For some background on the broader topic, see: Are questions that are easily answered with Google appropriate for the site? This is essentially a smaller subset of that.

I want to state for the record that I am an ardent supporter of "Google questions" because the whole idea of Stack Exchange is to put something useful at the top of those results, rather than forums and blogs and paywalls full of noise and frustrations.

But I may have discovered my personal limit when I saw this question asked yesterday:

What is tapioca?

Where does it come from? How is it made? Where does it grow?

That's the whole question.

I'm fine with basic questions. At no point in time did we ever try to establish ourselves as a community of snooty elites, and that openness is something I have fully supported and continue to support. But this question really bothers me because it goes beyond being merely easy to Google:

  1. It's answered by a general reference source - Wikipedia. You don't need a cooking specialist to answer it, just open a dictionary or encyclopedia.

  2. It's directly answered by Wikipedia. Not buried in paragraph 6 of some indirectly-related entry or spread across a few different entries; there is literally an entire page dedicated to answering this exact question. Wikipedia isn't merely a citation here, it is the answer.

  3. It asks for no detail or analysis beyond what can be found on Wikipedia. In other words, simply quoting or paraphrasing Wikipedia is a perfectly valid answer. For those who remember Bloom's Taxonomy from grade school, this is a pure Knowledge question; rote facts, requiring no comprehension of the subject at all.

  4. Literally any word can be substituted for "tapioca" to create a new question. There is no theoretical upper bound to the number of similar questions that can be asked.

Note that the above is merely characterizing that type of question; it is not intended to be a justification for or against having them.

There's already some history/precedent around this. It's not implemented anywhere, but Jeff Atwood and Robert Cartaino proposed a special close reason for this (quoting Robert's version):

general reference: this question is too basic; the answer is indexed in any number of general internet reference sources designed specifically to find that type of information.

But for now, no existing Stack Exchange has this reason or closes such questions by policy, so it goes without saying that I'm not taking any moderator actions. I'm bringing it up here because I would like to see some healthy discussion on this subject from the community.

Are questions that are directly and clearly answered by a general reference source (e.g. Wikipedia) appropriate for this site?

Why or why not?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 11 down vote accepted

There is a wonderful chart addressing this question in the meta boards for Science Fiction & Fantasy. (Assume that the first question also applies to Wikipedia.)

Flow chart on wikipedia-able answers

Essentially, the basic question is: can we add anything to what is currently "out there" online, either by providing a new answer, or by collating or discussing the answers that are available elsewhere.

Based on my analysis, the question about tapioca would be trivially uninteresting/general reference and thus should be closed.

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When you google just about any basic question, the first result will be the relevant Wikipedia page. –  Borror0 Feb 18 '11 at 5:40
    
@Borror0: That is probably true for most questions that are sufficiently basic. Of course that's only part of the equation and I wouldn't want to see questions getting closed just because you can find the answer on Wikipedia. The defining factor is whether or not somebody could get an answer that's equal to or better than any answer we could give by going to the appropriate Wikipedia entry and reading the first few paragraphs. –  Aaronut Feb 18 '11 at 20:20
    
There's are two minor flaws in the flow chart -- (1) 'query rewriting' -- I know that there are synonyms for the terms you used in your question that are more likely to get results; therefore, I might be able to get an answer in the first few hits, but the person asking the question may not know what the technical term for what they're looking for is. (2) conflicting answers. You might get the answer in the first few terms, but also get lots of other conflicting information (eg, watermelon seeds ) –  Joe Feb 21 '11 at 13:56
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@Joe: I don't think that either of those points apply. (1) If the alternate wording is common enough to show up in the dictionary definition or Wikipedia title then it's the same situation; if not, then the chart leads to "no" at the first step. And (2) you're missing out on the general reference aspect here; I wouldn't have closed the watermelon seeds question under this umbrella but generally speaking we are not talking about random Google results - articles, blogs, etc. - we're talking about questions that essentially call for quoting a dictionary definition or encyclopedia paragraph. –  Aaronut Feb 21 '11 at 17:09
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@Joe: The simpler (but less precise) test is simply: Does this question require either any first-hand cooking experience or research skills to answer, or is it something that anybody can answer within a couple of seconds? "Are watermelon seeds safe?" - requires some research. "What is tapioca?" - is answered directly by Wikipedia. –  Aaronut Feb 21 '11 at 17:12
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