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Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?

by dws (Chancellor)
on May 08, 2002 at 18:43 UTC ( #165130=monkdiscuss: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

A question for discussion:
In the Monastery, where is the boundary that separates "in bounds" questions from "out of bounds" questions?
From watching consideration patterns over the last year, I've seen that there are some diverse opinions about where the boundary is. But discussing the question via the consideration system is like trying to communicate with semaphores in the dark. Now be a good time, given recent discussions, to air some opinions so that we can better understand one another, and perhaps have a reasoned discussion.

Where do you draw the line between "in bounds" and "out of bounds", and why?

Here's my take: To delete a question is to pretend that it was never asked. This sends people away without help. In many cases this is deserved, as when a lazy questioner takes the "I dropped my key over there in the dark, but I'll look over here because the light is better" approach, and asks something with no obvious Perl content. But the more interesting cases are when an earnest questioner poses a question that has no (or little) Perl content on the surface, but might have if one scratches a bit, particularly where the question is about an issue that blocks Perl from being used successfully.

A common type of question I see considered is about how to configure an environment to accept Perl CGIs (or how to invoke Perl scripts via SSI). From one perspective these questions have no direct Perl content. But are they worth deleting? I say (and vote) no, on the gounds that these questions are about blocking issues. A response may be to simply point the questioner towards the right document. (There are plenty of wrong docs in circulation. MS, for example, doesn't go out of their way to tell you how to configure IIS for Perl CGIs, and much of the info you find via Google is wrong or incomplete.)

Though I bend towards answering borderline questions, I also favor harsh treatment of lazy bastards. People who ask a borderline question without showing that they've taken even minimal effort on their own should be sent packing. But visibly, as an example to themselves and others.

Where is your boundary?

  • Comment on Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?

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(jeffa) Re: Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?
by jeffa (Bishop) on May 08, 2002 at 19:21 UTC
    I mostly - mostly - only vote delete for nodes that are simply trollish or are requested by the author to be deleted (oh yeah - duplicates too) . Recently, there was a considered node (which i can't seem to find) that was about removing duplicate records in a database table. The solution was purely SQL, and even though you could stretch a Perl solution out of it, i voted keep. Why? Because it was a well asked question, and more importantly (IMHO), there were well written answers.

    As for lazy questions - i don't mind seeing them deleted if no-one has any good answers for them. My boundary depends upon the answers to a particular post, which is why i wait before considering or voting on a border-line post.

    Good point giulienk, and please don't think that i disagree with your choice - this question is tough to answer. Unfortunately i think that these people don't need to be encouraged - they appear to post away regardless of whether they know their questions are off-topic or not. Maybe we should address even answering them at all, not just deleting them.


    (the triplet paradiddle with high-hat)
      I guess i proposed that node to be erased and i was even messaged in the chatterbox by tye a couple of times for doing that. Now, i'm too lazy to search for the node in question, but even if that is a real problem and well asked, it esplicity asked for a SQL solution, cause he wrote he knew how to do it in Perl.

      At the time i considered it no answer was given and i checked a 5 against 0 for deletion. Then after some answer came up i checked again and it was a tied 5. I guess the answers were more interesting than the question, but that's not the point.

      The point is that IMHO leaving nodes like that could encourage more people posting Internet Explorer, C or other unrelated questions. That's why i considered that node.


(tye)Re: Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?
by tye (Sage) on May 08, 2002 at 22:48 UTC

    Yes, I see the main problem with the consideration system is that it doesn't deal with "off topic" at all well. I've been requesting that people not consider nodes for "deletion" (really "reaping") as it doesn't really work very well.

    • It makes a lot of work for people to review the nodes and vote whether to keep them or not and then editors to clean up the considerations that don't "pass".
    • It usually doesn't happen fast enough to prevent people from replying to the nodes.
    • It doesn't really give very informative feed back to the person posting the node of what they did wrong
    • I personally don't think it does much at all to discourage an increase in "off topic" nodes. Some could even deem it unfortunate that it prevents the offending noder from continuing to lose XP from downvotes for being off topic (sometimes I consider that a good thing, sometimes a bad thing)
    • It leaves a bit of a mess (visually)

    Plus, the general feedback I get from a wide variety of monks that I most respect shows a consensus for a dramatic reduction in reaping of nodes. This feedback has gone into the site documentation regarding consideration, What is consideration? (which you can get to indirectly via the "help" link if you have access to the approval nodelet).

