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I know this is a sensitive subject, and people seem to have a quite absolute opinion about it: posts not strictly and exclusively about Ubuntu.

  • Would I encourage people using other distros to post questions here? No!
  • Would I close questions which possibly can be caused by distro-specific issues (non-Ubuntu)? Absolutely!

We are not idiots however Most of the time, we can see if an issue is possibly caused by a distro-specific issue, but more importantly, when it isn't.
If a question is an obviously generic Linux question, useful to us, 100% without a doubt applicable to Ubuntu, 100% certain not caused by a (-nother) distro's specific issue, would I close a useful question?

Hell no.

That is why, among others, this closure hurts my eyes. You are wasting useful information, hurting the site. Let's not act like machines, in a binary type of decision taking. Reality is more complicated then a set of rules.

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The reasons why we close questions that are not about Ubuntu are really good reasons and we should keep doing that. I expressed my views on this in chat. To quote myself (because this meta post came at a time when I can't quite give it all the attention it deserves)

It seems to me totally unreasonable to make reviewers responsible for knowing exactly how Ubuntu differs from any other distro

There are some people who edit distro info out of questions because they have such awesome knowledge they know the problem isn't specific to the other distro, but I think it's a big problem to set a precedent for doing that or a policy for doing that. If non-super knowledgeable people who just had the vague or wrong idea that something was the same on Ubuntu and Mint were doing that, it would be a really unmanageable situation for reviewers and probably affect the site quality badly over time.

We don't close questions that are specific to EOL versions and that makes sense because we know what has changed between Ubuntu versions - that information is easily available, and somewhat embodied on the site, but the differences between even similar distros are subtle, myriad and not documented in any accessible way anywhere.

To summarise, we need a simple policy for deciding whether something is or is not about Ubuntu. We cannot have a policy that requires everyone who reviews to have a high level of expertise on distros that are not Ubuntu.

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    "We need a simple policy" no, we need good decisions. If a policy leads to a waist of relevant info, you have to ask yourself. If you doubt if an issue is distro specific, close! If you can't see cases like the linked question aren't distro specific however, you shouldn't be pushing the buttons at all. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 3 at 18:21
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    @JacobVlijm we have a clear policy: if you're not running Ubuntu, then your question is off topic. You chose to answer an off topic question, thereby increasing the information available on the site and helping the OP. Great! Then, other users correctly voted to close since GalliumOS is not Ubuntu and questions concerning it don't belong here, thereby clearing up the site. Also great! So this seems like the best possible outcome: the site remains on topic and the OP has an answer. Your stance here seems very odd. The post won't be deleted, it's there, just closed. So what else do you want? – terdon Feb 3 at 19:06
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    Also, since you knew that this was a distro-agnostic issue, you could have edited the question to make it on topic. I really don't understand why you didn't do that and instead came here with exaggerations like "hurts my eyes" and "you shouldn't be pushing buttons". – terdon Feb 3 at 19:08
  • @terdon ANY rule should be able to handle exceptions. Read the definitions for closing posts on SE, SO or whatever: "posts, not useful to the site". Read the question: not useful to the site? Again: keeping a rule to to keep the rule is, well.... – Jacob Vlijm Feb 3 at 20:38
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    @JacobVlijm I don't make the policy. If you want to change the scope of the site, go ahead and open a meta discussion explaining your desired topic definition. But, as it stands, we have decided that this site is only about Ubuntu. So that question was correctly closed. If you know the question is equally applicable to Ubuntu, then edit the question to make it on topic. I still don't get why you didn't do that and instead want to change the entire site's scope. – terdon Feb 3 at 21:14
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    But @terdon I don't feel very comfortable with the idea of others editing the original question either, I mentioned that at the end of my answer: meta.askubuntu.com/a/18429/480481 – pomsky Feb 8 at 21:36
  • @pomsky same here. I argued extensively against that in chat. Thanks for posting! – Zanna Feb 9 at 6:41
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Jacob, posting this as I know you're a bit miffed now. You're not a N00b here and you're a good guy. :-) Next time, drop by in chat, ping the regulars, ask for an opinion, and especially:

Breathe in; breathe out.

Doing only the former will make you red-faced whereas the other one will make you faint or worse...

