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I've been answering questions here on and off since the private beta started. Going by reputation, I think I've done ok - but it doesn't feel that way. Quite frankly, I still have no clear idea of how I should be answering these questions.

A question I answered yesterday hammered this home for me:

I have several many nails hammered in a floor parquet. What is the best way to remove them? Lots of these nails are rusty or without head.

As I see it, there are two ways to interpret a question like this:

  1. It's an ordinary DIY HOWTO question. It doesn't even really belong here, and in order for it to be answered effectively on https://diy.stackexchange.com/ we'd want to see a lot more detail about the project.

  2. It's someone in a bind looking for a quick'n'dirty solution. It'd still help a lot if we had more detail, but the question as-stated can be answered by simply assuming that the asker had a good reason to ask here - namely, he can't "do it right" for reasons that aren't necessarily important.

Given this site is called Lifehacks and not Home Improvement Lite, I went with the latter assumption and offered a pretty hacky solution. That ended up being somewhat controversial, but no matter - hacky solutions do tend to spark some controversy, and rightly so - if you're signing up for a site dedicated to recommending glass bottles in lieu of hammers, you want a little bit of push-back. What gets to me is that the criticism wasn't about the dodgy nature of the solution, it was about the question itself. And it was then that I realized...

  1. The "safest" answers here aren't hacks. Look around for a bit; find a common question without a clear explanation for why conventional solutions won't work. Chances are, someone will have posted the conventional solution. And that answer will have been well-received, even if it doesn't solve the asker's problem. The most perfunctory presentation of the garden-variety answer will suffice to get you at least a few upvotes. Here's a recent example, though there are plenty of others. These seem to do well even if the question later gets closed!

  2. The most popular hack answers have no obvious downsides. By which I mean, they're not clearly dangerous and the author doesn't bother pointing out subtle problems that might arise. This is kinda expected, I guess - they're the "use a rock" answer to "how do I pound a nail without a hammer?" - but worth noting because...

  3. ...If your hack does have obvious tradeoffs, you can "innoculate" it by including conventional solutions! I've made good use of this in the past, as have many others. I guess this kinda makes sense - you're essentially providing enough information for readers to judge the applicability of the "hack" in the answer itself instead of relying on them knowing it (or the asker explaining why he can't use it), so it side-steps a lot of common problems. Oh, and if you don't know the conventional answer...

  4. ...A laundry list of hacks does better than a single hack, even if you haven't tested any of them. No knowledge of the topic to even guess at the normal solution? No personal experience to draw on for hacks? No problem! Just google it and post the results as a list of quotes. Hey, they wouldn't let people put 'em on The Internet if they didn't work, right??!

Based on my own experience thus far, I'm heavily leaning toward option #3 as the "ideal" for an answer here, but it's clear this is far from universal - indeed, if I had to guess I'd say #1 and #4 are going to represent the majority of answers here long-term, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if folks didn't start looking at #3 as something of a cheat. So I figured I'd put this up for discussion: as a group, what do we feel we should be striving for here?

Related discussions:

  • A good example of #1 is this answer. I posted that specifically to see what would happen with a conventional answer on the site and this thing is still getting upvotes daily. I'm not clear if that's because people actually find it useful (which is a bit scary... they already knew that one, right?) or if they're just rebelling against the idea of lifehacks in general. Almost all my rep on the site comes from that answer and the network association bonus. That doesn't seem good. – Sterno Dec 31 '14 at 3:20
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    @Sterno That is getting random upvotes I think partly because people robo-vote popular posts like that and their answers without reading them much. I mean, it could be a hack I guess, if the OP didn't think of it himself :p, but yeah, not a great hack answer – J. Musser Dec 31 '14 at 4:03
  • I've now deleted that answer to help clean the site up a bit. For reference, it was "Step 1: Get a smaller container. Step 2: Fill it up. Step 3: Dump it into the larger container. Step 4: Repeat Steps 1-3 as needed" – Sterno Dec 31 '14 at 13:16
  • @Sterno I think that was an okay answer -- it wasn't spoken about in the question, so it could be that the OP hadn't considered it. (I'm a mind-reader, so I'll tell you that the OP did think of it, but didn't write about it :P) – Shokhet Dec 31 '14 at 20:03
  • If it was an answer worthy of 20+ upvotes on a "Lifehacks" site, I don't even know what the point of this site is. – Sterno Dec 31 '14 at 21:27
  • @Sterno At the risk of pointing out the obvious, people were upvoting because of the smaller container in the image on the self answer. People were upvoting a humorous answer not strictly a conventional answer. – apaul Jan 2 '15 at 6:16
  • I didn't figure that many people clicked through the comments, but you might be right. – Sterno Jan 2 '15 at 12:27
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There are two questions that we should use to evaluate answers.

  1. "Does it fit our definition of a lifehack?"

The current definition defined in our scope is as follows:

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.

As such, if an answer fails to meet any of the requirements in this definition then it is a poor lifehack and therefore a poor answer on our site.

The biggest offender I've seen against this definition are answers that you talk about in your #1, the conventional solution answer. We need to enforce the fact that if the answer is not creative (as we define it) then it isn't a lifehack. As such, they do not answer the question being asked because questions are implicitly seeking lifehack answers.

  1. "Is the lifehack offered as a solution useful?"

An answer can still fit our definition and still be a bad answer. In order to be a good answer, the answer must also meet the SE guidelines on how to write a good answer including it being written to the best of the poster's ability, providing context for links, and providing enough evidence in the answer itself to give validity to the suggestion. Including the conventional solutions as a part of the answer as you suggest in #3 is a good idea in certain circumstances as it can offer a more permanent solution to the quickly implemented lifehack.

As for "laundry list" answers, so long as each solution offered in the list is properly supported and could work as a standalone answer, they are perfectly acceptable.

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The "safest" answers here aren't hacks.

I wouldn't say safest, not by a long shot, conventional answers even those that may not be terribly conventional tend to collect downvotes. That post of mine that you linked to is a good example of that, it currently has a score of +5/-4.

If you want a better example try this one, it is an entirely conventional answer, but in some cases
I think it is worth weighing the conventional answer against a common and overplayed hack.

That's obviously just my opinion... But the current score on that post is +23/-1 where as the somewhat overplayed answer is at +19/-1. The truly interesting and revealing thing is that a lesser known hack is way ahead at +35/-0.

The most popular hack answers have no obvious downsides.

There's some truth in that and provided that they're not lazy one liners isn't that a good thing?
I'll leave the answer to that bit as a one liner just for kicks, but if you really need it here's an example

...If your hack does have obvious tradeoffs, you can "innoculate" it by including conventional solutions!

Honestly I upvoted your covering nail holes example because I found it funny and it covers the well known overplayed hacks as well as a "might as well take the time to do it right" solution. I upvoted your bed warming example because it provided a few good answers as well as a few funny ones.

The boiling water one could have been better, but it does illustrate your point, I guess... But none of your solutions there were really "hacks" They were all more or less conventional methods with greater or lesser degrees of practicality.

If a hack is sub-optimal, not all of them are, you can inoculate them by being honest and offering alternatives and or workarounds isn't necessarily a bad addition.
As in "You could do it this way but... [bad things will happen...] Or you could do it this way and avoid that."

...A laundry list of hacks does better than a single hack, even if you haven't tested any of them.

I'll admit this one does get on my nerves a little bit. That's not saying that having several solutions in a single answer is a bad thing; having complete answers is something we should be aiming for, but simply collecting and regurgitating a list of untested solutions is a bit of a problem.

We could be doing more to encourage original content.


Now I think the more important question is what should Lifehack questions look like? once we get that worked out the answers will probably shape up.

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