    Today I see people considering nodes for reaping because they are replies to reaped nodes. I really don't see that as being even close to worth the collective effort involved. But I certainly understand the desire to do "something" rather than what I consider to be the best approach we have right now which is, well, mostly "nothing". That is, don't approve the node and don't reply to it (perhaps /msg the author, complain in the CB, or even downvote it).

    I'll think I'll ease up complaining about too many (IMHO) requests for reaping nodes.

    What I hope to do is add an option to the consideration system for "off topic" which would, instead of reaping the node, clearly mark it as being "off topic", actively discourage (but not disallow) replying to the node, and disallow (if enough monks with "consideration access" vote for the action) approval of the node for inclusion in any section or the front page. Also, a user setting would control whether or not you even "see" nodes that are deemed to be off topic (probably with a couple of levels between "see everything" and "no trace of off topic nodes" and perhaps even a threshhold for how much consensus is need for you to not see it).

    Back to the question you asked. Many, perhaps most, of the nodes that I've seen considered for reasons like "no perl content" or "no effort, no value" have been nodes that I have seen as being at least "Perl related" and as having some value. And, in fact, most of them did not get a strong majority of "delete" votes vs. "keep" votes (though that is hard to draw much of a conclusion from) and so didn't get reaped.

    It is easy to ask a question in such a way that a few people will not see any "Perl content" or any "effort"/"value". But I encourage those who don't see these things in a node to take a moment and realize that there are probably quite a few other members here who do see how the question relates to Perl and do see the hidden effort and value.

            - tye (but my friends call me "Tye")

      In regard to the effort to consider nodes, are you counting the benefit to the archives?

      It might not be worth the trouble to clean something up for the current set of readers, but the effort might be worth reducing the garbage future searchers have to rumage through.

      Also, nobody is forced to vote on consideration...

      email: mandog

        First, let me apologize to some that I fear will read the rest of this node with the wrong tone. This is one of those items that I can easily see someone reading and getting an impression that I'm angry and overly sarcastic. Well, sure, I am being sarcastic (I'm almost always a bit sarcastic), but some will probably read more sarcasm than I intended. The fact is that it is late, I'm tired. If I wait until I have more time in order to word this more carefully, well, it would likely never get posted at all. And tomorrow I may think that would have been a better choice. But I hope not. I wrote it with a smile in my heart and the "Thanks" was sincere. Really. No, it was. Okay, I'm off to bed. :)

        My standard response to that is, how much are you going to reap? 1%? 5%? So searching through 95 nodes is going be a lot nicer than searching through 100?

        And not deleting nodes about roof repairs somehow makes it harder to find nodes about CGI security? Sure, occasionally you'll find some overlap and save someone searching for "frame" from finding nodes about hanging art (sorry, I found no realistic examples handy, but I hope you see my point anyway). But mostly I don't think reaping off topic items will help searching much. So even if you reap 20% of the site content, the fact that off topic items often don't overlap with "on topic" items means you only cut the rummaging from 100 matches to maybe 90 matches. No, I don't think most people would even notice.

        Also, nobody is forced to vote on consideration...

        Heck, noone is forced to visit this site. So who cares? (: I don't really know what else to say to that "argument".

        Perl Monks isn't really a great archive for ad-hoc searching for fantastic answers to Perl questions. I don't see how it will ever be. Sure, there is quite a bit of good stuff here related to Perl. But the long-term benefit will come from distilling it a huge amount (throwing away 99.9%), not from reaping a bit here and there. And distilling the master copy would suck in my opinion. Distill bits out into Perl FAQs and tutorials, etc.

        Thanks for mentioning this. I'd nearly forgotten that I'd previously run into a lot of people who wanted to purge stuff of lesser quality for the good of the archive. Probably because I still don't see how that idea holds water.

