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Rule change re: reaping OT nodes

by friedo (Prior)
on Nov 30, 2005 at 02:20 UTC ( #512826=monkdiscuss: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Some people got annoyed with me because I nominated this completely off-topic node for reaping. It received enough votes for reaping within just a few minutes, but now appears to be unreaped.

Personally, I am rather tired of what seems to be an increasing amount of non-Perl related posts in SoPW. I come here for Perl discussion because this is the best Perl community I know of. I don't want to waste time wading through questions that are wholly unrelated to the topic. (Especially ones with deceptive titles. The above node claims to be about HTML::Template but is clearly an HTML question that has nothing to do with templates.)

So just how much should we put up with? If HTML questions are OK, should we start answering questions about PHP, Excel and The GIMP? Does it make it OK if the Excel sheet is Perl-generated and a GIMP image comes from a Perl plugin, even if the questions themselves aren't about Perl?

I'm not trying to start a big controversey here. I just want to keep this site on-topic. It's been my experience that when enthusiast sites start to have shoddy moderation and a bunch of off-topic crap flows in, the most knowledgeable people get fed up and leave. We already have a voting system that acts as a good check on moderator abuse, IMHO. I think the unanimous initial decision for reaping is proof that my position is not unpopular.

I'm much more tolerant of OT discussion in the other fora, but I propose a stricter standard for things in SoPW: Posts in Seekers of Perl Wisdom should contain questions about Perl.

What say you?

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by davido (Cardinal) on Nov 30, 2005 at 02:47 UTC

    The proper response to off-topic nodes is to not approve them. To approve a node is to approve it as on-topic in the section to which it was posted. If it's not on topic, don't approve it. You make the point that Seekers of Perl Wisdom should only contain questions about Perl. You're right (within a range of tolerance for slightly-off-topic posts). So don't approve non-Perl questions into SoPW. That's what the approval system is there for. If a node gets approved that shouldn't be, consider it for unapproval.

    Reaping is an inappropriate action in response to an off-topic node. This is documented in the text that every monk with moderation priviliges should read: What is consideration?. Just because a handful of people jumped on the reaping bandwagon before people who are familiar with documented site policy had time to vote to keep the node doesn't mean that they were right. They just took the easy response to a consideration; agree with the motion even if the motion might disgregard documented and established site policy.

    Remember, reaping just takes four quick reap votes (with fewer than 2 'keep' votes) and a negative node reputation. The rest is completely out of Janitors' hands; it's automated. But the act of reinstating a reaped node requires the act of one of the gods. The fact that the node you've mentioned got reinstated should tell you that the gods felt strongly enough about the inappropriate action to take the unusual measure of manually undoing the automated process that you set in motion with your consideration.


      I read friedo's question as suggesting a change in policy. This is certainly the place to discuss that.
      The approval system is great and all, but suffers from a major flaw. Like many monks I browse PM by looking at Newest Nodes, which includes un-approved nodes. If I come across an un-approved node with an on-topic question, then great, I approve it. But if it's an off-topic question, there's nothing I can do to warn subsequent monks not to waste their time. If we're not going to delete OT nodes (and I can certainly appreciate the arguments against doing so) then we need some other kind of thing. Perhaps a forum dedicated to questions that only peripherally involve Perl?

      To be clear, I think we need some sort of state that can be changed when an off-topic node is detected in SoPW, rather than leaving it in the default state.

        I partially agree. But not for the reasons you think.</conversatron> The main reason I agree is because people need something to do when they perceive a problem. For people who see nodes that they consider too off-topic, it isn't very satisfying to respond by not approving, not replying, and not up-voting. And down-voting or sending a private /msg isn't very satisfying because it is usually under most people's radar.

        The main reason I disagree is because, from experience, "off topic" is a slippery slope and officially trying to have such a category leads to a lot of mislabeling and even more (mostly useless) haggling.

        A practice that I haven't noticed much of recently (probably mostly due to my lack of looking) that was all the rage not too long ago, was that of considering nodes for "edit: mark OT". That seems to meet the requirements you stated above near perfectly, IMHO.

        Of course, my impression of "mark OT" behavior is that it doesn't work very well. But it doesn't work very well for reasons that would apply to any alternate system for separating out "off topic" nodes. People just don't agree what is "on topic". I see plenty of nodes asking questions about Perl that the author has marked "OT", usually, it appears, because the question is about how to do something in Perl rather than directly and purely about Perl itself.

        So "mark OT" is the best we have. I don't see us getting anything much better. We might one day have an official "OT" marking that prevents a node from being approved. But you don't surf via nodes that are affected by approval status so this shouldn't matter to you. And I think making it official in that way would be a mixed blessing. And we have a lot more important changes to the approval system that have been written and tested for years that have still not been applied. So, I'm not holding my breath.

        Having tried to form a consensus (and nearly succeeding but being thwarted by Petruchio jumping into the conversation w/o reading the context and refusing to drop his "point" that was only tangentially related) on improvements for dealing with extremely off-topic nodes (like requests for money), I'm not holding my breath there either. That is, I don't think it will be easy to find agreement on technical solutions for "dealing with" off-topic nodes.

        At this point, I'd suggest better documenting what is on-topic and what is off-topic, being sure to stress that PerlMonks is for questions primarily of interest to many Perl programmers, not just for "pure Perl" questions (note that I consider even "pure HTML" questions to be a grey area, not something that is clearly off-topic). I think this thread gives more evidence that keeping the focus of PerlMonks wide is not an unpopular idea. And I suggest documenting "mark OT" as the official "way to deal with" nodes that are merely off-topic (but more than just marginally so).

        I don't think "mark OT" will work very well. And so I consider it mostly a waste of time. But it also has a rather small down-side -- that is, it will be fairly easy for me (and some others) to mostly ignore. But some will probably find the categorization useful. It will likely be useful as an outlet. And it may be useful in progressing the definition of what the focus of PerlMonks is or should be, which would probably be the biggest win -- having a clear, official statement, based on input from many users, to point people to when there is conflict over whether something is on- or off-topic.

        - tye        

        I wonder if perhaps it would be helpful for there to be "Yet Another Option" in User Settings that prevented people from seeing unapproved nodes in Newest Nodes. We already have such an option that prevents seeing them in their proper sections. If that's too extreme, maybe it would prevent seeing them if they haven't been approved after 10 minutes.

        The majority of people would never use the option, so nodes would still get approved, but for those who really hate seeing the unapprovable stuff, it would help filter that out.


Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by spiritway (Vicar) on Nov 30, 2005 at 06:03 UTC

    You've got a good point, but there are some reasons for having a fairly wide tolerance about what's off topic. Perl doesn't exist in a vacuum. In fact, many of the questions about Perl are questions that apply to any programming language. Perl has its own unique ways of handling various tasks, but much of the time the questions are more about how to do the task, rather than the idiom needed.

    Perl interfaces with a wide variety of other languages. It is not unusual for someone to need to deal with PHP, C, HTML, Apache, and dozens of other languages and systems and programs. There's going to be some overlap, and sometimes a person might ask a question that has less to do with Perl, than with how to make X interface with it properly.

    I think reaping should be a last resort. That means yes, we'll get some annoying, off-topic stuff. However, I believe that the harm this does, is less than the harm of changing history and possibly starting censorship. Just my particular take on all this...

      /me too

      Also, (as is often pointed out, usually either with disdain or as praise) PerMonks is not usenet. You can't decide that you want to subscribe to comp.lang.perl.syntax but not comp.sci.algorithms.strings.large, etc. There aren't a ton of *monk.orgs to pick and choose from. So it doesn't make sense to say "That's not really a Perl question; it is more an SQL question. So you've posted it to the wrong group^Wsite and if I wanted to hear SQL questions I'd have subscribed to and so you are thwarting the whole heirarchy of * domains that we've carefully set up to allow people to fine tune what topics they are interested in."

      You may not want to hear what you consider to be "an HTML question". But a whole lot of Perl programmers do a whole lot of work on HTML and so HTML is going to come up at PerlMonks a lot. But the volume of root nodes isn't so high that skipping the questions that don't interest you isn't a huge burden, IME.

      And I have experience with what happens at PerlMonks when "reap: has nothing to do with Perl" is allowed to creep up in popularity as a valid consideration reason.

      What happens is that a large fraction of nodes find people who "just don't see" what the question has to do with Perl. And we get nodes reaped that are all about Perl (and a bunch of nodes reaped that are tangentially about Perl and some reaped that are just likely of interest to many-but-not-all Perl programmers).

      Having seen the state of PerlMonks when we've only partially started mounting and sliding down that slipery slope of "is that really a Perl question", I can say that it is much worse than the status quo.

      I've also heard several members that I respect say that PerlMonks would get pretty boring if only the questions that are really about Perl got asked here.

      I don't want to see a huge explosion in questions about vehicle maintenance and subsaharan politics, of course. But I don't see PerlMonks currently having a big problem with the ${volume of off-topic questions} * ${distance off-topic}.

      I do do my part to discourage off-topic questions and think others should as well. I /msg authors, down-vote or refuse to up-vote (both questions and replies), refuse to approve, refuse to reply, etc. But I doubt $you and I always agree on which nodes are off-topic, by how much, and what is an appropriate level of discouragement in each case.

