When I posted Where can I find all the datacrons and what can I get from them?, I got this response:

This seems like an overly broad (aka List) question. – Powerlord Dec 17 '11 at 1:26

While not a "list question" in the sense generally used on SE (the answers aren't single items that together form a list), it's accurate to say that I asked for an answer containing a list.

We have more than a few good answers that contain some sort of list, so that isn't a problem here. The problem seems to be that the game is an MMORPG, and the list is probably going to grow for quite some time. That means the answer will become out of date at some point, which is a problem; we want Gaming to have accurate answers that will continue to be useful for as long as possible. So I totally understand Powerlord's view that this sort of question should be closed.

On the other hand, a ton of people are looking for this information (a similar question of mine already has 10k views and we're getting more questions of the same kind), and I don't think we should discourage a particular type of question only for a particular type of game.

One solution is to have answers linking outside the site, which has its own problems:

  • Link rot.
  • I have never seen so many sites dedicated to a single game. It's impossible to compare them all and determine which one has the most complete and accurate information.
  • We shouldn't be Googling stuff for people and throwing them a link. That's just silly.

Another is to make these questions into our own Community Wikis. If we just had one answer to these questions that everyone was explicitly encouraged to maintain, I have no doubt that they would do well, given the large audience for the game and the number of non-new members we already have playing it. I think we have a chance to grab a large chunk of traffic here without harming the site. Hosting full quest guides or something would probably be a mistake (someone who gets stuck should ask a specific question), but these are better (if you don't see a datacron's glowiness somewhere you simply don't know where it is, and we don't want individual questions for each of the many datacrons).

In The Future of Community Wiki, Grace warns that "a site should never have more than one community wiki question for every hundred questions". I don't know where we are by that metric but my proposal would admittedly create quite a few of them. But I think this is exactly what CW is designed for:

[C]ommunity wiki ... encourages people to contribute by adding to the existing content, with a small benefit of also discouraging unwarranted and low quality posts.

These questions are already getting overlapping posts, two-line posts that just link away from the site, and so on. I think we should improve them or eliminate them.

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Regarding having 59+ datacron questions, I'm sure there are many datacrons in obvious places (like ones near quest hubs and such) and others that are not so obvious that people most likely have trouble finding (like the one you need to take a 30 minute balloon ride for then jump out and hope you hit the plateau). If you have a natural question about a location, I would think that would be fine. If we want to artificially seed 59 datacron questions just for google juice, that'd be a poor decision. –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 18:43
    
I reposted my comments below in this answer if you'd like to move yours for the sake of readability. Regarding closing them all, I don't feel that I can make that judgement call yet. –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 19:38
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3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Stack Exchange isn't GameFAQs.

What do I mean by that? I mean that what we do well isn't Big Lists of Stuff. As a general rule of thumb, if I know the scope of the answer set, my 'I know it when I see it' guideline for a question that's too broad is, "Would I be willing to take the time to compose an answer that contains all of the items in this list? Would my doing so provide information in a meaningful, readable way that makes the internet better, and provides an answer in a way that another resource either does not or can not?"

Examples of 'does not' include organizing the information along an axis which it is not organized along at a traditional resource, or providing contextual information that other resources do not consolidate in one place.

I'm a busy person. I'd like to imagine that most other users here are busy people. If somebody else has already created a searchable database of every item, quest, and spell in The Old Republic, by god, I'm going to use that to answer questions, and point out to people when their answers come from there. If someone has already made a list of every single weapon in Fallout: New Vegas, we shouldn't be trying to make our own list - but if someone asks where to find all of the unique shotguns, that's something we can answer.

When I say we aren't GameFAQs, I mean that, in general, our model is that we respond to specific questions with specific answers, rather than presenting a firehose of information dumped into a text file. If you can't write it up in a sitting and have it look good with Markdown, there's a pretty good chance that it doesn't belong here. The specific case of the Datacron question is a good example.

Quite frankly, a list of coordinates is useless.. Many Datacrons are hidden at the end of caves or long winding pathways, very far from the coordinates themselves. Others are at the end of complicated jumping puzzles. Still others require the purchase of specific items from vendors. Others still require the cooperation of a group or waiting around for half an hour for a floating platform to pass by, then making a jump in a narrow 30 second window 15 minutes later. These deserve their own questions. What exactly is the problem with having 59 good questions with 59 good answers about Datacrons? If we end up with that many, we should probably tag them all , so that they're easy to find, but beyond that, I don't see the problem with having lots of good questions. And besides, not every datacron needs to be asked about. Personally, I'd change one of the existing questions to "How many and which datacrons are on each planet?" That's a list with scope we can provide. If a good community wiki answer that includes links to questions about individual datacrons as they come up (or offsite links to guides such as the ones I linked) is what you want to do, that'd be cool, but that's going above and beyond, and raises, as you noted, questions of link rot.

