From some of the earliest days of Lifehacks SE, we have been trying to define the scope of Lifehacks. We knew we would run into problems as we were different from the typical SE site. We've asked about the on-topicness of medical questions, psychological life hacks, and many more topics. We've defined a life hack as

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.

Eventually, Robert Cartaino gave us A Lifehacks Manifesto, helping to clear up our scope and function as a site by ourselves.

Still, we've come across problem after problem. In the last month alone, we've closed nearly a third of all questions asked here. That is not good at all. I've decided to write this post as a result of a conversation in chat.

I believe that we need to redefine our scope. There is no need to throw away everything that we've come up with to this point, but there are parts of scope that need a lot of work. Here are a few things I've come up with that we might need to specifically address:

  • We need to create a clearer scope - There's been confusion about our scope. Making the scope clearer will allow us to better show new users why their question is off-topic or why their answer is not a life hack. We need to have a less ambiguous definition of a problem that requires an "outside of the box" solution.

  • We need to broaden our scope - I know this seems a bit contradictory to my last point, but it can be possible to do both of these things. By broaden the scope, I mean that we need to allow more topics to be considered needing life hacks. Clearing up our scope would actually broaden our scope. It would make less things borderline on/off-topic.

  • We need to better define when an answer is a life hack - This again can come from just clearing up the scope. We have had discussions about conventional answers and whether or not they are life hacks. Clarifying things like this would help make the quality of answers easier to raise and maintain.

One last thing I should note is that this is not a post saying that we need to fix our scope. You may believe our scope is fine as it is. In my opinion, I don't think our scope is great. Many of our earliest users who helped with our original scope are no longer around and I think it is time to reassess. My ultimate goal for this site is to help it graduate, and I don't believe that is possible at this point, with our current scope.

  • I also agree that scope should be increased.In fact I believe that the the definition hasn't contradicted the scope.I have one definition from wikipedia Life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. I also found your definition of mind hacking Questions dealing with personal productivity and self-improvement tips, memorization and learning techniques, etc. are outside the scope of this site. I found it little contradicting to definition of life hacking especially on productivity. – Sikander Dec 10 '15 at 10:00
  • I agree that you need to increase the scope. I propose that if you want to keep the same scope, you rename the site "trivialhacks". "Life" implies a certain bigness of scope, or at least it does to me. – Aaron Hall Dec 13 '15 at 3:52

Don't require "out-of-the-box" solutions as the manifesto demands. I propose that using a product "as designed" should be allowed and embraced if it's unknown to the OP. Here are some as-designed examples of lifehacks that are currently prohibited but should be allowed:

  • The manifesto doesn't require "out of the box" solution. I'd suggest rereading the manifesto. – Wipqozn Dec 8 '15 at 14:25
  • @Wipqozn It specifically requires >…thinking "outside the box".< I think this is what the OP meant. – Angelo Fuchs Dec 23 '15 at 7:33
  • @adamdport You are referring to point 2 of the "AND IT IS NOT ABOUT…" section of the manifesto, correct? – Angelo Fuchs Dec 23 '15 at 7:34
  • @Wipqozn It does the way I interpret it, if you check out the "and it is not about" section. – Captain Obvious Dec 23 '15 at 13:33
  • @adamdport Do you prefer allowing "as-designed" answers over closing questions as "not needing a life hack"? Why or why not? (Btw, those "life hacks"...) – Captain Obvious Dec 23 '15 at 13:33

I propose leaving the question scope fairly wide and open (sort of), but making the site philosophy something along the lines of "teaching a man to fish" instead of the current tendency of "giving a man fish". That is, focus on:

  • Helping people improve their problem-solving skills in general. Think of this as trying to turn askers into answerers.
  • Helping future people with similar problems but with possibly different specifics out, too. Make answers last. Keep questions with lasting answers. Inspire readers to create their own solutions instead of spoon feeding solutions that may not work for anybody but the OP. For questions this may mean leaning back towards the old "too localized" close reason, or even better, coalescing more similar questions with duplicate marks and merges. For answers this means thoughtful, general but clear and helpful approaches.
  • Make the world a better place. I mean this seriously. Call me an old man but I personally feel like a lot of newer generation's problem-solving skills are on the decline (millenial generation trend and onward; and I mean this as just a neutral observation not a criticism), and as cheesy as this sounds, I think improving people improves our future as a whole, and I think this site is somehow a great opportunity for that. Remember, that kid that couldn't conclude that a good way to keep an old hung window from falling shut is to stick something under it to block it, that kid might be driving your kids' school bus some day. Make him a better person. For your children!

I think this can be manifest in a few fairly concrete ways:

  • Answers that teach the asker how to find a solution to their problem. Obviously answers are trickier to regulate with site mechanics than questions, the best path to take here is really just to set examples with better answers and voting.
  • Become a little more liberal with the duplicate markings and perhaps merges. If two questions are essentially the same but differ only in a few specifics, a "teach a man to fish" style answer that covers both and more can usually be constructed.
  • Perhaps work "too localized" or something similar. Vote up good, general, thoughtful questions. Get rid of the specific, effortless, silly ones, or edit them into something useful to many. I think allowable topics should stay wide and open, but I also think quality could be improved.
  • I don't know how to do this, but the natural and reasonable internet attitude of "everybody wants to post their cleverest-idea-ever" could be toned down a bit. Easier said than done. This really probably just comes back to using votes to prefer good, general, thoughtful answers.
  • Etc.

