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If we get a 'reference' question - requesting the lookup of simple factual information where:

  • there is another online database or resource that generally holds that kind of information

and

  • the actual information requested is present in that database (and there's no reason to believe it's incorrect or incomplete)

Should these questions be on-topic?

Example:

Backstreet Boys songs written by Brian Littrell

Another example might be a question along the lines of "what samples does this song contain...?" that could be answered by whosampled.

Incidentally there is already a similar meta question : Answering simple questions - but I don't think that is as specific as this one, and I don't think the example given - What is a "jazz standard"? - falls into the category I am talking about here.

6

The internet is transient, web sites frequently come and go. Just because information can be found on a site doesn't mean that site (or the page on that site) will always exist. I've seen quite a few links posted on various SE sites that returned a 404 error when I tried to click on them.

It may be better to allow reference questions so that if a site containing the answer to a question disappears, then the information will still be quoted and available on SE.

  • This is a good point. I've stumbled upon those accepted answers: popular question, potentially very useful, but the link returns a 404 and the answer is nowhere to be found. – ByBw May 11 '15 at 20:28
6

In the realm of music, there really isn't much that can't be found via google. So, eliminating all questions off the bat simply because the answer is available elsewhere isn't a good idea, IMO. Let's not forget, the entire StackExchange family of sites was built on one simple statement from Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood;

"With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about programming."

I'm sure this translates to all the other offshoots, such as this site. Therefore, even though an answer may exist elsewhere, it should also exist here to be part of said central repository. This is why link-only answers are discouraged on SE sites.

Besides, as pacoverflow pointed out, that link may one day be dead and then no answer would exist.

2

How would closing all "lookup / reference" questions be an improvement over what we already have (votes, comments)? That's a very important aspect of the suggestion that you are missing.

I don't think eliminating flexibility is an improvement and this situation is too dynamic and subjective. We can already speak through the votes and comments if we have an issue with a specific question. Why do you want to make it a blanket reason to close? I see it generating more problems (and bigger) than the one that you are trying to solve.

I've always had a problem with your argument (which commonly brought), because of all the implications. You are assuming that every outside source is complete, correct, and can't be expanded and/or improved upon. Through all the SE sites there are countless examples of answers that have improved and expanded over something that already was available.

The example you present is overly simple, but that won't be the case for all "reference / lookup" questions. Even your simple example can have unexpected ramifications, like B sides, uncredited songs, perhaps some cover or remix. How do you consistently correctly judge when "there's no reason to believe it's incorrect or incomplete"?

By closing everything "reference / lookup" you are also closing the opportunity for others to show you that the question is not as simple as you thought by building a great quality answer.

I understand where you are coming from, some "lazy" questions lack potential of adding something to the site, but that won't be the case every single time. That's why we need flexibility. In my answers that fall in my area of expertise I have consistently improved upon whatever was available (check here and music SE), and many other users do the same on a daily basis.

So, even if we assume everything is always correct, complete, and will suit every possible asker (a different answer can be carved for different askers, depending on the context), we would also need to assume that every user has enough experience on the subject to correctly and consistently judge the direction the question can follow.

Also, how can we objectively enforce this? Are all reference / lookup questions illegal in your eyes? If not, how and where do you draw a line? If so, we would end up closing most of the questions in this site, and with a similar criteria other SE sites would end up closing most of their questions.

