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I have noticed that there are several questions here which probably should have been asked on Home Improvement/DIY.

These kind of questions seem to attract lower quality answers than they probably would on the DIY site. The people who answer questions on the DIY site generally are professionals, or at least have experience doing it themselves. That isn't necessarily true here.

Here are some examples:

How can I clear my shower drain without drain cleaner?

How to get stains out of the garage floor

How to see where I've already painted?

How to test if a toilet is leaking?

How to determine how much heating oil is left in the tank?

How can I fix a clogged toilet without calling a plumber?

Cleaning/removing wax from carpet

Ways to improve water pressure?

How to prevent mildew in the shower?

How to unblock a blocked drain without acids/chemicals?

How to get mice out of the ceiling

  • 3
    There is a difference between a hack or quick improvised way of doing something and the industry standard way of doing something. – apaul Jan 12 '15 at 20:57
  • In my opinion and this may repeat what the other answers say but a Life Hack is a alternative to a product in most cases. That being said, if you have a product which companies have tried for years to perfect you will always have a worse Life Hack alternative, but the Life Hack is better because you need something cheap, that doesn't have the health risk, or etc. An example would be if you need a product to remove pet urine but the product is to expensive and provokes your asthma even if you use a mask, so instead a get a Life Hack that is healthier, but that may take longer to work. – Pobrecita Jan 14 '15 at 15:48
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A few things. For starters, there's allowed to be some overlap between the sites. When deciding scope we need to ask ourselves: Is this the kind of question we're qualified to handle? Is this the kind of question we want people to ask here? If the answer to those questions is no, then we should ask ourselves "Is there another Stack Exchange site we could redirect these questions to instead?". The key thing is that the scope of other Stack Exchange sites doesn't matter to us when deciding our scope. If we do decide something is off-topic, however, then having another Stack Exchange site to redirect them to is a good idea: it helps our sister sites grow and helps the user get their problem solved. Win-win!

Next up, as Apaul already said, there is a difference between a professional solution and a hack. Professionals will have tools and skills the average person won't have access to, so the solution which works for a professional won't necessarily work for the average Joe (or Jill). So even though the professional solution might be the best solution to the problem, it may not be one Mr. Average Joe is able to implement, and so isn't that useful to him. A Lifehack, on the other hand, could be something Mr. Average Joe could implement on his own. So although it might not be the ideal solution, it could be the only thing that works for him (without spending a bunch of money hiring professional, anyways).

Now, with those two things out of the thing, let me be perfectly blunt: Lifehacks is going to attract lower quality answers than more specialized sites with a more well defined scope and expertise.

Here's the thing, as much as I know there are a people passionate about this site and it's topic space, you just can't be an expert in Lifehacks. It just doesn't make any sense. Whereas a Carpenter has a well defined set of expected skills to have, a "Lifehacker" doesn't. What this means is that Lifehacks is a horizontal site, rather than a vertical one, like most other Stack Exchange sites (Skeptics being the only possible exception I can think of). Whereas sites like Wordpress or DIY has a narrow scope with a specialized set of experts, Lifehacks...well, doesn't. Our site has several sub-categories in it since we are (despite what some people want) basically a catch all site right now. Some of the questions we face are best answered by a Carpenter, others by an Electrician, some by a Doctor, et cetera. No matter what solution Mr. Average Joe is going to come up with to How can I clear my shower drain without drain cleaner?, a plumber is going to be able to come up with an equal or better solution using the same set of restrictions.

Now, that might not sound too bad at first. Sure, we might have a broad scope, but that just means we'll have a larger collection of experts, right? Well, no. One of the primary principals behind the Stack Exchange model is that experts will come to sites filled with other experts in same field.

Experts aren't going to trust the opinion of Mr. Average Joe on how to best solve their problem, they are only going to trust the opinion of a fellow expert. After all, if an expert can't solve their problem, why would they expect someone who isn't an expert in their field to? I'm a developer by trade, and if I was running into a problem I couldn't solve, I'd ask a fellow developer for help, not a Doctor, just like a Doctor wouldn't ask me for help performing surgery. A Doctors expertise isn't programming, and my expertise isn't Doctoring (which I've just decided is a word), so we're not going to consult each other for our expert problems.

