most valid one. –  bitmask Nov 7 '12 at 19:10
    
NONE of the questions that were ever contested as being an over/ab-use of GR were story-id question, so I don't see how that is relevant. –  DVK Nov 11 '12 at 23:17
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@DVK: SI questions are the only ones where identifying which WP/IMDB page to consult is hard, so they require special treatment. –  bitmask Nov 11 '12 at 23:25
    
This seems to be the only SE site where an OP doesn't need to know how to use Google in order to have sufficiently researched a question. What constitutes "sufficient research" on this site? Thinking to one's self for a few minutes before posting? –  Gorchestopher H Nov 17 '12 at 22:30
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My personal understanding is that the best use is for "not needing to copy/paste Wiki paragraphs to answer".

To address the question, I'm on board with defenestrating G.R. alltogether.

It's too contentious, and there seems to be little ground to compromise on, since opinions range from "only very rare cases that literally can be answered by pasting clearly-on-topic-paragraph from the Wikipedia or IMDB" to "Anything that can be answered by a remotely relevant Google query".

We can always close the most egregious cases "It's On The Wiki!" ones as "Too localized" if warranted.

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The only appropriate use is for questions like "What color is Superman's cape?". But we don't get many of those that dumb, and it definitely seems if not abused then over-used.

I vote to remove it as a reason.

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