As Grace Note points out, if every element on the list deserves its own guide, and it's more than a few elements, the scope of the question is probably too big. It's why I took issue with the question about NPC/PC liasons that was asked the other day.

In general, I think worrying about link rot is an overblown concern in some ways. Yes, it happens, and we should be proactive about things like hosting images, and summarizing information pulled from offsite sources. But making the internet a better place and providing great answers doesn't mean duplicate all the information on the internet whenever somebody asks for it. There are things that other sites do better than us, and we should be happy to let them do it. Long lists and big tables are one of those things. If somebody wants a list that's too big for our site, well, quite frankly, there's nothing wrong with giving them a link to that list.

If I asked on English.SE for a list of all of the words in the English Language, I would expect a link to the Dictionary - not for somebody to try to port the dictionary to English.SE. That's an extreme example, but it's the exact same principle. Rather than try to shoehorn information contained from those offsite resources into the SE engine, let's embrace them, link them, and focus on doing what we do best: providing context for those resources, and pulling out the pieces of information from those large piles of data that actually answer a question.

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One additional note: I don't think this is really a problem specific to MMO's - it's really more a problem of any game that contains large Numbers of Things. The fact that the answers are Subject to Change in some future patch is, I think, largely orthagonal to the real problem, which is the problem of lists, and which applies to all kinds of games. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Jan 6 '12 at 23:09
    
There are some questions that are more limited (e.g. mine about matrix shards, since they're not in every datacron). If a list had, say, 5 items but could gain more, would you still feel the same way? If a user doesn't want a guide because they want to figure out how to get it themselves, but need the coordinates so they don't have to mindlessly wander around the entire planet looking up, isn't that OK? (I agree about link rot and our strengths.) –  Matthew Read Jan 6 '12 at 23:30
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@MatthewRead I thought I was pretty clear about my standard for what a limited list is - I ask myself "If I knew this answer, would I be willing to write up the entire thing? Can I do so clearly and coherently within the limits of SE's markup?" In the case of Matrix Shards specifically, I'd say that while it's a short enough list all in all - a dozen or so entries IIRC? - I feel like enough of them are sufficiently complicated to get that I don't really like the question. I think it's a valid standard to wonder just how much effort are you asking for from the person answering your question. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Jan 6 '12 at 23:36
    
I fully agree with this. I ran into this problem trying to answer Shaun's question about Dungeon Defenders tower stats a couple months ago. After a short discussion with Mana and NickT, it was more clear to me that doing this was an acceptable and even preferred route in some cases. I wonder if this is partially an issue because we just haven't communicated well enough that this is acceptable? –  FAE Jan 7 '12 at 13:01
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Right, makes sense. +1 then, I think we're best off using our judgment when linking outside and not worrying so much about link rot. –  Matthew Read Jan 7 '12 at 18:28
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List questions aren't a problem. Aside from itemized lists, problematic lists include overly broad lists, which is what Powerlord pointed at. I'll skip the concern about broadness of this specific list for now. I also can't make a statement because I haven't played the game, so when I talk about broadness it's going to be in a general policy thing.

You don't need the question to be Community Wiki, it sounds like the only part you'd need wiki for is editing the answer, and I'm not sure where a good old fashioned (and still quite easily created) Community Wiki answer would be insufficient here.

The broadness of a list is a subject I've touched on in other posts.

Remember that a good question will be something that is useful, that will attract upvotes. So even if one could list all 17 million weapons of Borderlands, is having it all in one answer actually going to be useful to someone?

Having it all in one place has benefits and negatives in relation to what it accomplishes. It has benefits in the form of being a compilation of everything, which is useful when you have to break down a full list. However, it has negatives if there are important nuances to individual items, especially when there are big enough concerns for individual items that perhaps warrant their own question.

Consider that "What are all of the special objectives in Lethal Application?" would be a sizeable list of objectives. However, special strategies to get some of the harder objectives would (and should) warrant their own questions, so having a question "What are all of the special objectives in Lethal Application, and how do I do them?" would be too broad, even though a narrow "What is the A Rank Objective of Stage 4, and how do I do it?" is acceptable.

If the question effectively demands a guide for each element on the list, that is a bit unwieldy to contain all in one question. The reason being, small elements worth their own questions can get very easily lost in such a question - this was pointed out in the Wiki blog post. If you find yourself with such a broad list, consider what could be done to pare it down into a more consumable list. If you start needing to index your answer, that's when things are probably going to far.

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Yes, that's what I'm saying. Currently everyone and their mom is posting answers and not making them CW. I think we should collectively agree to have only one answer and make it CW. –  Matthew Read Jan 5 '12 at 18:16
    
@Matthew Are the current listings (excepting LessPop's latest answer) complete or incomplete? –  Grace Note Jan 5 '12 at 18:25
    
This is missing at least one. –  Matthew Read Jan 5 '12 at 18:34
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I felt this question was too broad as well mostly because of the changing nature of the game's content. I agree with Grace re: small elements being more acceptable here ("Where can I find the X Datacron on Y planet?") more than definitive lists, at least for MMOs. As an avid MMO and other online game player, this is a problem I've struggled with with this site, as the dynamic nature of the games' state makes it difficult to have a definitive answer here without linking to outside resources.

My main concern tends to be unnecessary recreation of content and splitting of resources. If another wiki has a larger audience and number of contributors, which (usually) equates to better sources and verification because of crowdsourcing, is it necessarily making the internet a better place if we try to pull people from searching and contributing there in order to create content here? I love this site, I do, and I think it's important, or I obviously wouldn't be here. But I'm not sure we're the best place for information such as this which is often better maintained in a proper wiki, such as "official"/"unofficial official" ones that pop up.

I do want traffic here, don't get me wrong, but like I said, I worry about unnecessarily splitting resources. It's very difficult to pull audiences from these wikis in order to come to our site, and many people are loath to answer a question here when the information is better retained in a repository elsewhere. Like I said, I love the site, but I love games more, and whatever's the most healthy for the game is the option I tend to support. I'm not sure that trying to CW all answers like this when there already are existing wikis elsewhere is healthy for the game or for our site.

I do agree with you that Community Wiki would be a suitable option for the following reasons:

  • It allows global contribution, where the onus and ability to update an answer is on many rather than a single person
  • If an asker stops coming here, the "correct" answer will still float at the top without them having to re-pick a newer, updated answer
  • If an answer becomes outdated, people are more likely to update a CW answer than give "misattributed" rep to another user

However I don't agree that this is a necessarily a step we should take. What we need to think about is what this would do in the long-term for the site, especially in regards to setting an unwieldy precedent. We wanted to use CW for Game Rec questions as well. Ultimately, what we'd be doing with these questions is building a repository in a single answer, and I thought we'd already determined that our engine was not ideal for that.

Edit: Adding some more clarification after some feedback from comments below. Yes we could make these answers Community Wiki to solve the problems in the bullet points above, but I don't think we should. In my opinion, our site works best in tandem with existing wikis, not replacing them. External wikis provide information, and if you have questions about the information that is provided, we can provide context via experience and expertise.

As an example of what I mean, take this answer I gave to a question about Guild Wars, a MMO game (this genre classification is sometimes argued, but it shares enough qualities of a MMO for this example). All of that info can be looked up on the Guild Wars Wiki in separate articles, many of which I link to. In the answer though, you have context for the information you want and expertise explaining the connections between the subjects of the articles, which provides a fuller answer than just the wiki articles alone. Here's another question about glyphs in WoW which links to the existing article, but summarizes their usage with better contextual information than was on the wiki.

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I agree with what you are saying. Questions of this style with growing/changing answers would be best left to a site dedicated to that specific game. If/when TorHead is as complete as WoWHead (Which I think will happen because they made a lot of money with WoWHead) then you will be able to answer almost every question you have on the game by visiting TorHead and poking around a bit. A lot of the WoW questions about game content can be answered simply by visiting WoWHead and looking for it. –  Adanion Jan 5 '12 at 19:17
    
I'm not sure what you mean by "repository". I'm sure I've seen that word used positively by the SE folk regarding the knowledge shared on the sites. If you're using it to mean "wiki", then can I assume you want CW to die in a fire? I'm beginning to think that myself but, as long as we have it (and as long as we have these questions), I think it should be used. If not I'd rather see them all closed so that we don't just accumulate more partial answers. And I didn't claim we should do this without discussion and consensus, that's why I posted here.... –  Matthew Read Jan 5 '12 at 19:40
    
If what we want is 59 (plus more in the future) questions for datacrons, each of which is answered by "X: # Y: #", I'll post them. But I think that's horrible. So far I'm finding about 1/3 of the datacrons on my own, so that still makes for ~40 "real/natural" questions, assuming everyone else finds at least the same ~20 that I do. As for splitting resources -- the questions are already here and being answered, so I don't see how improving the answers and reducing clutter would further divert resources. Do you favor closing them all? –  Matthew Read Jan 5 '12 at 19:47
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Just about any question about an MMO is going to run a high risk of having its answers go out of date, so I'm not sure I like the idea of closing a question on that basis, or it seems like most MMO questions will end up banned. And in this particular question, the question can't really be replaced by a bunch of "How do I find X datacron on Y", because first you need to know that X even exists. I do agree in general though... I've done a few of the SWTOR answers like this that involved lists and even asked one of the questions. I don't want to be the one responsible for updating them forever. –  Sterno Jan 5 '12 at 19:48
    
@Matthew I'm fairly sure that SE folk use repository as a broad stroke term regarding sites in their entirety. The use case here is creating a single answer that becomes a repository, which Grace phrases much better than I do in a comment on this answer. I didn't mean to imply anything regarding your intent, and I apologize if you feel offended. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough. I do agree that CW could be a good solution for this problem, but I don't think it's one that would be good for the site. –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 20:17
    
@Sterno I don't agree either that we should close questions based on high risk of answers going out of date. After all, we handled the numerous Minecraft questions quite well. What I disagree with is making all of these answers CW, when our system isn't really intended for that. I think we work best in tandem with existing wikis, not replacing them. External wikis provide information and we can provide context via experience and expertise. –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 20:22
    
@Sterno Take this answer I gave. All of that info can be looked up on GWW in separate articles, many of which I link to. In the answer though, you have context for the information you want. –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 20:23
    
No worries. As I read that, Grace is referring to multiple answers being a repository and how that creates problems with visibility, voting, etc. (more here). I don't think the word "repository" can be applied to a single answer except in the most general sense of "a collection of knowledge", which all answers are. I disagree that SE is not intended to have good canonical answers maintained by the community instead of a bunch of overlapping, incomplete crap. The latter does not "work in tandem with existing wikis" any more than the former. –  Matthew Read Jan 5 '12 at 20:28
    
I'm really confused as to how you can agree CW is a better option than leaving it as-is or just linking to other wikis, yet say that doing so would be bad for the site overall. That would make more sense if you wanted to close the questions outright but you don't want that either :S –  Matthew Read Jan 5 '12 at 20:34
    
@Matthew I didn't say that SE isn't intended to have well-maintained CW answers. I apologize if my wording is unclear, I shouldn't have used "best" in what I wrote above. My intention is to say that while CW could be used for this, I don't necessarily think it's a step we should take as a precedent for the site to handle MMO questions like this. Please see my revision above. –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 20:44
    
I agree that answers like your Guild Wars one are great and that the question is fine. But answers like that aren't possible for "Where are all the datacrons?" et al. They're possible for "How can I get datacron X?", but you said you didn't want to close the former. So if they're open, why don't you think we should handle them in the way I propose? I'm certainly open to alternative improvements (do you have one?) but I find the "precedent" objection a bit handwavy. If it leads to good then it's a good precedent, and I don't see a concrete reason why it would be bad. Sorry if I'm misreading. –  Matthew Read Jan 5 '12 at 20:52
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I think I'm the only one who regularly refers to a certain question class as a "repository" (it's not a general SE term), but that's largely about being itemized and having extremely high maintenance issues. I may have to refine my exact definitions, though. –  Grace Note Jan 5 '12 at 21:09
    
@Matthew I felt I couldn't make that judgement call yet, as I was still unsure, not necessarily that I didn't want them closed. After discussing it, I do find myself leaning more towards feeling that they are too broad to remain open here. I want a solution that works for this too, as like I said, I'm a big MMO fan and I've always lamented the fact that most questions I have about them are too broad in scope for the site. My objection is that the problem is thus: The answers are very broad, perhaps too broad in scope for us, as we're not a wiki and the proposal of CW feels more like a... –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 21:15
    
band-aid to allow questions that are too broad. Note this is the use of CW as I understand its intent, so I'm perfectly willing to admit my understanding here may be flawed. I'm still trying to feel this out a bit since you brought it up, which is why my arguments are a bit muddled, which I apologize for. I'm just not sure how we can successfully allow this type of content in a manner that works for the site's intent (again, as I understand the intent, so room for error). Also, this line of comments is getting long, so I suggest we continue in chat if you want to discuss further. –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 21:20
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@Matthew Yeah, I definitely agree the current state of them is something we need to deal with. Thanks for your insight as well! –  FAE Jan 5 '12 at 21:28
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