23

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that this site is struggling.

The problem:

In the few days this site has been in private beta, we've been trying to:

But it hasn't all been fruitless, we have been able to decide that:


But that hasn't been enough to make the site work, as we've seen with the recent post: Saving "Lifehacks" — Can we make this a topic space instead of a vague buzzword?

The Solution:

We've seen what the site looks like without a clearly defined scope, It's time we see what it looks like with one. After much deliberation, here is the scope that will define Lifehacks.SE:

A lifehack is a technique that can be implemented quickly and is used to make one's physical life more efficient when a more standard approach (as defined by that area's experts) or a product is either unavailable or undesirable. Lifehacks are creative, meaning they use materials that are on hand for uses besides their intended use.

Note that both the tour and the help center will need to be updated with this new scope.

This still gives us a wide variety of questions that can be asked on the site. If you have a problem where there's a product or a solution that might work but simply isn't feasible in your situation (i.e. why buy something to use one time?), then you can ask here how to work around solving the problem without that conventional product or method.

This is not an entirely new scope though, everything we've already agreed upon still applies. Product recommendations are still off-topic, and all questions are required to be about physical problems. This means that psychological questions will still be off-topic, but also includes questions in other areas such as mathematics and programming as being off-topic.

While there might be some psychological questions that could be interesting to have on the site, the majority are too open for opinionated discussions that they can't be supported by our format (i.e. "How can I stay focused/awake/concentrated"). Since we can't pick and choose which questions to keep, it needs to be that the entire subject is off-topic.

One thing that is needed for this scope to work that hadn't been discussed on Meta before is the necessity of the "what have you tried" section. Because a lifehack is an alternative solution to a problem, it is necessary for us to know exactly what solution the person asking the question has tried and/or the reason(s) why they aren't satisfied with the use of that method, in order to solve the problem.

If the question is not looking for an alternative to a product or solution that they have tried, then that question is off-topic on this site. Because a lifehack is an alternative to a solution or product that is unavailable or undesirable, we need to know what product or solution they are trying to work around. Unfortunately, this will probably leave some questions without a site to be asked on, but we simply can not take every question if we expect to have any sort of quality control.

Following the standards of Stack Exchange, questions that prompt for simple answers of yes or no are off-topic. You can see the discussion on Stack Exchange Meta for the full reasoning, but the most important reason is that:

If the answer to your question is "yes" then there was never a problem and thus never a real question in there anywhere.

Included with this are questions asking for verification about whether lifehacks will work or not. But even more so that lifehacks are meant to be applied to very specific situations, and whether or not they're successful is specific to that situation and it is up to each person to decide if a lifehack is applicable to their situation.

Finally, medical questions are off-topic. Ignoring how people feel about alternative medicines, even doctors who study medicine for years still have to apply some levels of trial and error to get the correct dosage of ingredients for their prescriptions. It is extremely unlikely that we will be able to get all the information needed to be able to provide accurate medical advice over the internet. There is a reason doctors weigh people rather than simply asking them their weight, accuracy matters. Unfortunately, in order to gather information needed to accurately diagnose medical questions, it would require a more discussion-based format that we can't support. Revised: See How medical is too medical?

Remember it is up to everyone to work together to make this site work. If we're going to pull this site back together we need to work as a team and not individuals. If we apply these rules consistently to each question, we should be able to create a site where it's clear to new users what this site is truly about.

If you have any questions or concerns about this new scope, please voice them so that we may make changes as quickly as possible.


See also A Lifehacks Manifesto

  • 10
    What a great summary of the entire meta site. It's great to see that something came together from all the discussion. I think this is a great starting point and at least provides a direction to this site. – liebs19 Dec 15 '14 at 18:27
  • There has been some more discussion regarding medical questions. See: meta.lifehacks.stackexchange.com/questions/1343/… – apaul Jan 6 '15 at 23:56
16

This looks very good.

A lifehack is a technique that can be implemented quickly and is used to make one's physical life more efficient when a more standard approach (as defined by that area's experts) or a product is either unavailable or undesirable. Lifehacks are creative, meaning they use materials that are on hand for uses besides their intended use.

That's good. However, people will not list everything they have to hand to make this. The solutions need to use products most people in the developed world have - so a solution involving a magnifying glass is good, but one involving a 25 litre bucket probably isn't.