A site filled with a well defined set of experts is also going to provide verification which a broad site won't. If I visit a site filled with Plumbers with my plumbing problem, then I know that if someone posts an incorrect solution that will be downvoted and someone will point out why it's wrong. When someone comes along with a solution which works, it will get upvoted. This verification means that I can trust the site to give me a solution which works, and won't blow up in my face.

Something else is where an expert expects to find other experts in their field. A Plumber isn't going to stroll into Wordpress.SE and expect it to be filled with fellow plumbers, they'd expect it to be filled with Wordpress developers. Similarly, that plumber isn't going to come to Lifehacks for their plumbing problem because they wouldn't expect it to be filled Plumbers. Even if they expected to find a bunch of plumbers there, they'd also expect to find a bunch of non-plumbers (Mr. Average Joe), whose opinion they don't really care about, and could only serve to bog down the problem solving process. Which is a good segway into my next point...

A site with a well defined and narrow set of experts is going to be provide more consistent and quicker results than a site filled with a bunch of experts from different fields.

Unlike our hypothetical plumbing site from above, a broad site like Lifehacks doesn't provide expert verification for it's solutions. Even if Lifehacks is filled with plumbers, they're not going to outnumber all Mr. Average Joe's on the site, who might pop in to upvote incorrect answers because it just looks like it might work, in their non-expert opinion. So that plumber can no longer trust that the answers posted are being correctly verified by fellow experts, and so he can't really trust the site to solve his problem, so he'll go elsewhere.

A site with a more narrow scope also ensures our plumber that his question is going to be seen by his fellow plumbers and answered, not lost in a bunch of questions about surgery, gaming, wordpress, carpentry or any other number of subjects. If the question gets lost amongst all these other questions there's a good chance it'll go unanswered. This is why a bunch of sites which had overlapping with Stack Overflow started their own sites (i.e. Wordpress, Drupal, Server Fault, et cetera). Stack Overflow is huge, and it's really easy for your question to get lost in the huge flood of questions. Due to this, if I have a Wordpress problem, I ask over on Wordpress.SE for a solution. Not only is it less likely to get lost due to the lower question volume, but I know that when it is seen, it's going to be seen by the people most qualified to answer my question, as opposed Mr. Average Joe. We're obviously never going to reach the same volume as Stack Overflow, whose sheer size is the cause of many of it's problems, but it should make you stop and think. If Stack Overflow, a site with a much narrow and better well defined scope than ours is having this problem, then won't it be a lot worse for our Lifehacks sites, with it's much broader and less well define scope?

Now I've only talked about experts, but all this applies to non-experts to,in fact it applies to them even more. A non-expert needs to be put their trust completely in the site itself, and the people in it. If someone posts an incorrect solution to a question put forth by an expert, then there expert is likely to realize that. A non-expert, however, our Mr Average Joe, has no chance of determining that for themselves. He needs to be able to trust the people on the site are experts, and that there are experts verifying everything that's posted. If he can't, then he's unlikely to come to us for help.

This post is...much longer than I expected, and it just kind of got away from me, and I definitely veered outside the scope of the meta post, but answer quality is such a vital and important thing for any SE site that I just had a lot to say. The thing is, I'm really doubtful this site can work, which anyone whose engaged with me in chat or meta is probably aware of. We have a lot of problems, and I think answer quality and not being able to attract experts is one of our most major and fundamental problems. One, quite honestly, I don't think we can solve. Let me close this off before I veer even more off-topic, but let me just say this: If our site isn't going to help both the experts and Mr Average Joe, then who is the site really for?