      But that just leads to balance.

      Reaping doesn't lead to balance for this problem.

      - tye        

        I've also heard several members that I respect say that PerlMonks would get pretty boring if only the questions that are really about Perl got asked here.

        Completely agree. Probably only half the questions I find interesting are directly about Perl. I would be *very* sad if the immense wisdom/experience/expertise that exists in the user base here were to shut down questions because they were essentially not Perl questions but really--take your pick--CGI specification, SQL, algorithm, color theory, design, tech work, approaches to inheritance, other languages, etc.

        If anything I'd love to see a slightly more tolerant OT monastery because it would represent great riches of knowledge unleashed within the best-in-class tech community site.

        And to bust friedo's chops just a little, with HTML errors in the OP, one might forgive an HTML question now and then. :)

        You may not want to hear what you consider to be "an HTML question". But a whole lot of Perl programmers do a whole lot of work on HTML and so HTML is going to come up at PerlMonks a lot.

        Oh, but I bet quite a lot of Perl programmers do a whole lot of work on filling their stomachs with considerable amounts of beer, am I to expect something like the following to come up?

        Subject: Class::DBI caused unrecoverable system damage

        I've had the best part of my day ruined struggling with Class::DBI's xxx feature. Eventually, after many hours trying to cope with it, I decided to give up and I thought "Oh well, let's go out with my friends and have a good pint of slalom or two". Quite surprisingly, many beers later, I suddenly found out The Way TDI(TM), or at least I though I had, because as I came back home and tried my hand at it, mysteriously what must certainly be a bug in Class::DBI managed to make me "rm -rf /"-**k my system. Has anyone experienced anything similar?

        Incidentally, as you may have argued, Slalom Strong is one of my favourites...
        I've also heard several members that I respect say that PerlMonks would get pretty boring if only the questions that are really about Perl got asked here.

        I partly agree. "Partly" for two reasons:

        1. it really drives me crazy to read what are in fact CGI or HTML questions here, especially if they make the implicit assumption that Perl eq CGI - I can't help that. But maybe that's because I'm not particularly involved in these topics, so maybe I'm just being selfish, since I'm much more tolerant of other kinds of OT content;
        2. I don't know if I'm a member you respect, but I completely agree that PM would be pretty boring if only strictly Perl-related topics were being discussed here. That is I wouldn't limit the discourse to questions, and I'd enlarge it to a reasonable amount of non-too-off-topic OT content.


        [OT] Hmm... beer!!
Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by graq (Curate) on Nov 30, 2005 at 09:48 UTC
    I must admit that I am probably not as active in the use of my Monk 'powers' as I could be; but TBH things seem to be going really well here and I just don't feel the need to put my size 10s in :) (read: I tend to leave approval and consideration to others).

    However, I too have felt that pang of "What has this got to do with Perl - this stupid so-and-so is posting in completely the wrong place". But that is quickly followed by memories of problems that I don't know if they are a Perl problem or not. Often the nature of problems that you can't solve is that you don't know what caused them. So you might not know whether it is the operating system, the browser (or some other GUI), the application server, the network, your hardware, just a typo or a bug in Perl.

    OK so a trip to CB is good first choice, but maybe you don't feel you can express your problem adeuqately, or for some other reason CB can't solve your problem. And yet, here you are, amongst a great talent of knowledge and helpfulness - why not ask your question?

    Perhaps you are asking for a new section 'Seekers of Monk Wisdom'. Somewhere that posts that have been identified as being solved by a non Perl solution can be moved to by Monks of a certain level. This keeps SoPW 'pure' but allows for the wonderful diversity of PM.

    -=( Graq )=-

Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by bluto (Curate) on Nov 30, 2005 at 16:23 UTC
    I'd have to agree with others here that some OT posts are worth reading (e.g. algorithms; other languages), and some posts are probably from newbies that are having trouble finding the right forum to ask a question about a problem, and should be cut slack since they'll eventually contribute here.

    It would be nice to have a user adjustable preference where I only see nodes above a certain vote level (i.e. > -10). The only reason I bother to even visit Slashdot is because I can surf at a high enough level to skip the bottom feeder posts. It has the benefit of dropping flamebait/troll replies as well (the unintersting ones at least :-). And if someone continually posts OT stuff, they will continually be voted out of sight.

Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by TedPride (Priest) on Nov 30, 2005 at 08:58 UTC
    Thing is, there isn't a Perlmonks equivalent for most other subjects, and Perlmonks know the answer to everything. So why not post here, assuming you're willing to take the xp hit? Rather than banning the OT posts, just file them in a SoPW OT category, where they won't bother the people who just want to view SoPW.
Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by tphyahoo (Vicar) on Dec 01, 2005 at 12:09 UTC
    I agree with you -- except when I want to post something off topic.