One large change from the current philosophy, related to "better defining when an answer is a life hack", is: Instead of having answers be "life hacks", prefer answers that teach a reader how to hack life. I mean, specific "life hacks" are kind of run of the mill, they can be found anywhere. There's a thousand watered-down "life hacks" sites around the internet and competition is tough; 9 times out of 10 answers here just add duplicate information with slightly different formatting to the hard drives in archive.org's data center; I like to think SE sites are above that.

There's not many "how to be a life hacker" sites. Let's be that site.

From the above linked post, a statement that I still really feel strongly about:

... answerers should really start to focus on the how to find your solution ... If the site is to be higher quality than the other "life hacks" sites out there and is to maintain long term usefulness, it's probably better to teach people how to do things. I personally believe that this type of philosophy is what will make LH stand out among the crowds.

Now, I acknowledge that there's a desire to keep question volume and scores high and close counts low to reflect well on the site for potential graduation, and I also acknowledge that many of the things I mentioned above are counter to that, but I argue that a denser set of better, long-term useful and thoughtful questions and answers makes a stronger site than a flood of similar questions and specific, one-off answers.

I hope these ramblings made a bit of sense.

  • 3
    Although I'd love to see more how to solve answers, I think it's too embedded in human nature to give the actual answer. We could however strive towards reducing very similar answers, and possibly protect questions on an earlier stage if very similar answers arises. – holroy Nov 30 '15 at 19:30
  • 1
    @holroy Yeah I don't have an answer to that, aside from campaigning in an attempt to change many people's philosophies so it is reflected in votes. Answers are much harder to regulate than questions. Still, even the questions... e.g. there's a lot of questions that aren't so much about requiring hacks as wanting to make the impossible possible (like "how do I light my hair on fire without burning my hair") or not knowing that products exist, I'd like to see community consensus on meta that can be used as guidelines, and better use of the "hack not needed" reason. – Captain Obvious Dec 1 '15 at 0:01
  • I think that if people come here at the first place, they either already have the mindset that you want to create or they will develop it, as they apply solution after solution. I remember well being spoon-fed my first hacks accidentally when I was a kid (observing adults solving acute problems with wit) and repeating the hacks that were already known to me, until I happened to start patching stuff together myself. So... As soon as your hands start doing something, your brain will adapt. – Angelo Fuchs Dec 23 '15 at 7:30

My ultimate goal for this site is to help it graduate, and I don't believe that is possible at this point, with our current scope.

If you are going to change the scope, your reason for changing it shouldn't be to increase activity. Having x questions per day means nothing if your site is filled with low-quality questions. Also, I would have to disagree that the ultimate goal of a moderator is to "help [the site] graduate."

We need to broaden our scope - I know this seems a bit contradictory to my last point, but it can be possible to do both of these things. By broaden the scope, I mean that we need to allow more topics to be considered. Clearing up our scope would actually broaden our scope. It would make less things borderline on/off-topic.

Why would broadening the scope be a good thing? Could you give some examples of questions that should be on-topic but aren't? In what ways are you proposing to broaden the scope?

  • 2
    I disagree with your first point (about increased activity =/= low quality). It can, if done the wrong way, though. We are looking to grow and guide a healthy community, and increasing site activity is a big part of that. We want to do that without lowering quality, and that's mainly what the original post is about. – J. Musser Dec 2 '15 at 22:14

While I appreciate the sentiment, I'm not a fan of the word "common" (uncommon solutions to common problems and can commonly be learned elsewhere) as the word is very subjective based on your background and demographic.

Instead, I'd propose that like Wikipedia and Skeptics requires a link to a notable claim, we require that users explain why the "common" solution that they're aware of doesn't work for them. Allegedly uncommon problems would be fine. Common solutions that are different than what the OP described would be fine. Questions that don't include that explanation would be put on hold.

  • After rereading this, I must concede that Proposal 3 violates Proposal 1. It's a WIP. – adamdport Dec 2 '15 at 22:35
  • It doesn't necessarily violate proposal 1. A user could say why they can't use a common method or product they know of (don't have the resources, money, etc.) and then self answer. – michaelpri Dec 2 '15 at 22:58
  • As for proposal 1, We used to require listing what was tried, and closing questions that didn't comply. See these related meta discussions: (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4). Please read those (and their answers) and let me know what you think, @adamdport. – J. Musser Dec 3 '15 at 0:17
  • I agree with example 2’s point about rubber stamping–could we say if your problem has a “common-sense” (again subjective…) solution, please explain why it doesn’t work for you? This applies to example 3 as well. Example 4 brings up a good point though–can we just let downvotes rule if a question doesn’t show effort? This is an intentionally subjective clause that gives some wiggle room. It puts the burden on the OP to show effort, while preventing moderators from rubber stamping. – adamdport Dec 3 '15 at 18:19
  • @adamdport The voting system doesn't always reflect what we want. 'easy' questions, or low effort, often get more votes than tough ones. I'm just thinking, we can ask all we want, but I don't foresee a lot of change happening unless we enforce something. And where that's involved I prefer there to be good discernment. There is a lot of subjectivity, and avoiding rubber stamping, like you mentioned, can be tricky. – J. Musser Dec 3 '15 at 20:38
  • Having three proposals is not good to vote up or down. Consider splitting them or consolidate them into one proposal. – holroy Dec 6 '15 at 2:17
  • @holroy good idea. Done. – adamdport Dec 6 '15 at 18:08

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