I quite dislike a knee-jerk gainsaying of "that is not Perl related, go away". I don't mind a well-considered comment noting that a question is far enough afield from Perl that one might get a better or faster answer elsewhere [...]
I think a better approach would be rooting out places in the site UI and documentation that give topic purists encouragement and making sure there is a site document clearly spelling out that "topics related to working with Perl are welcome", at least as a starting point.
I agree with everything you said, but especially with these two points. Considering the generally helpful and open attitude here, I'm frankly puzzled sometimes by the rudeness (usually posted anonymously) that's shown toward newcomers who appear to be honestly ignorant of how Perl-unrelated their problems are, especially as contrasted with the tolerance that's shown toward some other kinds of posts. But in any case, there seem to be plenty of topic monitors to prevent the site from taking off into endless threads about politics and favorite spaghetti recipes.
I use RSS to keep up with new posts, so the "schema" is meaningless to me; there could be one big category or a hundred little ones and I wouldn't notice. So from that perspective, the question isn't whether there should be an off-topic area, but whether off-topic posts should be censored as harshly as they have been so far.
There are two very different kinds of off-topic posts that we could be talking about (not counting obvious spam and attacks):
Those are both reasonable; which a forum follows is just a matter of policy. The policy could even be left open to each member's discretion: help them if you want, point them somewhere else if you want, but otherwise ignore them.
- Politely tell him his problem isn't with Perl, so he'll need to go elsewhere. Point him in the right direction if it's not much trouble.
- Allow the post and try to help him with his non-Perl problem if you can.
- The regulars have gotten to know each other and formed friendships and learned to respect each other's knowledge beyond Perl, and they'd like to talk to each other about non-Perl topics. This is common on long-standing forums that don't have strict topical requirements. It's not a question of right or wrong, but simply what the people in charge of the forum (the members, if it's a democracy) want the forum to be like. There are three main places they can draw the line:
#2 here is almost certainly a bad idea. #3 seems most reasonable to me, and not too hard to define. There would always be the option of going back to #1 if it doesn't go well.
- Censor it all.
- Allow anything.
- Censor it somewhat -- in this case perhaps to topics only a step or two away from Perl, like installing an operating system or dealing with a difficult boss at your programming job.
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