This recent question on an infinite resistor grid is certainly interesting, but why should we include such questions on the site? The question has already been asked and answered many times on the internet. In fact, the question is asked simply by copying it from somewhere else, and it is answered (as of now) by linking to a solution somewhere else.

Don't we want to discourage questions that can easily be answered by a quick search? Should we ask questions just to have them on this particular site? If so, we should grab a couple of problem books out of the library and start transcribing.

One reason I can think of to encourage this sort of question is that some users might not have seen it before, and will find it fun and amusing to think about. But that's the only reason I have thought of, and doesn't seem like it's the primary goal of this site; there are other places online dedicated to that.

  • $\begingroup$ By the way, back on the parent question you asked me "Why ask here?". I got into more details in my answer, but I don't see why not. I if I'm not mistaken, people who commit before beta committed to posting at least 10 questions and 10 answers. Given that this question is probably a frequent google search, and (like I explain on my question) it doesn't go against the site in any way, why not ask it? $\endgroup$ – Malabarba Dec 20 '10 at 17:49

Here's what I think:
No, we don't want to discourage questions that can easily be answered by a quick search.
Easy questions get answered all the time on the SE network, there's really nothing wrong with them. I agree 100% with David's answer, and I'd like to add a little.

And here's why:
The point of the site is to bring in anyone who's searching for an answer to a question about physics. If we restrict ourselves to answers that can't easily be found, we are narrowing our scope a lot. Just because an answer is already on Google, it doesn't mean this site won't be able to top the previous answer and become the new "first result".

In fact, the whole point of a SE community is to get most of it's traffic from search engines eventually. And the questions most easy to find are usually the ones that most searched, so why would we ban them? They are as legit as any other question, and nobody is forced to answer them. Users who think it's a waste of their time can just ignore it. Not to mention, if the question really is easy, it will be a chance for less experienced users to contribute as well, which can only help the site grow. The site won't hold itself on phd's alone, it needs both. We should down vote questions that are not real questions, are not about physics, or are terribly phrased; but we should not down vote or close questions that are easy.

I agree that the answer is not completely satisfactory. We should prefer answers with at least some content, instead of just links. Which is why I was waiting to accept an answer that brought some content with it. But that's not a reason to close the question.

EDIT: All that said, I'll agree that manually filling up the site with hundreds of questions that any undergrad can easily find an answer for in under 5 minutes is bad. It will probably act as noise and cover up the good stuff in the site. Also, it will probably push away more experienced users from joining.

In the end, we need this questions, but we need the hard ones as well. It's a fine balance that will take some discussion.

  • $\begingroup$ I think I agree with you. I am also not against these questions being here (unless they are way too simple-minded). I am more against answers consisting of just links. Nevertheless, community obviously thinks that just links are enough. I have even a feeling that those answers might attract more up-votes because an actual derivation might be hard to understand. So I guess I am in fact doubting the power of voting mechanism here. At least at this stage when our site is small and doesn't really have enough experts yet. $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Marek: Yes, the voting mechanism can be flawed sometimes. I don't mean this to say "I know what's good and others don't". I do mean this to say "The voting system might not lead to the growth of the community sometimes". This is not exclusive to physics.se and it doesn't have to be permanent. With a well written FAQ, and with guidance "from above", the community will acquire the habit of voting for the answers that most contribute to the site. You can see this pattern on older SE sites like superuser, while younger sites (like gaming) still get tons of vote based on popularity. $\endgroup$ – Malabarba Dec 20 '10 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Bruce I am still undecided on whether I personally want to see these questions on the site. I would rather see it asked in a way that specifically solicits either new physical insights or asks for clarification on the published solutions, perhaps asking for other situations in which similar mathematical techniques can be applied or whether the problem could be given some sort of mechanical analog. Peripheral reasons like fulfilling commitment quotas and to bringing in extra traffic should be afterthoughts to considerations of the question's content. $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 21 '10 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ I object to the justification that people who don't want to read these questions can simply ignore them - that argument could be used to justify any of the types of questions we've discussed. We could say that about the questions that are too basic, or the questions that are arguably off topic, or the questions that are vague, etc. $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 21 '10 at 1:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark I understand your concern. Personally, I think basic or easy answers are not harmful to the site, and thus there's not reason to avoid them. The other types of question you mentioned (off-topic, vague, etc) are harmful to the site's reputation and reliability as a physics Q&A site. I can see some of your points though. $\endgroup$ – Malabarba Dec 21 '10 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark: Filling this site with hundreds of questions you can easily find in textbooks might lead to a lot of noise and won't help in pulling in the more experienced users. Like others mentioned, it's a fine balance that really needs to be discussed. We need easy questions that might cause new users to stumble here, but we also can't be full of them or we might never attract enough experienced physicists. $\endgroup$ – Malabarba Dec 21 '10 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Bruce I think I agree with your sentiment. In the case of the infinite resistors, it's clear that a lot of people here were interested in the question. I would still like to see a better answer posted, but given the general positive response to it, I think it's clear it was worthwhile to ask. $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 22 '10 at 5:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark I too would like to see a better answer posted =/. I'm thinking of studying the links and providing one myself, just haven't done it yet 'cause I have a test tomorrow. =) $\endgroup$ – Malabarba Dec 22 '10 at 6:03

I think asking such questions is fine under the condition that the OP had already used google and didn't find other solutions satisfying or wants to hear about other strategies to solve the problem not found elsewhere. They should mention all of this already in the question statement. If it's not there and the solution is to be found on the internet, I would just close the question.

Likewise, answers that just link to other solutions and provide none genuine content should be discouraged (in particular, I don't like how Sklivvz's answer got 7 votes just because he knows how to search with google). We are not here to replace google. We are here to provide some good answers.