Product recommendations are still off-topic, and all questions are required to be about physical problems. This means that psychological questions will still be off-topic, but also includes questions in other areas such as mathematics and programming as being off-topic.

That's interesting. I think a lot of efficiency is psychological, however, I can see your reasoning from reading the chat (anything can be linked back to psychological problems). Possibly editing that into your "question" would be good - explain why.

One thing that is needed for this scope to work that hadn't been discussed on Meta before is the necessity of the "what have you tried" section. Because a lifehack is an alternative solution to a problem, it is necessary for us to know exactly what solution the person asking the question has tried and/or the reason(s) why they aren't satisfied with the use of that method, in order to solve the problem.

This is a very sensible requirement - just like on SO, you need to have "a basic understanding of the problem in case".

Because a lifehack is an alternative to a solution or product that is unavailable or undesirable, we need to know what product or solution they are trying to work around. Unfortunately, this will probably leave some questions without a site to be asked on, but we simply can not take every question if we expect to have any sort of quality control.

That's not unfortunate. SE is a Q&A, not a wiki answers / yahoo answers. When I first saw the way this website was going, I was worried it was turning into a "any question" site. This should fix that.

Following the standards of Stack Exchange, questions that prompt for simple answers of yes or no are off-topic. See this discussion on Meta for more reasoning.

The meta post should be summarized into your "question". It needs to be clear how it applies to us - essentially just write that "You must have tried out your lifehack. Included with this are questions asking for verification about whether lifehacks will work or not. This is because whether or not a hack is successful is subjective, and it is up to you to decide if a lifehack is applicable to your situation."

Finally, medical questions are off-topic.

Now that one is interesting. Does this count as a medical question? I think that it is a medical question, but I am not convinced that it should be off topic here. It's just my opinion, and I know that there are good reasons for them being off topic (you said them yourself). However, I am worried that this is going to cut out a lot of good advice and information that you are unlikely to find elsewhere on the internet.

Remember it is up to everyone to work together to make this site work. If we're going to pull this site back together we need to work as a team and not individuals. If we apply these rules consistently to each question, we should be able to create a site where it's clear to new users what this site is truly about.

These rules are a very good start to this. However, I am not convinced that it is 100% clear exactly what is on topic / off topic - especially to a new user, and even to those who haven't read the chat stream. I am not sure how to get across exactly what is on topic, and we can't list everything that is off topic - that list would go on forever.

  • 5
    You brought up a lot of good points. I trying to bring as much of it into the post as I could. – GimmeTehRepz Dec 15 '14 at 16:59
13

Hang on.

Under this scope, there is no way to share a tip (via ask + answer) that you can't relate back to an individual or recurring problem? For example, take my question (+ tip) about defrosting food. According to the definition, this tip (which relates to using a metal tray to conduct heat into the food) is a lifehack. However, it was recently closed, citing this scope, specifically the requirement:

One thing that is needed for this scope to work that hadn't been discussed on Meta before is the necessity of the "what have you tried" section.

Because I have never had a problem (because I already knew the hack) I am unable to post it until someone else (or me) actually has a problem and posts about it.

I don't have the answer. However, this seems like a (relatively minor, but annoying) problem. Maybe there could be some kind of exemption, I don't know. Anyone have any ideas?

EDIT: I have edited the question in question so that it is now on topic, purely because by coincidence I don't have a microwave, and I wanted the question re-opened. So I might not have an example anymore, but my point is still there.

  • 3
    Sure they can be! In your case the "more standard approach ... [that] is ... undesirable" would be leaving out the frozen food to thaw because it thaws too slowly. Including that in your question should make it on scope with the new requirements :) Thanks for posting on meta about it! – Zach Saucier Dec 16 '14 at 4:55
  • 5
    In essence, if you mention the original problem you were trying to solve when you created the tip in the first place and why the standard approach to solving that problem was not adequate, it should be enough to make your question on topic – Zach Saucier Dec 16 '14 at 5:06
  • I've also posted my own answers to my own questions. You're right; when you do that, you'll have to note one possible solution, and why it wouldn't work, in the body of your question. – Shokhet Dec 23 '14 at 22:53
5

I think this site is beginning to work. I am following woodworking which went in to commitment within a day or two of this site. I was surprised that LH got to private beta so much quicker then Woodworking. To me this site did not seem such a hot ideal. I became curious how this site was going to work. (Not pessimistic, or optimistic just very curious).

