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A very early question on this was closed as too broad, but I think we need to be bringing this back to the surface. There's a couple of reasons for this...

  1. Our help center is very thin on this subject. Okay, it has nothing.
  2. The off topic information is no better really, it's generic.

If we're going to be viable, we're going to attract questions that the community feels are off topic, but ideally we help newcomers avoid that with information ahead of the curve. So, should question #1 on meta reopen? Or should we start afresh here in this thread?

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    I think a fresh start here might be a good idea, now that we have gotten the ball rolling on being a proper beta site (aka not private). :) – Ash Nov 21 '13 at 3:18
  • My thinking too... :) Some good ideas there, I'd like to see if people still feel the same about some of those answers. – John Cavan Nov 21 '13 at 3:19
  • I think it would be useful to first assess the individual-topic questions that have been raised and see what consensus there is there. If we ask the general "what's on-topic?" question we'll get a bunch of overlapping-but-different answers. So if we already have consensus on some things, let's identify that? – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 3:36
  • @MonicaCellio - Yep, I agree. I just closed and deleted a rather offensive post as "off topic" and then checked on what we had there... That led me to re-igniting the discussion. How we figure this out is a very good place to start. :) – John Cavan Nov 21 '13 at 3:42
  • I saw the title of that but not the question -- ugh. (I might have offense-flagged it into oblivion if the body was along the same lines, actually.) I just ran through the on-topic tag and compiled a few things that we seem to have consensus on; assuming people still agree (and I think it's how we've been operating), we can at least not re-do those discussions. – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 3:48
  • @MonicaCellio - It's a start. We need to pin some ideas into place at any rate so that we can start editing that information. As of now, it's kind of unfair to shoot something down as "off topic" when he haven't said what is on topic... I'll start to think through this too and pose some items for consideration. – John Cavan Nov 21 '13 at 3:53
  • Suggestion: for new proposals (as opposed to things we've discussed before and apparently agree on), one topic per answer to facilitate voting? (If you agree, could you edit that into the question and delete this comment?) – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 3:55
  • Most off-topic questions won't be "shot down"; they'll just be closed. All sites bump into the on-topic boundary from time to time and have to discuss specifics; there's no shame in that. Actual offensive questions, on the other hand, can be shot down without resorting to topicality! – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 3:56
  • @MonicaCellio - Fair enough. In the meanwhile, I've updated the help topic on this to invite people to visit meta as well as to participate in this discussion. – John Cavan Nov 21 '13 at 3:58
  • I don't see that there is true consistency with what is deemed on topic or not. A browse through the questions that have been closed and/or closed and reopened will reveal that there is an inconsistency. – user87 Nov 28 '13 at 14:16
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It is time to tailor the help center pages to be a bit more welcoming and informative, but be careful not to multiply their complexity beyond necessity. The longer and more complicated these become, the more easily they're misunderstood or skipped entirely, then their usefulness drops commensurately.

Always try to resist the urge to be oddly specific in these entries in the absence of real and consistent problems caused by certain types of questions. With possibly two exceptions, Pets SE simply isn't old enough to have experienced these. That said, I'll lend some advice.

It's important to define what this community considers to be a pet - an animal cared for in a domestic setting. That immediately obviates industrial livestock, pigeons in the park, wild birds in the trees behind your home and more.

You can then go on to say that questions about items commonly associated with the care and housing of domestic animals are on topic, provided that they don't fall into the types of questions that aren't a good fit for us. That covers you quite well for now, and the foreseeable future.

I'm not firmly against noting that licensing questions are not on-topic because they broadly depend on your location; I honestly don't see much of a possibility of location-independent questions of that type.

For everything else, please, wait and see if it becomes a real and persistent problem before you make that page any more complicated than it must be. I know that it's difficult to resist the urge to solve possible problems preemptively, but almost everything in our experience has taught us that this is a really bad idea when it comes to new communities.

