I came across some questions lately which could have easily been answered by searching Google/Wikipedia.


Personally I think Stack Exchange begins where Google/Wikipedia ends. I don't downvote that easy, because it is my personal belief that downvoting should be applied very restrictively in the beginning. The bigger the community, the better the answers. So instead of downvoting, I just copy the link and give credit to Google/Wikipedia. If the community is mature, I would vote to close such questions.

But I am surprised at the negative response of pointing people to Google/Wikipedia. So, instead of arguing in comments, I would like to have the discussion here in meta.

+1 I do think this is a topic that must be covered by any beta SE site. But personally I'm on the fence and don't have a strong opinion either way. For trivially answerable questions I think they're worth closing but for "easily" answerable questions what is easy can be subjective. I am in favour of whatever the official SE rules say about it or what the site consensus is, and now Dori has enlightened us to the fact that it is indeed our job to decide for ourselves. @Andra: In your case I think the negative response was a reaction to the negative way you answered or commented on at least one. –  hippietrail Jul 26 '11 at 6:26
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5 Answers

There are currently two sites in the Stack Exchange network (English Language & Usage and Science Fiction & Fantasy) which have a “general reference” close reason:

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.

There is a request to extend this close reason to the whole Stack Exchange network. At the moment, the close reason is considered in testing.

Note that general reference isn't the same thing as googlable. If Wikipedia has the answer, asking here is pointless. But if the google hit is some random blog or forum, then asking here is a good thing because it lets several people (hopefully, experts) contribute and critic each other's answers.

For the low-cost airline question, Wikipedia gives a list, but other answers show that there's more to say on the topic, so it's not a GR question. For the airlines from Ulaanbaatar question, Wikipedia gives a list too, and the question is closer to GR — but there's another element to the question, which is finding an airline that's likely to have a cheap fare to go in a particular direction, and that's not going to be found on Wikipedia. For the Ukraine visa question, you provide some random hits of dubious validity; if the Ukrainian embassy had had a definitive answer (it doesn't), that would have made the question GR.

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Unless the questions are about visas when you can find authoritative answers on government websites - and even then more often than not the specific site may be hard to find or outdated - many of the questions require personal experience at some level for an answer. Taking the low-cost airline in US, for instance: Wikipedia might technically list JetBlue and Southwest as low-cost airlines but as Joel Spolsky pointed out in an answer they often charge you as much as full service airlines. I personally didn't know this and wouldn't have known otherwise either had I only answered something using a Wikipedia entry. Similarly, I could tell you that in Asia although Air Asia might technically be a low-cost airline, for short haul flights unless you book months in advance you'll pretty much be paying much higher rates.

If you feel you've come across a good link but do not have personal experience to vouch for it, then I suggest leaving it as a comment instead - otherwise, refrain from posting an answer with LMGTFY links. That way, you are contributing useful context/information to a question without being condescending to the effort taken by the original poster. If you really feel the question is trivial or shows poor effort, try to edit it make it better and if that doesn't seem an option, use your down/close votes to express your opinion.

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The original sites had a goal that when people Googled for simple things like "what does error code 123456 from Foo mean?" that they would get the SO question, not the MSDN docs, and that the SO question would be a better experience for the user. A handful of new sites, some of which I use, have rejected this approach, but I think it would be wrong to assume that the norm is "our site starts where Google and Wikipedia end."

I think this is especially true when opinion naturally follows fact. If I ask "what is the closest airport to Niagara Falls?" it sounds like a simple fact. But it's not. Do you want to fly into Canada, or the US? Do you mind changing flights to get closer, or would flying to Toronto (which has direct flights from major cities all over the world) and driving 90 minutes be better? How important is price to you, since there are major savings from not flying through Toronto? And so on. A map and a list of airport codes can't answer that part of the question.

My suggestion is that questions should only be closed as general reference if there's no way a thoughtful answerer can provide something more than just exactly what was asked. "What time does XYZ open on Mondays?" or "how much does it cost to get into ABC" might qualify. Even then, there is room to go beyond the question and be genuinely useful. For example, should I get to XYZ half an hour before it opens to get a good place in line? Should I stop by a few hours after it opens when the line has died down? Can I buy tickets online and skip the line or get in early? A person answering the simple question (which is no doubt Google-able and on the XYZ website) can go beyond to make a real contribution. Being too quick to close the question as "general reference" will prevent that.

If we find after a few weeks that we're not covering the kinds of ground we want to cover, because everyone is asking questions with simple answers, questions that don't invite good and thoughtful answers, then we can revisit the "General reference" close reason. But at the moment, I don't support it.

+1, but is there in English phrase: the line has died down? Really died? Awesome! I'll remember that for future. –  VMAtm Jul 28 '11 at 13:31
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What counts as research effort? I've seen some people try to use google horribly. In addition, since the Ulanbatar one was me - I had looked up in my Lonely Planet and Kayak.co.uk and found some airlines, but was sure there'd be more odd airlines that weren't covered in Kayak's search. Does the person have to use references to show every single search criteria they used?

Yes I do not know kayak.co.uk but I can vouch for other such sites like webjet.com.au not including all possible airlines despite their claim "Compare and book all major airlines". (Korean Air is a major airline in my opinion.) –  hippietrail Jul 26 '11 at 8:57
oh yes, webjet is terrible for that, haven't looked recently but I'd bet they don't include AirAsia either, and they have some great prices! –  Mark Mayo Jul 26 '11 at 9:02
+1. Aggregators leave out too many sites, and sometimes there can be regular private operations not covered by Wikipedia articles. –  Ankur Banerjee Jul 26 '11 at 14:31
What do you mean by "try to use google horribly"? Making an effort, and because they aren't good at googling (eg googling in foreign languages), coming up with incorrect conclusions? –  Andrew Grimm Jan 19 '12 at 1:37
No just googling a generic search string (say airlines ulan batar) and taking the first result and copying and pasting it, despite it being clear in the question that the questioner already looked at all that, or not noticing that it's completely irrelevant to the question at hand. Language is another level of problems, but when that comes up it's usually just unfortunate or forgiveable problems, not realising differences between 'wind' as in 'the wind from the east' vs 'wind up the clock'. –  Mark Mayo Jan 19 '12 at 13:54
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I see some mismatch in your logic.
Here you are trying to stop the closing and downvoting all of the questions, no matter what quality are they:

It is still a small community and I am afraid that if we don't give people some room to experiment with asking questions, travel.se will become a pyramid game where the early adapters with most reputation points get to decide what is right and wrong.

And you are completely right about size of the community and quantity of the people who can made decisions about quastions quality.

But now all you do is just ridiculous - instead of creating some more new interesting questions or providing some more answers for the old unanswered ones, you are posting the impolite links to the Let-Me-Google-For-You pages, which can lead exactly to situation you were trying to avoid.

Links to the Google and Wiki is ones of the lowest quality answers I've ever met - they only humiliates the question author and gets nothing new to the content of our site.

I can't understand why you decided to post such answers.

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