This is something that we have done on as ad hoc basis up until now, but I think we might need to take a step back and look at the problem again together.

A quick recap.

In certain instances, community leaders (mods and higher-rep users) have organized the composition of "canonical" questions and answers: high-signal "exhaustive" responses to a question we see repeatedly being raised, perhaps in subtly varying forms.

The first time we did this, I believe, was in response to a glut of queries about the utility (and sometimes, somewhat more cynically, about the cash-value) of studying philosophy. The wise and benevolent @stoicfury took a constructive leadership role here; he formulated the question as straightforwardly as possible and composed a clear, crisp, well-researched response. We now had a master question to refer people to when the concern inevitably came up again.

My major purpose here is to get a little more formality and transparency around this process, as well as permit the main body of the community to shoulder some of the burden of composing canonical Q&As.

What might be some good candidates for this "canonicalization" process? (Currently I am thinking about "who is a philosopher?" and "how to become a student of philosophy?", both of which have several instances floating around. What others might be out there?)

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And of course: which generous community members might be willing to lend their energy to help clean up this place a little bit? –  Joseph Weissman Jan 9 '13 at 23:59
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I'd be up for writing such canonical questions from time to time. –  Niel de Beaudrap Jan 16 '13 at 15:37

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think, perhaps, that the best way to organize such an endeavor might be through a "canonical question" request system via meta.

  1. User perceives the need for a "Canonical Question" to constructively generalize one or more questions that they have seen recently.

  2. User checks on meta to see whether there is a "Question Request: ⟨topic⟩" post, perhaps with a corresponding subject [canonical-question] tag for easy searching. Such a question might have a format similar to the following.

    Canonical Question Request: Solopsism

    We've been seeing a lot of confused posts recently, which purport to be written by other people who don't understand precisely what solopsism entails (see e.g. [link #1], [link #2]). Can these be constructively generalized? Does there exist anyone in the forum but me, who thinks that this would be worthwhile?

    If such a posting does not already exist, and the user thinks that there should be, they may choose to create that post themself. (They might even do this if they intend to create the canonical question themselves, in a sort of meta-Q&A self-answering format: see below.)

  3. There are a few simple ways to solicit users to write canonical questions.

    • Depend on people visiting meta, or looking at the community bulletin for notices of question-requests.

    • If a user writes a particularly good answer or comment on one of the instances of the question to be generalized, a high-rep user or moderator can tap them on the shoulder by directing them to the question-request, via a comment.

    • It can be brought up in chat.

    Anyone who agrees to write a canonical question can indicate this by posting an answer on the post in meta. Once they actually have written the question, they can update that answer and provide a link.

Anyone looking for a canonical question can then look among the question-request posts in meta, which indicates (1) that other people have perceived the need and (2) whether the job has actually been done, or at least whether there are volunteers in the process of making one. Even if a user wishes to write the canonical question themselves, writing a post in meta allows the user to gauge whether other people think it would fulfill a real need, and also to make it easier for others later to see that the subject has been broached before.

(Perhaps a [canonical-question] tag in the main site would make it easier to search to see whether such a canonical question has been written; but in any case the involvement in meta would be useful for determining whether the canonical question is thought worthwhile, and for co-ordinating volunteers to write it.)

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This feels like a workable framework. I'm wondering though if we really need a separate meta post for each; do you think it would be too chaotic just to work from one meta post with a master checklist? –  Joseph Weissman Jan 17 '13 at 6:02
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It depends on precisely how organised you think the participants are. I think having a separate post for each request would be optimal for crowd-sourcing, as it gives publicity to each request. It also makes it easier to point recruits to the request, unless you have in mind a meta question "What topics do we need canonical questions for?" with various answers, "We need a canonical question for topic X! [Update] one has now been written by user234 [link]", and so forth. –  Niel de Beaudrap Jan 17 '13 at 10:41

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