Let your community scale outward quite a bit more before you really consider that a consensus has been reached. What we've got right now on meta are discussions that happened very early on, by what will be an extremely small representation of the size of this community in six or twelve months.

I'm not advising you not to use the document strategically, but please, make certain that you have a real problem on your hands before you leverage it.

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    Well said, I contained my update to the help to encourage people to participate in the process here. I imagine that this may always be true... :) – John Cavan Nov 21 '13 at 18:45
  • I've updated the help center to reflect your very good advice and we can refine/adjust as we need to. – John Cavan Nov 22 '13 at 14:04
  • meta.pets.stackexchange.com/questions/50/… – user87 Nov 28 '13 at 14:55
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Some specific points seem to have consensus already:

  • Questions about (non-industrial) livestock are on-topic, but questions about wild animals (such as the birds you feed in the park) are off-topic. (source 1, source 2, source 3)

  • General medical questions are on-topic, but questions seeking specific, personal medical advice are off-topic. (source)

  • Questions about animal housing (aquariums, kennels, etc), even if not about the animals themselves, are on-topic. (source)

  • Legal questions ("do I need a license for such-and-such pet" etc) are off-topic. (source) - Being revisited

  • By medical, do you mean veterinary or zoonotic (i.e. diseases pet owners can catch from animals)? Or both? – toxotes Nov 21 '13 at 13:05
  • Josh, good point. I drew that from the linked question, but maybe a licensing example would be better. @toxotes I meant veterinary (see the examples in the linked question), but I hadn't considered zoonotic; I would imagine that there could be on-topic questions about humans catching diseases from animals, though I think we can wait until we get some examples to refine that. My goal with this answer was just to catalogue what we already seem to agree on; it's not a complete list of what should be on- or off-topic. – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 13:58
  • I agree about the legal questions being on the fence. This question, for example, strikes me as perfectly appropriate, yet it is clearly "can I keep pet X in jurisdiction Y". – Beofett Nov 21 '13 at 13:59
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    Why are legal questions off topic? I understand not allowing questions that ask does X law apply to my problem being off topic. But general legal questions should be answerable. Especially questions on importing and exporting pets, the use of medications, and any other that do not have hyper local answers. Do I need a licence is hyper local because it is going to vary by county and city sometimes in the US, and I suspect other places. But In the US where should I go to find out about licencing requirements? should be on topic. – user9 Nov 21 '13 at 14:32
  • I hate to use the phrase "asking for legal advice" because my experience at the workplace says that any thing even slightly legal gets slammed with that even though most of them are asking about facts in the law rather than application of the law questions. – user9 Nov 21 '13 at 14:37
  • "What are the rules governing x?" vs "Is x illegal"? We have had the question about the legalities of tail docking. – JoshDM Nov 21 '13 at 14:43
  • @Chad, I think you're right that legal could follow a path similar to medical -- we don't do personal, specific counseling, but general questions seem like they could fit. My intent with this answer was to compile what seemed to already have consensus; I'd like to encourage you to post an answer on the linked question so we can see if consensus has changed. (I suspect that the current state was influenced by other sites with legal-question problems, including TWP.) – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 15:06
  • Oh wait, that wasn't a legal-specific question. Let me amend that: let's ask a new question about legal advice, along the lines of the medical question. – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 15:08
  • You want to ask and ill do an answer? – user9 Nov 21 '13 at 15:08
  • @Chad meta.pets.stackexchange.com/q/598/31 – Monica Cellio Nov 21 '13 at 15:14
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  • I don't think we need to add this. It isn't really about the topic in question, but about the time-sensitivity in general. It's probably the same as asking how to win the "2014 National Bunny Hopping Contest" opposed to preparing for any Bunny Hopping Contest. If at all we might want to cover the time-sensitivity, but for me that is a rule that is a rule applied to all StackExchange sites (not sure if written down anywhere). – Baarn Dec 21 '13 at 13:20

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