    For example, a while back, I asked a question about where the best postgres forums were, because I know a lot of perl people are also postgres people. I marked the question as OT, and got some downvotes anyway. The downvotes hurt my pride a little, but do I regret I asked the question? Basically no, I don't, I got good help.

    Could I have figured out the same thing just by googling around? Maybe, but I have come to rely on the collective wisdom of the monastery, and I don't want to censor myself if I feel intimidated by something, whatever, and feel like posting to perlmonks could help me grope towards an answer. And yes, maybe now that I know the ropes a little better I would have asked in the cb, but at that point I was a little cb shy. So what?

    Because of the downvotes and the rebuking, I won't post OT casually, but only when I feel desperate. In other words, my feeling is that the existing mechanisms for keeping the discussion are on topic suffice.

    I sometimes answer OT questions myself, maybe rebukinglyly, but I answer them. It's all about helping people that need help, including myself when I need it.

    Like everything else, moderation (as in the opposite of extremism) is the key. Some questions *are* maybe so off topic they shouldn't even get approved. But my impulse is more to err on the side of tolerance.

Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by blazar (Canon) on Dec 01, 2005 at 14:21 UTC
    Some people got annoyed with me because I nominated this completely off-topic node for reaping. It received enough votes for reaping within just a few minutes, but now appears to be unreaped.
    I'm all with you: definitely CGI or HTML help is not to be sought in Seekers of Perl Wisdom.
    Personally, I am rather tired of what seems to be an increasing amount of non-Perl related posts in SoPW.
    Again, I totally second that. Do not misunderstand me, though: surprising as it may be I am favourable to OT content in PM, but simply SoPW must be dedicated to Perl questions...
Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by arcnon (Monk) on Dec 01, 2005 at 01:08 UTC
    Looking at the post.

    It appears the english may be a second language. I think he was say he knew the HTML::Template wasn't causing an error. But was wanting instruction on how to add css padding with HTML::Template. My 2 cents.

    This forum is a victim of its knowledge base. I know I can get answers here that I cant get anywhere else... peroid. And in many other forums if you say perl... even with configuration problems or whatever. You always get "go find a perl forum". And honestly if perl isn't playing nice with something someone around here knows EXACTLY what to do.

    Because what perl has become and what it can do how would you even define what a Off topic post is if it involves perl? I cant think of two many things perl CANT do. If it is off topic. Why cant there be a polite post stating that. I thought the idea of forum/s are for education, the free exchange of ideas, and to help those who need help.

    If you at least add that it is off topic. Others who might ask a simular question can at least search and find that it is off topic.

Re: Rule change re: reaping OT nodes
by Perl Mouse (Chaplain) on Nov 30, 2005 at 10:22 UTC
    Off topic posts annoy me, but I can tolerate them better if the title makes it clear what the post is about. (But I don't like questions marked OT. If you know it's off-topic, but you post anyway you're just bad). If the title is clear, I just skip the thread. If I get drawn (by the misleading subject) into reading the post, I seldomly reply, but I may downvote. And I downvote replies that attempt to answer the question as well - as such replies reward the unwanted behaviour.
    Perl --((8:>*
      Off topic posts annoy me, but I can tolerate them better if the title makes it clear what the post is about.

      Which of course should not apply only to off topic posts but to all posts: there are just too many questions that seem to refer to something and turn out to refer to something completly different - although I have to admit that sometimes it's difficult to come up with a good subject, and I've made my mistakes too...

      (But I don't like questions marked OT. If you know it's off-topic, but you post anyway you're just bad)

      You already know that our opinions slightly (slightlier than you probably think, that is) differ on this subject matter. In particular I think that it is sensible to put an OT marker under certain circumstances. Two scenarios that spring to mind are as follows:

      1. a fundamentally on topic post contains, possibly as a side note, an off topic comment. One feels like further commenting on that comment. Your opinion would probably be that he should plainly avoid to do so. IMHO there may be good reasons not to. If we were to adhere strictly to "your" recommendations things could get pretty boring here. As usual, it's mainly a matter of good sense: after all there's at least one case, that I remember, in which you did it yourself - in a subthread gone wildly OT, and that should have better been marked so, like I did in one of my own contributions to it;
      2. a reply may drift off topic wrt the post it is commenting, but still be on topic wrt Perl - why post it as a reply, then? Because it may have been arisen out of something discussed in that partcular post, if possibly not as the main topic. As usual, the edges are not sharp, but blurred...

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