Note that there are exceptions to the above because some content (although available) is not easily accessible or sometimes you just don't know where to start. One can imagine a good question polling for resources on a certain topic and an answer with such a collection and some explanations of why the references are good. But I believe these questions/answers are distinct enough from this [XKCD] question to be considered fine.

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    $\begingroup$ Sorry to see that you "don't like" the upvotes that my answer got. Surely it was easy to answer, but the whole point of the site is that what is important is what the community thinks, and not single opinions. Saying you don't like the upvotes is tantamount to saying that you trust your judgement better than the community. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 20 '10 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz: sorry if I offended you; it was nothing against you personally. I am sure you just wanted to help. I am just saying that I don't like certain answers and questions. $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz: as for the judgement of the community... this is a subtle issue and I am not sure just up-votes can decide everything. Up-votes are local and people can up-vote stuff that we actually don't want to have here (like pure homework questions or otherwise simple-minded questions; there are few of those). That's why we have mods to take care about the direction the site is heading and why we have meta discussions. As of yet, no one disagreed with me and my answer is only one in this discussion that got some up-votes. But I'd be glad to hear also the opinions of the other side. $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ "Saying you don't like the upvotes is tantamount to saying that you trust your judgement better than the community". Well, the wisdom of the crowds is very good in some situations (including SE sites) but it's far from being perfect (including SE sites, particularly because people are biased to upvote when they see upvotes already). So, it's not a completely irrational position to be in, depending on the circumstances. $\endgroup$ – Robert Smith Dec 20 '10 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Marek: I was not offended. I know you always have strong opinions, and support that. I think, though, that we should probably concentrating on supporting the community (which is still super flimsy on the site), and then try to stir the site in some particular direction if necessary. At the moment, I believe there are too few questions being asked, and people bickering on really really minor stuff like this. Should we be exclusive or inclusive as a community? what is best for the site? $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 20 '10 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Sklivvz: good points. If you'd care to elaborate more on this and provide an answer of your own under this question, I'd appreciate that very much. Or perhaps we could discuss this on chat, if you will (which is surely a better medium for this kind of discussion). $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 16:24

Well, in part we are trying to build a repository of physics knowledge (just like SO is trying to become - or has become - a repository of programming knowledge). So there isn't necessarily anything wrong with duplicating things that already exist elsewhere on the internet.

I suppose one could think of SE as a little like Wikipedia but where knowledge is indexed by the question you ask to find it rather than by the topic it's about.

  • $\begingroup$ Knowledge, yes. Links, no. That's what google is for :-) $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ True, we should actually have content in our answers and not just links to other sites. $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 20 '10 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ So if I have a repository of common questions that students ask me, I should start posting them? $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Dec 20 '10 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark: Sure, perhaps. But I suppose they should be interesting in some manner, not just asking for basic definitions or formulas. You could always offer some examples of these questions in the chat room to get people's comments on them first, if you have doubts about whether they'd be appropriate. $\endgroup$ – David Z Dec 20 '10 at 9:18

I don't know if the question was inspired by a recent chat session where David quoted this comic strip but I think that it can attract the right sort of people to this site through search engines. I would like to see if it becomes a Google magnet.

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    $\begingroup$ nothing wrong with being google magnet but it would be nice to actually have good answers under such a question to give a strong first impression about the site. And not just two links that you can find directly anyway (and presumably you've already seen them if google is where you're coming from). $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ yes it was. And I agree with Marek, it still needs a better answer. $\endgroup$ – Malabarba Dec 20 '10 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek: yes, I agree. Anyway, closed question is still indexed by Google :) $\endgroup$ – gigacyan Dec 20 '10 at 18:19

I think we should be supporting the site and the community. What are the most important problems that we face?

In my personal opinion, that we don't have enough questions, and that we don't have enough phd or postdoc users.

I don't think simple questions (whether they are google-able or not) are the problem here. There is pretty much space for everybody. I think the problem is that, for some, there are not enough high-level questions (high-level meaning phd or better level)...

We should do all that we can to support the still flimsy community on the site to grow. That includes supporting questions which are maybe not the best in the ideal world. We should be an inclusive community, encourage people to come to the site and become active users!

If a question is not so good, help it improve, via comments for example. If an answer is not so good, help it improve, or even better, write a better one.

Complaining, closing abruptly possibly valid or salvageable questions, making rude statements (and there's more than a few around) makes the site weaker - people leave because of that, and we can't afford it.

Just my two cents.

  • $\begingroup$ Do I get here the correct impression that between quality and quantity you prefer quantity? This might help the site grow but are you not in the slightest afraid it might degenerate into useless junk that will have a huge community of laymen while all the experts will leave? I think it's important to strike a balance in the quality vs. quantity question and in my opinion towards quality. The site is growing anyway, we will definitely attract experts sooner or later and then everything will be fine. But if we'll become a junkyard it might not be possible to salvage the site anymore. $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 20 '10 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ There is difference between junk ("free will vs. conservation of energy") and simpler questions ("infinite grid of resistors")... that's all I'm saying. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 21 '10 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ yeah, but the line between being simple and being junk is very thin and care needs to be taken. That's all I'm saying :-) $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 21 '10 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Marek: that's where we disagree... they are completely different things. $\endgroup$ – Sklivvz Dec 21 '10 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ no, they are not completely different. Simple vs. hard would be completely different :-) Of course, there can be great simple questions and hard junk questions. But in general, if someone asks stupid question, it tends to be simple (because it is stupid for obvious and simple reasons). Or do you think that it's equally probable that someone asks a junk question about Topological Quantum Field Theory as that they ask a junk question about average velocity, say? I doubt you do ;-) $\endgroup$ – Marek Dec 21 '10 at 21:21

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