How many times have I seen questions such as this in my few months participating in the community? Too many times.

I brought up a similar issue on meta before, regarding the value of comments leading to solutions vs. speculative answers in replying to a question.

In a way, it's the nature of the beast. We are, after all, not asking about English Language & Usage, but asking......."differently:" outside of the box.

By the same token, it's a plague.

I believe there is a fundamental dilemma with Ask Different's moderation system (note, I mean 'moderation' in a broader sense - not in regards to the current mods., whom I find excellent).

The fundamental issue is that too many questions require clarification and more detail on behalf of the OP.

As a growing SE site, part of me believes it's not appropriate to place more stringent requirements on questions. Naturally, participants will be less inclined to participate in this community if they are even hesitant to ask a question. Membership and participation is paramount.

The other half of me feels constant frustration when reading through some (most) questions, which require more work to clarify a question than to eventually provide its solution. To boot, I believe this has brought about a culture of speculative and often innacurate answers-even from notable, experienced members. This, in my opinion, is detrimental to the community as a whole.

I joined Ask Different, partly, because I was sick of the continuously mundane questions (along with close minded 'fan-boy' ideology) over at Apple Support Communities that could be answered with a simple Command+C of my previous responses.

1) Do you agree there is an issue?

2) If so, who does the burden fall on?

3) What steps can (or should) be taken to ameliorate the issue?


2 Answers 2


I'm going to answer with something that I've found to work well for me on the site.

When I get a vague question, I pass it through three filters:

  1. Is this problem common enough to be useful to 10 or perhaps 100-1000 people in the coming years?

If the answer is yes, I then ask myself:

  1. Did this person provide enough information for someone to actually answer it?

All the questions that aren't going to be useful (in my opinion of course) I usually comment with a hint and/or a short sentence to point the way to how to troubleshoot and/or to the [help] which describes how to ask a good question.

It's important to me to not spend more time answering / commenting than the effort the asker put into the question. It makes no sense to over-answer until I start the conversation with the OP - often they are highly motivated and edit the question into an awesome one and we gain a great user to the site. Other times, it's a drive by question and the OP never even logs in again to the site.

The second category - questions with enough detail to answer.

I usually take a stab at answering unless the site will benefit most from a guide how to troubleshoot that issue. For example - when MobileMe was duplicating people's contacts and calendar entries - I would probably launch in to a pretty detailed troubleshooting process - linking to Apple KB rather than just answer the OP's narrow question.

Since thousands of people are going to need help and not all of them might be as precise as the OP - I might actually answer for others and not the OP directly. I would also typically provide the OP with the precise answer they need in the comments to my answer.

The one last piece of advice is that I would challenge anyone to decide early with each question. Choose to either answer it directly or answer it with a troubleshooting procedure. Mixing the both tends to get messy and confusing to others - especially people that come later with the same problem. Having two answers on a question - one with a definitive answer that ABC fixed this problem for the OP and a general - here's how to see if your problem is the same and troubleshoot it is of the most benefit for the site as well as for the answerer and asker. (IMHO)


Interesting post. I think we have covered it a few times before, but I don't feel like hunting for duplicates, I think engaging users in fresh conversation on such topics in Meta is more important than pointing them to what has been said before. Not like this place is high enough traffic to worry about the odd duplicate.

I won't answer your 3 questions directly (well; yes, everyone, not many) but rather discuss a few things about this site which might well result in a few insights why I genuinely think that Ask Different really is different from most of the other SE sites.

Let's go to other sites first. Here, for example are a list of a few other other sites I use; Bicycles, Arqade, Science Fiction & Fantasy. I use those sites differently to how I use this one (even before I was a Mod too) - those sites are centred about topics for which the majority of users share not just a common interest, but a common passion. For many of the other more IT related sites (Ubuntu, Super-User) those people too are there not just because they have a problem, but because they have a passion for their subjects, or in the least for the technical IT sites are at least skilled and knowledgeable enough to be able to participate.

Now, with Ask Different, things are different. We don't have such a well defined audience of people (either passionate or highly skilled). A lot of our users are here not out of a passion for Apple, but out of frustration due to not being able to do something as a normal everyday person. And that something is such a wide remit. We are here to discuss "Apple", the company and anything it's name can be loosely associated with. And these days, that covers so much stuff:


  • Desktops

    • Servers

    • All-in-ones

  • Laptops

  • Monitors

  • Tablets

  • Phones

  • iPods (from nano to Classic via Touch)

  • Headphones

  • Peripherals, Mice, Keyboards etc

  • Routers

  • Backup Systems (Time Capsules)

  • Accessories, from covers to cases to docks etc

  • Apple TVs

And these are just the first party hardware topics Imagine if I bothered to create a list of the software topics, everything from Apple Script to ZFS...

This is the key, our focus is so overly broad that while we can and do have a core membership of highly skilled, experienced, and generally perceptive users, our core membership consists of people that bought something in a shop and can't get it to do what they want. And basically, most Apple stuff these days is by and large a commodity product.

It's the difference between having a site revolving about engine tuning and performance upgrading etc, and one for "Ford". We are guaranteed to get the dumber questions, the ill-informed users, the poorly thought out content. It's just the nature of the massively wide audience we have. Other sites take the cream off the top of their particular areas of interest, and gather them together to form a community. We simply take in randoms off the street, people who aren't here to stay here, but people who want to get in, get help, and get out.

Now is this a problem? Yes in many ways, I doo feel our participation levels and community feel seems lesser than many of the other sites we use

Who's burden is it? Well, it's everyone's, but being practical it's really (and unfairly) on the Mods, the High Level users, the Long Term users to try to corral everything into something like quality content, and we simply don't have enough of those as a percentage of all users like other sites do.

What can we do? Keep calm, and carry on.

As an aside, the first link you direct us to about the Terminal problem, I think is actually a good question. It's a genuine problem, well described with enough info to ensure it get's a proper answer. And I suspect that is where some of the frustration behind your question comes from (good frustration, expressed properly, not having a go here). You and I probably know where to look or how to have a quick Google to fix that in seconds. You're obviously a skilled and experience IT guy. But the OP? Chances are he's a guy who bought an iMac after loving his iPhone, has played about in Terminal so see what it is and such, maybe fiddled with settings, and now has gotten stuck. He's just a guy off the street with an IT problem. He's not an IT guy on an IT site participating in an IT community.

It's a tough one, and hits at the heart of the biggest problem with this site. I don't see a fix.

  • Thank you for your well thought out response, stuffe. By and large, I agree. I wasn't clear in posting my original question - I do actually feel that many of these posts are actually good questions (as the Terminal Q I linked to), but just need to be refined; in fact, it's usually the good Q's that require a bit more detail to get to the bottom of :) ...Thanks again for your thoughts and wisdom. Cheers.
    – njboot
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 12:29

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