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    Well said! I also believe that the future of this site is uncertain. Without narrowing the scope of what a life hack is, then this will just turn into a catch all site with little focus on one field. Eventually, the novelty will go away and it will fail. I often refer to this site as DIY for cheapskates. There are many questions that have a problem that could have an answer from the DIY community, but then they say they don't want to spend any money doing it. – Jason Hutchinson Jan 13 '15 at 16:22
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    I also wanted to add that even though many of the solutions are creative, they often aren't the practical solution. There was one question in particular where the highest voted answer not only didn't work, but also caused problems when they tried to use it. – Jason Hutchinson Jan 13 '15 at 16:29
  • @JasonHutchinson: Your last comment is exactly the kind of problem I expect to see. Since we're not a site of experts it's difficult for us to judge if a solution works without trying it ourselves first. That's likely to result in exactly that kind of situation: people upvoting answers that seem like good and creative solution, but in reality don't work at all. – Wipqozn Jan 13 '15 at 16:42
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    +1 This. You've managed to nail pretty much what has been nagging me about the concept of this site -- it just doesn't fit the SE model of developing a community of topic experts that can provide good answers (and review each others' contributions), both because nobody can be an expert on such a broad topic as "lifehacks", and also partly because of the anti-authoritarian culture associated with the concept (which leads a subset of the community to frown upon answers that suggest using a hammer to drive a nail, while upvoting ones that suggest using a shoe or a modest-sized rock instead). – Ilmari Karonen Jan 26 '15 at 13:10
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There is a difference between a good hack solution and a professional solution.

Hacks tend to be solutions that will work in a pinch when the professional solution is either unavailable or impractical.

For instance, in many cases a professional will have a custom tool that they use to accomplish a task that they perform on a regular basis. A person looking for a hack is probably either unable or less willing to go out and purchase a custom tool for something that they only need to do one time.

Now that that's out of the way...

I don't think your claim that people posting answers here on Lifehacks don't have "experience doing it themselves" is accurate.

Cleaning/removing wax from carpet

This was one that I asked and self answered and I think it is a pretty good example of what I was talking about above.

The day before posting the question/answer I had to remove wax and deodorant from a carpet and I thought the hack methods that I found most effective would be worth sharing. I'm certainly not a carpet cleaning "professional", but my job requires me to be a sort of jerk of all trades, because of that I regularly have to improvise solutions to problems without buying special products or renting equipment.

A real professional answer would have been more along the lines of "rent a steam cleaner", which would have set me back about a $100 or so...

  • I do think there are some very good answers on Lifehacks. Your answer/question is good as well, and I wasn't trying to single you out. The reason why I posted these questions is that they could have been posted to DIY, and there could be a chance that they would be answered by an experienced professional. Sometimes some jobs require specialized tools that are expensive. However, many things around the house can be fixed quickly and very inexpensively, using basic tools. I think there is a bit of a gray area between a lifehack and diy. – Jason Hutchinson Jan 12 '15 at 22:32
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    @JasonHutchinson There is a definitely a little gray area, but that doesn't mean that these questions should be there and not here. Think of it as a MacGyver solution vs a Bob Vila solution. – apaul Jan 12 '15 at 23:06
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    @JasonHutchinson There has been some debate about how much overlap is acceptable between Lifehacks and other SE sites. See: meta.lifehacks.stackexchange.com/questions/75/… and probably more applicable: meta.lifehacks.stackexchange.com/questions/1312/… – apaul Jan 12 '15 at 23:10
  • Home Improvement/DIY and similar sites also have lifehacks-style answers, not necessarily "professional" (after all, DIY means "do it yourself"). I find the distinction between "straightforward" vs. "clever" answers to not to be that useful. If have a question, I would like to ask or look in one place for the solution. – Dan Halbert Jan 16 '15 at 15:02
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I disagree hacking has a negative connotation. Having started in computers then electronics, the term is becoming more mainstream. I myself do not like arguments from authority. Along with hacking comes a few considerations:

  • fear of doing things for self
  • fear of doing something wrong
  • trusting nebulous authority representations
  • and yes, actually screwing something up

Not everyone has the mentality required to hack. OK, don't do it. The question is: do people have a right to do things as they want? If affirmative a follow up question is: where can information be found? This is very similar to science which is not an authoritarian exercise, but structured empiricism. No doubt many differ with that statement. Would they be the same people who view hacking negatively?

There is the saying, "You get what you pay for". Yes, that's true to a great extent. But hacking most of the time, is to not pay for anything. An effective hack therefore does not necessarily compare with a professional install or fix. Many people like to do things themselves. Also, paying for something is by no means a guarantee it will be what is right or what is wanted.

  • What is the reason for the downvote? It is appropriate to say why. – subjectivist Jan 17 '15 at 2:21

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