tl:dr you special snowflake August 23, 2012 12:27 AM   Subscribe

This is a genuine query not a complaint - does anyone else read a lot of AskMeFi questions, think they could perhaps help, then when they look 'over the fold' get put off by the huge bulk of further details?

I realise that often these questions are places for people to think 'out loud' and work through their problem while they ask for help, esp. in relationship questions. However I am finding more and more that I just can't get through the verbiage, either because it all feel histrionic, or unwarranted, or (and feel free to judge me) melodramatic to add so much 'I'm a special snowflake' detail. Or just genuinely tl:dr.

The reason I ask is because if I am the only one, so be it, no harm done. But if there are a lot of questions not getting the attention they probably could because it ends up being tl:dr, could there perhaps be some more guidance about keeping it short, as in maybe added to '- Open-ended chatty questions that don't offer a problem to be solved.'
posted by Megami to Etiquette/Policy at 12:27 AM (59 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

Yes. I think the perfect solution would be....

Ah, forget it.
posted by chillmost at 12:47 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Long "more inside" rants are a pain, I agree.

But: useless unedited verbiage helps me to consider whether I actually want to read it all and answer. When I turn away it tells me I'm not that invested in a topic. Which tells me that there are others who will be better at answering the question.
posted by Namlit at 12:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Not everyone is a clear, organized writer. Especially in times of emotional turmoil. I think we just have to take them as they come. Too long? Pass on by.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 1:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [18 favorites]

Oh yes this happens all the time.

But the thing is that I'm not sure what to do about this - somebody who is prone to rambling essays, or who just needs to get something out and off their chest, is going to write it anyway and disregard any guidelines that may be proffered.

Possibly it would be good AskMe practice for people who write reams of details to put the "here are the questions I want answered" section at the top, directly beneath the cut. But that's what the subject line and text on the main page is supposed to be for. I don't know that there is a balance that can be struck between encouraging askers to include all relevant details and encouraging them to keep things concise, unless we all take writing classes together.

The other thing is, although I often feel like I would like to lend an ear and maybe some wisdom to these types of tl;dr questions, when I settle down and actually read through them, you know, like we're supposed to, I find that with all of the detail my experience would not actually be helpful. So maybe the questions are working like they're supposed to. There's nothing more annoying than asking an honest question and getting an answer that you specifically addressed as unhelpful in the text of your question. If I cut that text out to make the question more attractive to answerers, I'm not getting any more useful responses that way.

I think it takes a specific kind of person and that person has to be in the right mood to properly handle the really long inside rant questions. If you find yourself being turned off by them, that doesn't really mean the askers need to change for you, that just means you don't need to feel bad about not answering them, since you don't feel motivated to read them in the first place.
posted by Mizu at 1:07 AM on August 23, 2012

The guidance to 'keep it short' might not be all that effective. It takes a lot of life experience in acknowledging, articulating and sharing problems to know what's salient and what can be left out. Even harder if you're sitting in the very chair you're trying to fix, with all your weight bearing down on it.

Through the process of formulating AskMe's over the years (and trying to succinctly answer them) I've gotten pithier and gained better awareness of myself, but still a long way off from anything less than than a formidable chunk of text.

I think I enjoyed delving into the longer posts years ago, when I had more time on my hands and every question seemed to indeed be a novel (heh) snowflake worth examining under magnification. I also was much more self-absorbed then than I am now and thought I knew the answer to everything and that everything I had to say was important and must be shared. I've mellowed out a lot and with that divestment in myself also comes my waning interest in diving deep into the particulars of others.

tl;dr version: sometimes the kitchen sink is necessary. I'm happy to rifle through it on some days, not so much on others.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:09 AM on August 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

I do this sometimes, but not really because I'm put off by the bulk of specific details, but rather because I realize I can't contribute a useful answer to someone who has already gotten that far along in the question answering process.

