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See Should we discourage pet breed / species identification questions? for the genesis of this.

Given that this recently popped up with What is this Reptile/Lizard? and we had a similar, though not the same, question on How can I identify the gender of my giant gourami? it got me to thinking about this. Why? In the closing down of the first, there was a comment with a link to the meta question. Meta is how we discuss our community, but I think it's unreasonable to ask newcomers to wade through the meta to figure it out, especially if they're new to the Stack Exchange model in general, but asking them to read our help is not (which is why I'm posting this).

So, when I started assessing the two questions, the thing that stood out in each case was:

  • The first question has almost no value to another visitor to the site. We have a picture of a reptile and, unless someone with a reptile that looks the same just happens to have the same problem, this question with its answer will never help another person.

  • The second question has value to other people because it asks how to solve the problem of identification. Other people, who have giant gouramis, would then be able to benefit from the question and answer.

The key is that we want to get questions that provide a greater audience with the tools that they can use to better understand and help their pets. It seems to me then that the first could have been more useful had the asker said, "how can I identify what type of monitor a monitor lizard is" as that would help many who might also be trying to figure that out with their pet.

I think the help topic, which doesn't really reflect this one way or another, may need to be updated regardless. Ideally this would be in the "off topic" (which does say "how" is encouraged, but in the subjective context), but since moderators can't edit that one, it would probably need to be something in the on topic section. So... thoughts? Should we update this information? If we do, thoughts on how to phrase it? I'm thinking we really want to avoid a list.

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Based on how that question turned out. I think I actually agree that animal identification questions should be closed as off-topic. I think the question requires a discussion-based format, which Stack Exchange is not.

I think that they should be directed to the chatroom, where we can have a more discussion based Q&A, or Biology.SE if they have the tag for species identification.

Even if we make a separate chatroom for species identification (if we don't want the noise in the main one). If we have the species identification in the chatroom we can ignore people who just ask the question and leave. We can get more information faster from people who stick around. This should reduce the noise of the site, keeping us from having dead questions from people asking for animal identification but refusing to provide enough information.

Identifying the sex of animals should be on topic I think. Because we're able to edit those questions into something like: "How do you tell the difference between a male and a female gourami?" There is no need for more information from the asker. And people will want to know the answer not only for breeding, but to be able to separate them so they don't breed.

In short, I think we should add to the help page something like: "Avoid asking certain types of identification questions, involving species, breed, or morph. Those questions should be taken to Meta, or the chatroom. Sex Identification questions are okay to ask."

  • 2
    +1 for basing your conclusions on actual examples. I know this is only anecdotal, but watching that thread, I don't see a way to improve the (poor) experience this is likely to create. So I agree this type of content would detract from the site overall. It's best to just to let the authors know (thoughtfully) that is isn't really the best forum for these types of questions and direct them to a chat room or other resource that is better able to host these queries. – Robert Cartaino Jan 14 '14 at 16:10
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You should never lose sight of what you're building, and what you're building is an archive of knowledge intended to serve future visitors for as long as the information persists.

If search engines ever leveraged the technology needed for the user to provide a photo instead of a text search string, it would be a bit of a different story. If something like Google could figure out that what you provided is a picture of a reptile that you're trying to identify and actually find our content based on that input, then we'd want to identify every single thing that we possibly could, and provide data about the animal in the identification.

We're a long way from that. "Identify this lizard" - is not likely to help anyone in the future, even if they're looking for the same lizard. Answering these sometimes takes a bit of research, and pulls time away from questions that will be helpful to others.

"How do I identify the sex of an armadillo?" is going to remain helpful so long as there are armadillos, genders and curiosity.

I think this could be sufficiently explained in one of your custom close reasons, I don't see the need to clutter the help center, and I definitely agree with not making a user go through lists of stuff that isn't on topic before asking a question.

You really don't need to go much further than the characteristics of these types of questions, starting with the fact that they don't really relate to caring for a domesticated animal. I'd shoot for that first, before trying to condense the philosophy behind content that will help many instead of one into a close reason.

While identifying an animal you just brought home could be considered part of caring for it, we need to be able to assume you know what kind of pet you have when asking questions relating to its care ;)

  • That's a good idea, we haven't had a lot yet, but if we do seem to be gathering those types of questions, then a custom close may well make a lot of sense. – John Cavan Jan 16 '14 at 14:22

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