  • "You are assuming that every outside source is complete, correct, and can't be expanded and/or improved upon" - but I explicitly excluded cases where that's in doubt. "How do you consistently correctly judge when "there's no reason to believe it's incorrect or incomplete" - On a case-by-case basis to the best of our ability I guess, as with many other things.... – user16 May 6 '15 at 19:25
  • "Are all reference / lookup questions illegal in your eyes?" Well... obviously those two words ('reference' / 'lookup') don't on their own explain what I meant, but I hoped my examples indicated more clearly the very small set of questions I was referring to... certainly I wouldn't be including "most of the questions in this site". – user16 May 6 '15 at 19:29
  • I've (very quickly) flicked through the 5 pages of highest-rated questions and the 5-pages of lowest-rated ones (ignoring the closed ones) and I didn't notice any example of what I meant other than the one I mentioned in this meta question. – user16 May 6 '15 at 19:37
  • @topomorto (regarding completeness and correctness of other sources) It's a doubt inherent to your scenario. You want to exclude it, but your whole argument depends on that detail. I understand that you explicitly excluded it, but for your suggestion to work the community needs the ability to consistently and correctly judge if other sources are complete, correct, and suitable for that specific asker. It's a dynamic that needs to be addressed to even talk about your suggestion. – ByBw May 6 '15 at 20:06
  • @topomorto don't on their own explain what I meant You'll need to be more specific, then. Your examples and those words aim to the same direction, which is what I based my reply on. Exactly what do you want to make off-topic? And more importantly (something you haven't answered, which is perhaps the most important point you need to make) how is it an improvement over what we already have (vote and comments)? – ByBw May 6 '15 at 20:09
  • "How would closing all "lookup / reference" questions be an improvement over what we already have (votes, comments)?" - potentially because off-topic rules are a big part of what defines a site's scope. And we be saying that, for this set of cases, we're not the place to come. – user16 May 6 '15 at 20:10
  • @topomorto potentially because off-topic rules are a big part of what defines a site's scope Can you see now how you can't ignore the specific status of other sources? You want to close questions where the answers can be found somewhere else, for that you need to assume that all the external answers are correct and complete, that there's nothing else to expand on improve (hence closing the question, removing the opportunity to answer, effectively eliminating it). I don't think the scope should be carved with such a dynamic and subjective concept. – ByBw May 6 '15 at 20:20
  • @topomorto Also, if you can find only one example of what you are talking about (which is hard to believe, since you are referring to very board and general concepts, if so you need to be much more clear and specific), perhaps is too soon to carve a scope based on it. – ByBw May 6 '15 at 20:23
  • "for your suggestion to work the community needs the ability to consistently and correctly judge if other sources are complete, correct, and suitable for that specific asker". In most cases, for the kind of questions I'm talking about, the reference sources will "know better" than anyone on this site would be likely to off the top of their head. So we only have to concern ourselves with cases where someone raises doubts on completeness or accuracy of the reference source. – user16 May 6 '15 at 20:25
  • @topomorto In most cases the reference sources will "know better" But that's just another reason to keep that dynamic away from a closing reason! What about the cases where the reference sources are incomplete, incorrect, or can be improved upon? That's why we need flexibility, which the close dynamic doesn't give (as opposed to votes and comments). I will also argue that you are naively underestimating us, which judging from other SEs is a very obvious mistake. You are counting on us sucking, but other SEs have become a primary source of quality information. Why would this be the exception? – ByBw May 6 '15 at 20:29
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    I don't think I'm talking about broad concepts. I'm talking about the lookup in database-like resources of simple facts in cases where there are well-known resources for that specific type of fact. I don't see how you get from there to "You want to close questions where the answers can be found somewhere else". That's a million miles from what I mean. – user16 May 6 '15 at 20:56
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    "if you can find only one example of what you are talking about (which is hard to believe...)" Saying that I could be clearer is fine (after all, it's almost always impossible to be totally clear in natural language). Telling me that you don't believe me when then I attempt to be clearer comes across as a bit of a wind-up, to be honest. – user16 May 6 '15 at 21:01
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    "Lookup in a database-like resource is having the answer somewhere else, literally". All I can say is how this discussion demonstrates very well how the same words can mean very different things to different people, which is a point I've often made myself on other occasions! "I see no advantage in making it a close reason" - that's a different discussion, but you'll understand if I'm running out of energy a little! – user16 May 7 '15 at 22:24
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    @topomorto Exactly! If you want to implement this, you need to be clear, precise, and concise; all of which your proposition is lacking. That's why your suggestion is board. Also, I don't think this is a scope issue, because you are using information dynamics, rather than semantics or subject specifics. I see it more as a quality issue, which votes and comments can handle. – ByBw May 7 '15 at 23:43
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    "all of which your proposition is lacking". I continue to be accepting of, and unoffended by, the fact that that this is your interpretation. As you say, we'll have to agree to disagree! – user16 May 7 '15 at 23:54
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I think these should be off-topic, as copying onto our site a small subset of the information available on sites that are better for these specific purposes does no-one any favours.

I think the best response would be to direct the user to the relevant resources in a comment, and vote to close.

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