To me, it really depends on how knowledgeable I am about the question domain. If I have a lot of knowledge about the subject matter, I'm far likely to wade through the details and to do my best to help. But sometimes I'll see a question on the green where I think I might be able to contribute something generally useful, but where I don't have a ton of specific knowledge about the topic. These are the kinds of questions where my answer might be something like "someone may have more specific advice, but I know that the thing you're talking about is usually called X, and googling for that term looks like it finds a couple of useful resources like this one." I'm more likely to do something like this if the question has few or no answers when I see it. A similar case happens if I try to answer a research-type question, where I don't particularly know the answer, but think it would be fun/interesting/helpful/mildly entertaining/work avoiding to try to find it for the OP. For instance, this find an old newspaper ad question from two weeks ago.

In these cases, I'm intrigued enough to click on the "more inside" and to perhaps work up an answer. If I see a large amount of text below the fold and discover that the OP is actually an expert in this area, has a highly specific question, already tried X, Y, and Z, and is really looking for answers from other experts, then I'm going to bail out at that stage because my more generalist knowledge of the topic isn't really useful there. To be fair, I don't do a ton of the relationship and personal drama types of questions, where length is less correlated with level of knowledge and general snowflakiness (wiktionary totally says it's a word!) than in more technical and practical types of questions.

And yes, as iamkimiam says, sometimes I feel like wading through more bulky questions, and sometimes that's just getting too involved in Someone Else's Problem when I'm busy avoiding my own.
posted by zachlipton at 1:38 AM on August 23, 2012

I don't mind the extra detail, because it can prevent the OP being asked for more detail (especially in the case where they are posting anonymously, and may not take the time to answer via the mods).

The only thing that bothers me is huge chunks of text. Paragraphs more than 5 lines high, for instance, are very difficult to read, and I may skim and then miss some relevant detail. Sometimes I go back and re-read again, but it's still easy to miss a key phrase, such as:

"I have already tried massage and steroid injections for my pain and the doctor said I was a candidate for surgery but my brother-in-law had the same surgery and they really messed it up, and I've done some research and it's iffy whether or not I should get my knees worked on because I am allergic to many sedatives and it's hard to intubate me so if I want to get the surgery I have to make sure I bring a list of the drugs I'm allergic to and then what if I am crippled for life because my mother told me her uncle Herbert had the same surgery and he ended up in a wheelchair and oh by the way my daughter was also told she might inherit it so what are the chances of this being genetic? I'm not sure what to do, Hive mind, hope me!"

At this point, I'm not sure if the question is:

- Should I have surgery?

- Are there alternatives to surgery?

- What do I do about my fear of surgery?

- What are the chances that my knee condition is genetic?

- How do you deal with well-meaning relatives who butt in and tell you horror stories about this type of surgery?

I prefer extra detail to too little detail. But my fondest wish is that people who use AskMe will use either bullet points or shorter paragraphs, and perhaps go back and edit it. However, that's not a perfect world, so I just muddle through as best I can and hope I provide some value to the questioner, or someone else who reads my answer down the road.

But to answer your question, yes, sometimes I do back out of questions if they are extremely long, but I particularly love reading roommate questions, don't ask me why. Not sure if I've even ever answered any of those.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wait a minute!!!! Everything Iamkimiam says isn't "important".... NOOOOOOO!