As expressed by a number of people I was wondering how this site would fit at SE because not many topics seemed out of bounds. It seems now that we are few hundred questions into things that there is a niche here for questions and that the crossover is a much lighter shade of grey then most people had anticipated.

However it seemed especially in the first few days that LH was getting questions that were simply inane. Seemed they were of very low quality. My first thought on reading many of the questions, the majority of the questions was "really you cant figure this out".

Over the last couple of days I noticed the questions were getting a little better. What made them better is a few people started asking the poster to tell us what they have tried to solve the problem. This question is a wonderful notion and may very well be the magic bullet that makes it work at LH.

While they may be an occasional exception to the standard, these exceptions will really be self evident as ok and extremely rare. Any question that does not include a commentary on what the poster has done already to solve a problem is likely a bad question.

A question like this is bad because:

  • it indicates the question may be manufactured by the poster. While this does not make it inherently bad, manufactured questions may not be addressing a real problem and will not tend to be of the same quality as real questions.

  • If one has to consider what they tried, the questions tend to get smarter. (IE the first question at most tech support places, is it plugged in)

  • Framing a question with failed solutions makes a question much smarter and much easier to answer. It gives the question limited scope and context. It keeps the question from being closed as to vague and general. It saves the person giving an answer time. It gives the question the definition needed to obviously be on topic here (or not).

One thing that is needed for this scope to work that hadn't been discussed on Meta before is the necessity of the "what have you tried" section. Because a lifehack is an alternative solution to a problem, it is necessary for us to know exactly what solution the person asking the question has tried and/or the reason(s) why they aren't satisfied with the use of that method, in order to solve the problem.

Although Matt had a long list of things that should happen, the quote above frames by far the most important standard for this site. Having the questions meet this standard will solve and minimize most of the adverse effects of other things on Matt's list. Stressing the importance of framing your question in this way should be in the moderation, in the comments, and all over the FAQ's for this site. Considering this a necessity to a question is the thing that will "save this site" and make this site work.

5

On defining the scope of a Stack Exchange site, with an application to Lifehacks

When defining the scope, you need to think about three kinds of audiences:

  • Regular users — people who frequently visit the site, post answers, participate on meta, etc.
  • New or casual users — they know the site name, and if you're lucky they've read the tour page.
  • Visitors who found a page in a search — they don't care what the site is about, they're only looking for an answer to their inquiry.

Keep in mind that for any Stack Exchange site that's been around for a few months, the last category constitutes an overwhelming majority of the views. You can't explain the site's scope to these people, you can't talk to them individually. All you can expect them to read is the question's title, the question body, and the first few answers.

In particular, visitors don't care about the definition of “lifehack” or about the scope of the site. This isn't to say that you can completely forget about them when defining the scope. In particular, it implies that the scope must not exclude answers for not being “lifehacks”. One thing we do have a consensus on is that the valid questions on this site are a subset of the problems of the form “how do I solve this problem in my day-to-day life?” — so that's what we can expect people to be searching for. It is vital that the answers help the people who find them, otherwise we would be making the Internet worse.

Casual users will usually notice the site name, but they'll rarely care about what is really a lifehack. There'll always be new users who think their question should be on-topic even though the consensus among the regulars is that it isn't. Nonetheless the scope must not be too subtle, otherwise it will have to be explained anew for every new user, meaning that very few will stick around. That's why I propose not to make up our own definition of “lifehack”.

Regular users are the ones who decide what the scope is, because they're the ones who care and they're the ones who have made an investment in the site. The only limit to the power of regular users is to find a scope that's consistent with the goals (make the Internet better) and format (question and answers) of Stack Exchange, and that makes sense to visitors and casual users.

From what I've seen on meta, regulars are mostly interested in creative, unconventional solutions to everyday problems. However this is problematic for many reasons:

  • There is a huge variability in what each person considers “creative” or “unconventional”, which makes these criteria problematic.
  • Seeing the non-closed questions on the main site gives me the impression that any question about problems encountered in day-to-day life is valid. There doesn't seem to be any consensus to somehow exclude questions that aren't fishing for creative/unconventional answers.
  • Excluding answers on the basis of conventionality or creativity is incompatible with providing useful content for visitors looking for answers. If questions are to solicit lifehack answers, that needs to be made clear by restricting the scope of questions, not by restricting what answers are accepted for a question.