        Yes, I think there is some stuff that is worthy of purging, and even more stuff that is worthy of deemphasizing (such that it is somewhat hidden, less likely to appear to the casual viewer). But I don't think any of that will have other than a trivial impact to how easy searching is in the future.

                - tye (but my friends call me "Tye")
Re: Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?
by FoxtrotUniform (Prior) on May 08, 2002 at 19:21 UTC

    In terms of topics, I have no problems with questions about how to use Perl (e.g. "How do I get Perl to run under IIS?" or even "How do I compile Vim with Perl extensions?"), but I do have problems with questions about tools that get used alongside Perl (like "How do I install Apache?" or "What's /etc/passwd's format?"). Some questions are borderline ("How do I get Emacs to properly indent and hilight my Perl code?"); what, you expected an easy answer? :-)

    I think that I'm a little more tolerant than you are when it comes to no-effort questions: I'm willing to believe that the questioner doesn't know where to look, or even that they're not aware that they're expected to look before asking. (This second view is annoyingly prevalent, it seems, among VB weenies, going by the VB weenies I've worked with.) On the other hand, I'm also quite willing to consider RTFM a useful, even helpful, answer to a lazy question. I've even made something of a habit of upvoting terse replies to questions that show little effort.

    So I guess my boundary is pretty similar to yours.


Re: Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?
by Biker (Priest) on May 09, 2002 at 07:00 UTC

    "I say (and vote) no, on the gounds that these..."

    I think you're right on target there. Use your vote on considered notes to express how you feel about the specific node. That's why we can vote in Nodes To Consider.

    This is a community. The behavior of a community isn't static. It changes over time and fluctuates from day to day depending on who's currently present. It's impossible to foresee the reactions of the Monks being present in the Monastery tomorrow. (Or even today.)

    Besides, how would it be possible to quantify the quality of a question and it's potential answers? There's no way to objectively weight the quality of a question. The voting system will express the subjective reaction of Monks taking time to read and evaluate the quality and importance of nodes that have been considered.

    I think your question is sane, since it means you're thinking twice before posting. That's a good thing. But I don't think there could be any straight answer to your question. Nodes To Consider is the ultimate answer when a question (or an answer) is doubtful.

    Everything went worng, just as foreseen.

Re: Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?
by agentv (Friar) on May 09, 2002 at 02:56 UTC

    ...I'm right here with you. If someone has an earnest question and the desire to find the correct answer, I believe that it is right to help them. I have benefitted from a great deal of such help in my day.

    If someone drops in here hoping to get an answer without having to do any work, I don't have much patience for that. But I wonder if it might be just to leave their lame questions hanging from the trees as a warning to others. Of course I might be kidding about that.


Re: Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?
by smackdab (Pilgrim) on May 13, 2002 at 02:38 UTC
    As one who sometimes posts crazy questions that don't make sense...sometimes we are looking for best practices or the theory behind the question, but we don't *know* it.

    If you are not used to event based programming, formulating a question can be confusing.

    If you are a windows programmer, fork and pipe are confusing. Sometimes we want the background details: Lookup the fork() function. It will make 2 copies of your script that share all variables/handles then each half does its work...fork is not supported on all platforms, it is in alpha on Win32, and even then, isn't fully compatible

    If you are a windows person, understaning how to interact with the shell can be very complex. Not to mention that most Perl stuff is Unix/Linux it is nice to have the "watch fors"

    It might be nice to have an "experience level" combo box next to the question...that gives the awesome Monks some idea of how to formulate a response, which we are VERY grateful ! (also a platform combo would be cool)

    Here is a good example of something I recently struggled with, that isn't Perl, but I want to do it with Perl ;-)

    I want to execute a command-line send mail program from my program. Now I am on Win32 but want Linux compatability. Even with the W32 qualification, most people assume I know mail or mailx. I am concerned about how long the message body can be? Is that an issue on Unix? Would be on Win32...What about a pipe? Why not use Net::SMTP? Well if you have a Tk app, it will that an issue? Call fork() Ok for UNIX? Probably too much overhead for Win32... I think that many of us feel that these issues have been dealt with so many times, there are good rules of thumb to follow...maybe we are wrong ;-)

    While it looks like I am asking how to call an external program, I might not be able to express my concerns as I don't know the tradeoffs...

    I don't know how to make it easier, but many of us are learning what you might consider the basics along with our new found interest in Perl !!!

Re: Where is the boundary between 'in bounds' and 'out of bounds'?
by mattr (Curate) on May 15, 2002 at 12:41 UTC
    Personally I don't vote to delete nodes which may be a little offtopic but monks have taken the time to post some useful responses anyway. But I do not think it is impossible to improve on the situation, although I do not have as much experience as Tye here. (hmm too many negatives in that sentence? means I yet hope.)

    As Tye mentioned deletions are delayed so deletions mainly seem to affect the data-mining side of PM. But some simple facilities might provide constructive outlets for monks' frustration, in the area of behavior modification of newbies and preserving an amicable atmosphere.

    First, short but to the point responses are not evil. This is not is okay too I'd think. If people post answers anyway, then maybe it is a problem which comes up often in a Perl development context. What's a few more bytes. If monks of a certain level can mark the thread as offtopic that would have an immediate effect and reduce frustration among the frustrated too I think. Of course those marked offtopic would stand out if they are few. Maybe we could also have a way to mark a thread as very on-topic too.

    One thing that frustrates me is when I realize that I've spent tons of time figuring something out which the questioner has not even committed the first iota of time in trying to figure out. So I would hope we can be less harsh but more educational. Also of course antisocial stuff is antithetical to PM as a community so it is good if we can have immediate responses and not just wait weeks (? sorry not meaning to sound accusatory) for the node to be reaped after it has already had time to incubate.

    Similar tools which show up for high-level monks would let them make subtle changes quickly, while not granting full editor rights. If that is desired.

    One thing which I've thought of a number of times (and maybe it exists for all I know) is that the title of a node could be displayed as a text input field instead of as ordinary HTML text, to make it easy to change the title. Obviously there is a reason why PM was designed to let lots of people vote on changes, but if you think about it, a misleading title can waste the time of lots of monks too. My guess is that obvious ones get lots of votes to be edited, so why not let some of those monks who are voting just change it quickly. Or make it automatically get edited to a pre-prepared title if a certain percentage yes vote is reached. Not only would this save saints' time, it would have an added effect if the top page had just the titles displayed for the next 20 articles at the bottom of the page.

    As for PM not being a "great" archive site, personally I think it's pretty good all things considered. Of course it could be much better and it is not impossible. The key is to leverage the many eyes and hands touching the data. For example, we could keep track of the search keywords and let searchers vote on which nodes were the most helpful. Not using XP votes, but a search vote. Similarly these nodes could be associated with the search keys. It would be another step toward actually trying to categorize and codify the (still somewhat) chaotic collection of knowledge in PM. Letting monks (a lot of us) add nodes to editable categories in a subject tree would become a parallel effort with immediate results.

    Perhaps links to nodes which monks take the time to add to their responses are another source of valuable information. Just culling a list of all the hrefs that exist could be useful. Perhaps we could have a node which appears on the right side of the page that lists every href in the thread, with a pull-down menu that has a list of subjects under which to file it if it seems useful. New subjects could also be added in the same form. This would be a relatively simple and yet extremely powerful way to codify our knowledge as a group and magnify our brains, as well as creating a space to which questionners may be quickly directed.

    Also Biker said there is no way to objectively measure the quality of a question, but I think we do have some applicable tools. The number of responses, total votes on the thread, votes on the question, number of hyperlinks, and (maybe) the average XP of each responder times the number of lines in their posts could be used. We also could certainly use a pull-down menu item to score nodes or even threads as a whole, to provide a composite qualified score a la slashdot mediation scores. A combination score such as "5:Solves Common Problem; 4:Interesting Technique; 1:Smells like a Camel" would not only inform searches, but it also would allow us to locate nodes and threads in a multidimensional space (cluster analysis!) and this might even be more interesting than our current XP. If many people use it and are allowed to add voteable characteristics we will get a good composite quality judgement from the monks which preserves individuality and it could even be useful or fun.

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