That said... Interesting question.... just yesterday I popped open a "more inside" to be confronted by a wall of text, started reading, got lost in the first paragraph of complex details and just moved on. I find I do this more often with relationship questions, with the thought that, if it's THIS complicated, I probably can't offer anything of use anyway. (I think there's also a bit of "I don't want to think this hard today." to my moving on sometimes as well... which, for all concerned, is probably a good thing).
posted by HuronBob at 4:07 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I skip these frequently unless it's not the normal "should we break up", "should I quit grad school - here's my life history" or "here's 7 paragraphs of my medical condition" question.
When I ask a question, I first get everything out of my system. Then I go through and try to shorten it as best as I try to delete information that doesn't seem necessary.
posted by KogeLiz at 4:18 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that if you don't front-load your question with every detail you can imagine, the first few "answers" will actually be questions looking for more detail that you're not supposed to answer because of "thread-sitting". A lot of the situations people need help with are complicated and sometimes you really need the big picture to give a useful answer. If it's hard to read and melodramatic well that's because most people haven't taken writing classes. If you're not in the mood to take it all in that's okay.
posted by bleep at 4:32 AM on August 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think a lot of the extra blather comes in relationship-filter questions, and that a lot of people write those questions just to talk. They're unburdening themselves. They aren't necessarily looking for an answer as much as they are looking for a large, collective shoulder. "You go, girl! He's not good enough for you! DTMFA!"
posted by pracowity at 4:54 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think long questions are due to people thinking they're 'special snowflakes', but rather a combination of non-optimal writing skills and/or people in turmoil finding it hard to process the situation enough to see what the important points are. It's easy enough for answerers to say "Dude, this detail about the past six years of your relationship doesn't matter when your girlfriend DROPPED A SAFE ON YOU ffs" - but if it was that easy for the asker, they probably wouldn't need to be asking the question in the first place.

There also seems to be a negative feedback loop where people try to pre-empt misunderstandings from answerers by giving every detail they can possibly think of, and making their question so long and rambly as a result that people miss stuff anyway, and so their next question is longer still, etc. etc.
posted by Catseye at 4:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's completely ok not answer any AskMe question, for whatever reason.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:18 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yes, fairly often. The worst are the ones where the [more inside] is some horrible looming monolith of text from which no useful information can be extracted.
posted by elizardbits at 5:34 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think maybe a page on how to write a good AskMe question would be a useful resource, maybe with some advice on how to edit a sprawling mass to something more readable and how to not bury the lede (or, at least) actually ask your question at the end.

That being said, a) many posters won't read that or b) will forget the advice in the heat of the moment. I think pracowity hits the mark with the observation that many of the human relations questions are people unburdening themselves (or processing in print, if you prefer), and part of that process is just dumping the whole mass out there because a) they can, b) they need to, and c) part of their problem is that they can't see the salient points (and, with anonymous questions, it gets harder because you need to get all possible necessary info out the first time).

I mean, posters are never going to be able to make their relationship questions as succinct as "my router is doing X. I have tried A, B, and C. What's the next step?" or "I don't get what this particular conjugation is for in [language]. Why don't speakers just use this form?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:36 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

A related question: As a frequent answerer of [relationship/work/music/etc.] questions on the green, what aspects of the questions do you find most helpful, and/or want to see included? What kind of information can or should be left out?
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:37 AM on August 23, 2012

It's completely ok not answer any AskMe question, for whatever reason

Well I didn't answer any AskMe questions today because I am in jail for molesting a stoat. I guess that is "completely OK" by your reasoning, you disgusting horror. I would ask you how you live with yourself, but you might not answer because you are, say, dry-humping a tapir - another "completely OK" activity according to your sick philosophy. And yet the courts of this country lock me up while you are free to spread your doctrine of zoophilic perversity throughout the land! Is there no justice? I cannot answer that at the moment, as I am lustfully ogling a beetle. Sorry.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:41 AM on August 23, 2012 [30 favorites]

Relationship issues are difficult to present concisely - what with relationships being so complicated and all.

It is too early in the morning for me to judge the profundity or banality of this observation.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:46 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

But if there are a lot of questions not getting the attention they probably could because it ends up being tl:dr, could there perhaps be some more guidance about keeping it short, as in maybe added to '- Open-ended chatty questions that don't offer a problem to be solved.'

Few people read the FAQ. Adding more information to it won't accomplish anything except hindsight rules lawyering.

Ultimately there's a lot imperfect aspects of AskMe questions. Read and help when you can and skip the rest. Like I wrote earlier, there's nothing wrong with deciding a particular question is too "something" and skip answering. There hasn't been trend of relationship or personal AskMe's not being answered, so everything seems ok, if less than perfectly ideal.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:54 AM on August 23, 2012

On the one hand, I rarely answer AskMes with long below-the-fold sections because I rarely have the willingness to wade through several pages of explanation before answering and I think it's poor form to answer a question without reading it fully. On the other hand, you have different fingers.

Sorry. On the other hand, those kind of questions seem to get plenty of answers in general. I think there are lots of folks out there (occasionally I am one of them) who find it therapeutic to read those detailed precises of other people's troubles and to try to come up with a good response. So while those types of questions might not be your cup of tea as an answerer they do seem to work fine in terms of generating answers for the asker, which after all is the whole point of AskMe.
posted by Scientist at 6:07 AM on August 23, 2012

Anything longer than four lines, just tell 'em to get therapy. Saves time.
posted by Decani at 6:08 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anything longer than four lines, just tell 'em to get therapy. Saves time.

What if they don't need therapy but have a crying need for an editor? Perhaps a lack of succinctness is causing the core tensions in their relationships and printer orientation problems....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:20 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I do note that someone pretty much always answers the post. Even the long ones, even the wall of text relationship ones.

when I am turned off from a post, for any reason, I no longer think that the Poster should have done anything different. I just figure I'm not the right person. But so many other people are answering, they must be the right people to answer that question. The universe unfolding as it should, and all that jazz.
posted by anitanita at 6:25 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well, it's a problem, sure, but it's one that doesn't have any easy solution.

I would love it if all writers were models of concision and clarity, but that is never going to happen. Especially on a site whose hurdle for participation is a one-time $5 fee.
posted by dfriedman at 6:31 AM on August 23, 2012

Especially on a site whose hurdle for participation is a one-time $5 fee.

I propose we add a requirement. Beyond the fee, potential members must submit a 5-paragraph essay on a subject of the Mod's choosing. Clarity, conciseness, and creativity will all be considered. Photos of cats will not be accepted as an alternative.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:39 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Isn't that how one gets admitted to Barbelith?
posted by winna at 6:42 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could MetaFilter be delivered on Twitter? This would put a hard physical limit on the length of posts and comments and help keep things succ
posted by mazola at 6:43 AM on August 23, 2012

posted by mazola at 6:43 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Five paragraphs? That'll just breed a culture of loquacious boors. What we need is an examination of potential MeFites' knowledge of the Four Books and Five Classics in the eight-legged style. Also the exam will have to be taken in one of these, although I assume for most of us that just means we're taking it at home or work.
posted by griphus at 6:43 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

*drools on keyboard*
posted by infini at 6:46 AM on August 23, 2012

I skip the really long wall-of-text AskMes and I sometimes am the one responsible for breaking up the wall-of-text AskMes into paragraphs. I don't think additional helpful verbiage is going to help things, some people just use their question as a processing exercise. If they do this in the anon queue we'll often sit on the question for a few days and/or not approve it because that processing-as-sort-of-question [where at the end there's some token "What do you guys think?"] really isn't a great use of AskMe.

Sometimes the fact that they're including a ton of extraneous detail is a clue to why they're having an AskMe-able problem in the first place.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:10 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I get put off by this and seldom answer these. There are others out there to answer.

I sometimes also click into the user profile and see the person does nothing but ask questions and I don't have time for that either.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:18 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that if you don't front-load your question with every detail you can imagine, the first few "answers" will actually be questions looking for more detail that you're not supposed to answer because of "thread-sitting".

No, if someone asks you to clarify a specific point, you should answer. This isn't "thread-sitting."
posted by John Cohen at 7:28 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I skip the really long wall-of-text AskMes and I sometimes am the one responsible for breaking up the wall-of-text AskMes into...

posted by griphus at 8:17 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

No, if someone asks you to clarify a specific point, you should answer. This isn't "thread-sitting."

Or if the first response made some sort of unwarranted assumption and every subsequent response operated on the same assumption, it is wise to steer it back on to course.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:20 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your question can be summarized in a tl;dr, then just delete the novel you wrote and keep the summary. If it can't be summarized, then skip the tl;dr.
posted by desjardins at 8:29 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have never once thought a question was too long or gave too much information, but I have been frustrated thousands of times by vague, reticent, and laconic Askers.

And if a question is personal, physiological or medical and not anonymous, I scan all previous questions and sometimes comments for further clues and confirmation or disconfirmation, although for the last several years I've tried to avoid referring directly to any previous contribution by using language specific to that contribution and trusting that the Asker alone will recognize what I'm doing.
posted by jamjam at 8:47 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

More often, what happens to me (and this could just be because of the questions that I tend to open) is that what seems like a straightforward question (hypothetical: "How can I reboot my computer?") then has an endless stream of details that convince me that I don't actually know enough to answer the question ("It's an ENIAC and how do I tell which of my handmade vacuum tubes is blown since I can't climb in?").

But in that case, I figure that by inadequate answer would cause more angst than relief ("Ctrl+Alt+Del?") so I leave it alone.
posted by klangklangston at 9:00 AM on August 23, 2012

I don't think more guidelines would help, since people don't seem to pay much attention to existing ones. Especially if they're hurting and confused enough to post a rambling mess, or if they're using AskMe to process or vent.

I'm nearly always put off by huge wall-of-text questions, even when they're broken into paragraphs. I'm honestly impressed that so many MeFites are able to read and parse them - usually the longer the text the more muddled the description. But it's sort of a self-selecting mechanism, since the people who have unusual patience and empathy are the best ones to field those sorts of questions.

In fact, I think maybe the wall of text is a sort of useful signal in itself - it says the asker is in a bad state of mind and needs to be treated with a little extra care. A concise well-written question suggests the asker has their act together and can probably deal with a little tough love, but a shambolic brain-dump is begging for compassion.
posted by Quietgal at 9:02 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

It really depends. At least as often if not more I find myself thinking someone has left out all the most pertinent and necessary details needed to answer the question.

While I certainly sometimes think "you just want to talk to yourself out loud about this personal drama" - this is particularly true in the almost-always-ridiculous "what is s/he really thinking?" sorts of relationship filter stuff, I doubt there is any antidote to that. If a person hits ask in the mood no amount of "general site etiquette" finger wagging is likely to shut them up.

If it bugs anyone though, there's almost never a real downside to not answering, frankly.
posted by nanojath at 9:42 AM on August 23, 2012

I do have a strong, unsupported impression that people who post long, stream of consciousness textwalls without any breaks are the people who are least likely to have pored over the guidelines.
posted by nanojath at 9:45 AM on August 23, 2012

Twitter killed blogging.
posted by infini at 9:55 AM on August 23, 2012

Yes, relationship questions run long, mostly because a lot of askers just need to write everything out to get their thoughts straight. Most of the "He said, she said" questions are basically looking for support that they were right and their SO was wrong, too.

I think sometimes the wall of text is even necessary to get the whole picture.

My pesonal pet peeve: Asks with excruciating detail about a bunch of texting and email interactions. There's all this angsty over-thinking, and the question boils down to, "Is he into me?" I want to yell at the screen, "Just go TALK TO HIM already!"

Now I'm curious about what the longest and shortest questions on AskMe have been. I guess if I knew how, I could use the infodump to do a search by character length.

I really would like to know more about how to use the infodump. Is there a wiki on that?
posted by misha at 10:04 AM on August 23, 2012

Yes, I skip them. At least you can skip them, unlike the people who talk like this in person. The people who tell you their whole extended family history when talking about their favorite TV show. Or my personal favorite, the parents who will somehow give you a rundown of their children’s lives no matter what the topic. "I’m having a problem with my network, I keep losing the connection. Jennie is 4 and Mack is 6, they go to John Waters Elementary and love puppies…"
posted by bongo_x at 10:18 AM on August 23, 2012

Keep in mind that if you don't front-load your question with every detail you can imagine, the first few "answers" will actually be questions looking for more detail that you're not supposed to answer because of "thread-sitting".

Well, it's a balancing act that depends a lot on the specific question. I don't think "every detail you can imagine" is really ever the issue, so much as "the key details people will think define the answerability of the question". Which can be a tricky thing because maybe as the asker you don't know (a) what exact details are usually the key things for a given situation or (b) what odd things some one-off answerer might for some reason decide is important. But, in general, there's some middle ground between terse one-liner and throwing in the kitchen sink.

The thread-sitting thing is not so much about responding with clarifications or elaborations if people want/need more info (doing so is fine); it's more about camping in the thread, being hyper-responsive, responding to every comment with a counter-argument or explanation, treating the thread like a chat session or an argument, that sort of thing.

So if there's an immediate request for clarification in a question about some important point (or an answer that makes it clear that that important point didn't come through), responding to that is fine. If there's a few comments into the thread and people seem to be missing a couple key details, responding to those with a followup comment is fine. That's totally normal askme behavior. It's only when it starts to look more like a thing where the asker is making one out of every three or four comments and failing to sort of back off and batch up their responses or let the thread proceed that we get into what we consider thread-sitting territory.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:36 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends, but sometimes, yes, I find myself skipping over some of the longer ones. I do the same with the answers.

What irks me more is when the question is relatively short and to the point and one of the answers is something already mentioned and discarded in the original post. I know sometimes we all miss details here and there, but sometimes it comes off as "I HAVE THE ANSWER, WHAT WAS THE QUESTION?"
posted by sm1tten at 10:41 AM on August 23, 2012

Flag those, I delight in removing them.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:44 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, I skip questions like you're describing. If you can't take the time to pare down the question to what matters, you can't really expect people to take time answering them. A lot of people place very little value on the time of those willing to help them.
posted by Dasein at 1:22 PM on August 23, 2012

When asking a question, I try to include as much information as I can to facilitate getting good answers - sometimes that includes listing what I already tried to avoid people suggesting those things and that might make a question longer. I also try to break up walls of text with lists to make it easier to read. Obviously Anon questions will be longer with more detail because the person can't come back and clarify or answer questions (unless they do it through a mod).

I make a good faith attempt to read a few sentences of the longer questions to get a feel of the asker; is this someone just rambling and venting? Are all these details that make the question longer necessary to know in order to provide a good answer? Is there a question to be answered here? Next, I'll scroll down to see how many answers the question already has; if there are a lot of replies already, I'll skip it and move on.

I really appreciate a TL/DR at the beginning of a long question though. If THAT sounds interesting or something I might be able to help with, I'll read on to the longer parts. Its nice that people value my time and include those.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:47 PM on August 23, 2012

I would like to sort of flip this on its head and applaud everyone who has the fortitude to read through the long questions and respond to them. I back straight out when I see a wall of text, but invariably these questions already have several answers on them already.

Clearly not everyone is put off by Wall 'O Text, and those people are to be commended.
posted by ErikaB at 3:02 PM on August 23, 2012

I'm the opposite of put off by that sort of thing. In general, though, I tend to very much prefer content that most folks I know would consider "tl;dr" because it's a lot easier for me to read what somebody actually has to say than it is for me to guess the extenuating circumstances or significant details behind their question. YMMV, though, of course...
posted by aecorwin at 1:45 PM on August 27, 2012

I actually like long AskMe questions. It reassures me and reorients me to the fact that my soap-opera of a life is not the only one out there.

Is there an established protocol for questions that really need to be broken up into paragraphs? FIAMO? Does that change if it's a registered user vs an anon? (I saw what you said above, jessamyn, and rest assured I appreciate it.)
posted by saveyoursanity at 4:55 AM on August 28, 2012

If it's a post, just flag as HTML error and we'll see it. If it's anon I'd be surprised if we hadn't already taken care of it, but in either case it's simple enough to do. If it's a comment you just have to either lump it or skip it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:09 AM on August 28, 2012

Sm1tten: What irks me more is when the question is relatively short and to the point and one of the answers is something already mentioned and discarded in the original post.

Cortex: Flag those, I delight in removing them.

Sorry to pipe up so late, but that's interesting. So AskMe answers which show the answer-er didn't read the question are fair game for flagging / deletion? Or only if it's blatant? What about answers that ignore in-thread clarifications/updates? Because my confirmation-biased impression is that answers that ignore part of the question can be seen in about every third thread.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 10:54 AM on September 6, 2012

If the OP says "I've already seen Game of Thrones" and someone's recommendation is basically "Game of Thrones!" I will remove it. If the OP says "No sci fi please" and someone suggests Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, we might leave it. So with me it's usually "it has to be blatant and have no other redeeming quality" that will get an answer nixed. Something that ignores an OP clarification, likewise. This is much different than "I heard you said no sci fi but I'd really like you to reconsider Greg Bear for $_REASONS..." and those are totally okay unless it's turning into an insane pile-on and we're just trying to staunch the bleeding. But we're super comfy sorting out flags in AskMe so feel to either flag them and we can ignore them if we don't agree. or drop us a note asking about it. We get a lot less email than people imagine and most of the time we're happy to clarify specifics.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:03 AM on September 6, 2012

Yeah, if the answer is basically a concrete, blatant failure to note some sort of very specific disclaimer/example/etc then it may go. So "recommend films like Sleeper" followed by "oh, you should see Sleeper!" is a gimme.

A lot of stuff is more fuzzy and is probably better to waltz on by or let the asker respond to if they want to double down or clarify on why that's not a workable angle. So if someone asks a question about e.g. serious futurism in cinema, "you should see Sleeper" may not be a tremendous answer but it's not quite as obviously terrible. "I know you said 'serious' and it's a comedy, but you should consider Sleeper anyway because substantial reasons x, y, z" would be better still.

The fuzzier the question, the fuzzier the disclaimer or the more necessarily flexible the answerer-side interpretation seems to need to be, the less likely these clearcut things will show up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:38 AM on September 6, 2012

Thanks for that; I remain astonished by the level of support and openness that moderators provide here. (Also by the users who unashamedly act like assholes in the face of staff who strive only to build a great community, but hey-ho.)

I'm fully on board with not deleting "I know you said no DTMFA, but disliking your cat is automatic DTMFA territory" answers. They may be poor advice, but bad answers happen and sometimes (substitute 'violent behaviour' for 'disliking your cat') ignoring part of the question is great advice.

I'll start flagging the more blatant & irredeemable question ignores I see based on what you wrote.

How about when answers ignore other answers? I don't like calling out specific examples in public, but I was involved in a thread which went something like:
Q: How do I achieve foo?
(various suggestions)
Me: Bar using baz?
Q: Bar using baz doesn't work.
Me: Sorry, you also need to use qux.
Q: That works! Thank you.
Me: Yeah, bar using qux and baz does it. (marked as best answer)
X: How about trying bar?

To me X's answer is irritating, but that's not a reason in itself to delete... I don't suppose it really does any damage other than lowering the signal/noise ratio, but is it substantially different from 'Game of Thrones'?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:35 AM on September 8, 2012

Yeah, it's fuzzier though in some cases it might be the sort of stark total-failure-to-engage-the-state-of-the-thread thing that it'd get nixed when we saw it. The difference between "didn't read the whole thread" and "didn't even read the whole question" is part of that, though of course we'd prefer folks weren't guilty of either of those.

So, judgement call. If you see it and think it's one of those cases where it's literally adding nothing or even sort of regressing the thread by reintroducing an argument or such, by all means flag it and we'll have a look.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:36 AM on September 8, 2012

One of the really weird technological effects we're seen with the inline comment loading is that sometimes people will (I'm guessing) have a thread open and be maybe writing an answer over time... and so they'll have an answer which was already mentioned maybe 15-20 minutes earlier but it looks like they literally haven't seen it or the ensuing discussion. I've sometimes asked people about this and they either aren't loading comments inline (posting from phone sometimes) or they didn't refresh the thread before posting. It's odd but I think sometimes it's an honest failure to reload as opposed to some not-paying-attention thing. At least that's what I try to think in my heart of hearts when I'm all o_O about it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:58 AM on September 8, 2012

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