:-)

  • Hehe, thanks. I pretty much know the opinions on this. "I am not angry, I am just disappointed" we would euphemistically say in the Neterlands. Although I kind of expected how things would run, still think it is necessary to throw it in. Always a bummer if people turn things in reverse: you probably remember my statement from a while ago: "it is not the theory that dictates the music, it is the music that tells the theory". I feel AU is in reverse for quite a while now. Some people assume you need to stick to the rules, although you see its undesired results. Forcing the music to the theory. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 3 at 21:50
  • Not afraid to strongly disagree with that. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 3 at 21:59
  • @JacobVlijm ...and Music is fuel for the soul... It happens everywhere: when a start-up turns into a process-driven company, the process becomes more important then the goal the process is trying to achieve... Alas: human nature and the creative souls like the flexibility and creativity and the rule-followers like the rules above everything else! ;-) – Fabby Feb 3 at 22:04
  • ^ Exactly that! – Jacob Vlijm Feb 3 at 22:19
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I don't see a reason to override Ask Ubuntu (AU)'s policy of supporting only official Ubuntu flavours (OUF) by not closing a question in which OP clearly mentions that they're using a non-OUF distro, a good reason behind this being the existence of an analogous site that would ideally support the question: Unix & Linux Stack Exchange (U&L). Often it seems users, especially newcomers post questions at AU while using a non-OUF distro due to one of the two reasons:

  1. They have a misconception that all Ubuntu-based distros are supported
  2. Simply they're lost and ended up at the wrong site

I believe then it's very reasonable to close the question as "off-topic, not about Ubuntu" and optionally leaving a comment directing OP to a right place to ask the question (it would be included in the closure message anyway).
As a side note, I would have preferred a direct migration path to U&L for close-voters, but I understand there is a good reason for not having that feature.

I can also see some potential problems with selectively closing and not closing non-OUF questions. If we don't draw a clear line in the sand, then it might cause a rift between groups of users with mutually exclusive interests in the community on closing / "non-closing" a particular question every now and then. Let me give a more explicit hypothetical example:
Someone posts a question about a non-OUF distro, but they use GNOME. Now some users who use Ubuntu with GNOME may think that the issue is not distro-specific but related to GNOME and can be useful for Ubuntu users too. So they act accordingly (e.g. upvoting, posting answers, voting to "leave open" or voting to reopen if it gets closed etc.). On the other hand users who don't use GNOME might think the question is specific to the distro OP is using. "GNOME-haters" (it seems that's a real thing at AU, it came up in a chatroom a few months ago that there is pattern of questions (even some completely unclear and low-quality garbage questions), in which OP is facing a problem apparently with GNOME, getting some automatic-and-free upvotes) may be slightly more than eager to downvote / close / delete the question.

Also I believe not closing non-OUF questions (and welcoming them by upvoting and answering instead) would increase the probability of them being referenced in future to justify other non-OUF questions. Even by now I have already seen a handful of times OP claiming something along the lines of ".. but I have seen many questions about <enter-distro-name> here..." after their question about <enter-distro-name> has been closed as "off-topic, not about Ubuntu". Right now this claim is quite easy to refute as almost always questions about <enter-distro-name> are indeed closed.

Often we find questions posted at AU or meta-AU which are nothing but rants (usually) by new users after their questions have been received poorly (downvoted / closed / deleted etc.) complaining about the way the user is being treated here. Unfortunately most of the times the underlying reason is not knowing how the site works (many still confuses AU with other forums or as a tech-support site). If we start welcoming non-OUF questions which are useful to us, then whenever a user complains after getting their question closed for being a question about non-OUF <enter-distro-name>, they'll have the opportunity to cite other questions about <enter-distro-name> that were received well. Telling them "your question was closed because other questions about <enter-distro-name> were useful to us whereas yours is not" would just strengthen their belief that they're being persecuted wrongfully, I reckon.


So, what to do about the wastage of useful information? I have planned a course of action for me sometime back in the case I come upon a useful question about a non-OUF distro:

  1. determine (the core of) the question to be valid for Ubuntu also
  2. confirm would be able to answer the question
  3. post a self-answered new question (almost) identical to the original question
  4. go back to the original question, vote to close as "off-topic, not about Ubuntu", and leave a comment for OP, something like the following:

    (Welcome to Ask Ubuntu.) Unfortunately your question is off-topic here as only official flavours of Ubuntu are supported here. Please consider deleting your question and posting at our sister site Unix & Linux Stack Exchange. However, [this answer](link-to-the-newly-posted-answer) should work with Ubuntu. You might also find it useful.

In fact, turns out this is something @dessert did to deal with the disputed question (i.e. posting a self-answered question, although they eventually deleted their own answer).

Unfortunately, I myself haven't got a chance to follow the course yet. But in cases after voting to close a question I have left links to older answers by others for OP which I thought they might find useful.


P.S. I am not very comfortable with the idea of others editing the original question about a non-OUF distro and removing the reference of the distro just to convert the question into an on-topic one either. I feel after such an edit we, as a community, should feel obliged to provide a working solution a for OP. In the (perhaps unlikely, but still not improbable) event of all the Ubuntu-specific answers posted to the question turning out to be unhelpful to OP, it would feel like robbing OP of their own question and wasting their valuable time.

  • It is really extremely simple: if you are afraid people will see an answer from a non-Ubuntu user as a precedent to post OT questions, edited it out. The default procedure is: close a question if you see it comes from a Mint/Elementary or whatever user, unless it has an on topic answer and the Q is, without the distro info, totally on topic. I really am unable to see the difference between "what means ls -l" or "what means ls -l [,I am a mint user] <- edited out. The only problem we have that somehow, people (on AU) are afraid the site will be overwhelmed with .... (to be continued) – Jacob Vlijm Feb 8 at 21:39
  • questions from people from other distro's. That is however not a problem in the question, once edited, but in our minds. I agree to what is said before. The origin of a question or its poster is irrelevant. If it is a good one, clear one, relevant and 100% applicable to Ubuntu, it is on topic. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 8 at 21:42
  • Once again: we like to help people, but we are not a help desk. We don't answer for just OP, we are building a database of relevant and useful information for Ubuntu users. Like any other useless information, editing out irrelevant information like distro, is a great edit. Similar to editing out "Hey, I am on 19.04 and want to know what ls -l means." -> edit out 19.04, remove the tag. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 8 at 21:48
  • Sorry for saying this, I am totally, totally lost at what you suggest on 4. In fact, then you say "yeah, the Q is on topic, but since you come from another distro, we'll close the question, and WE will ask the question again for you, and although we do NOT accept the question when YOU write it, we do when we repeat the exact same question and you are allowed to read the answer. Que? My serious concern is then for the site to be taken seriously, outside the scope we narrowed our minds to. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 8 at 22:21
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    @jacob Okay, couple of issues: 1. Why would posting a self-answered question instead not be helpful in "building a database of relevant and useful information for Ubuntu users"? – pomsky Feb 8 at 22:27
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    2. Let's consider your example of ls -l on Mint/19.04. To edit the Mint/19.04 part out and/or answer the question, I must know (i) which package provides the ls command? (ii) Does Mint/19.04 use the same package? (iii) If it's the same package, then which version of the package does it use? (iv) Does -l work in the same way as it does in my version of Ubuntu? These all may sound extremely silly, but try thinking with a slightly non-trivial replacement of ls -l. In fact, just try thinking wrt the disputed question. – pomsky Feb 8 at 22:27
  • ....work in the same way as it does in my version of Ubuntu? - I don't need to know, I am posting an answer for Ubuntu. If it works for Mint or not is irrelevant, I am here to give a good answer for Ubuntu users. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 8 at 22:30
  • On the close - repeat question again - answer question again- drag OP to the copy-pasted answer (from your own example) thing: once again let me make sure I am not trying to offend you, just flabbergasted by the idea I can assure you, it is quite absurd. Many things are relative in life, but seriously, just to do the whole, sorry to repeat myself, circus, just to twist your mind around something that doesn't even exist, is for me the limit. If that would be the "official" practice, I wouldn't want to be associated with it. Glad it isn't. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 8 at 22:36
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    @jacob That's something I tried to raise in the answer. Closing an off-topic question is a mechanism that teaches the user how to use this site and and also directs them to a right place to ask their question. By considering whether the solutions would be applicable to OP as irrelevant in order to to give a good answer for Ubuntu users, we're kinda, as I said before, robbing OP of their own question and may waste their valuable time. – pomsky Feb 8 at 23:23
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    And this would most likely increase the number of persons who feel Ask Ubuntu is a useless community where no help to be found by 1. Often we forget that there is a person behind a question. I'm not sure how good of an idea that is. – pomsky Feb 8 at 23:23
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    @jacob About 4. That's just my awkward idea to uphold the community rules and guidelines without losing valuable info. You're totally free to find it preposterous, no offence taken :) If you want an example, consider checking what dessert did to deal with the disputed question: askubuntu.com/q/1115520 My idea is to show OP a couple of things, viz. scope of the site and a right place for them to get help. As I said before I'm not sure how wise it is to completely disregard the person behind a question in order to build a database of relevant and useful information for Ubuntu users. – pomsky Feb 8 at 23:25
  • Quite frankly, I don't need to "teach" OP anything, he tried to get an answer on AU, he'll get an Ubuntu answer if the Q is a relevant one for us. Next time he's free to try again. Either he'll get another answer -for Ubuntu- if it's a good one, or it'll be closed as OT if it isn't a relevant Q for us. Either way, I am afraid we're in a loop here. – Jacob Vlijm Feb 8 at 23:39

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