Scope proposals

The scope proposed in the present meta question is problematic because it defines desirable answers but fails to define desirable questions.

Everyday Life Stack Exchange

Accept every question about problems encountered in day-to-day life. Anything that requires a professional opinion is off-topic: only questions that a non-expert is supposed to be able to answer are accepted.

Pro: matches the questions that are currently open.

Con: very broad, and by definition lacks experts.

Trade-off Stack Exchange

One way to define a hack is that it's a trade-off — it works in this specific case, but it lacks generality, reliability or elegance. So require every question to specify a trade-off. For example:

  • I'm looking for things I can try for free. I don't need guaranteed success: if they fail I'll call in a professional.
  • I need to drive to the next gas station, and I don't care if it damages my car a little.
  • I have all the time in the world, but I don't want to spend a cent.
  • I don't care if I look ridiculous, I just need to get home without dying of exposure.

Pro: these are the kinds of questions that tend to call for creative solutions, so they should be largely what the enthusiasts for this site are after. “Conventional” answers would be mostly excluded by virtue of not meeting some concrete, explicit requirement (cheapness, reliability, etc.).

Con: I haven't seen this idea much on meta, and it's met resistance when I broached it in chat. It would exclude a lot of current questions.


One month later…

Looking at the front page, I see mostly two kinds of questions:

  • Questions asking about how to do something about household items or everyday tasks — office supplies, keeping warm, cleaning, grooming, cooking, etc.
  • Questions asking how to do such things for free or cheap.

Barely any are getting closed, which means that they are all considered on-topic by the bulk of the site's regulars. Thus, regardless of all the debates on meta, the actual scope of this site is Everyday life Stack Exchange.

Questions of the second type are the ones that Trade-off Stack Exchange would want. But I find that they are actually the weakest questions: they're inevitably asking for a free lunch. For Trade-off SE, they are on-topic but low-quality, because they hardly ever bother to compromise on anything: it has to be cheap, but it has to work well. This results in pretty generic answers — not hackish answers, which defeats the purpose that restricting the scope would have.

  • So you can't think of a good way to define a lifehacks question? – J. Musser Jan 12 '15 at 16:53
  • @J.Musser Not in any useful way. The fact that after a month, we haven't come up with a working, consensual definition of “lifehacks question” suggests that this is a difficult problem. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jan 12 '15 at 17:00
  • unless we make the scope very tight (which will limit what people can ask) – J. Musser Jan 12 '15 at 17:08
  • The following was good: "In particular, visitors don't care about the definition of “lifehack” or about the scope of the site. This isn't to say that you can completely forget about them when defining......" – subjectivist Feb 19 '15 at 2:47
3

I have a small proposal to make a modification in your defined scope.

If the question is not looking for an alternative to a conventional product or solution that they have tried, then that question is off-topic on this site. Therefore, listing to work around horrendous methods to work around should be off-topic as answers will likely be low-quality and are unhelpful for future readers. Because a lifehack is an alternative to a solution or product that is unavailable or undesirable, we need to know what product or solution they are trying to work around. Unfortunately, this will probably leave some questions without a site to be asked on, but we simply can not take every question if we expect to have any sort of quality control.

This is because if questions are asking to work around horrendous methods, conventional methods probably exist. We should limit the requirement of the scope to only allow questions related to working around conventional methods upon solving specific problems.

This means that question askers will be required to show their problem along with a minimal understanding of the problem (and possibly documentary on the solution which turned out not to work for them). This would help with the overall question quality.

  • 1
    I agree that if the asker is required to demonstrate minimal understanding of the problem, it will improve the quality because they will not ask for simple common sense solutions. – user19 Dec 17 '14 at 10:35
  • 3
    I intentionally tried to avoid using words like conventional because of the previous problems with deciding what counted as conventional. It's different for different people. – GimmeTehRepz Dec 17 '14 at 14:44
  • @MattS. I know. Therefore, it's not just "conventional", it's "conventional". – Unihedron Dec 17 '14 at 14:49
  • 2
    Could you explain more what your addition would add to the scope? I'm not sure I'm seeing what it's meant to fix. It's already a requirement that people have to include a "What have you tried" section. – GimmeTehRepz Dec 17 '14 at 15:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .