Evolution in the scope of the site is not a bad thing, we've learned a lot about what does and does not work in the over-a-year since the site first entered private beta. I'll use a number of my own questions as examples here to avoid picking on anyone else.

Certain questions are clearly both popular and answerable both from the number of views and the number of up-votes they are getting. I've chosen my top 5 highest voted questions to discuss. Of the 48 questions I've asked at the time of writing these are the five that proved the most popular with voters. It's notable that each of these was also on the Hot Network Question list and in at least one case was on it for over a week. As a result many of the people voting may well not have been regular Worldbuilding users, however regular Worldbuilders did get it into HNQ in the first place.

How would Facebook Sysadmins prevent the summoning of Cthulhu?

About Worldbuilding? This is not about defining something concrete and part of the world, for example a mountain or a city. However it is about mechanics inside a world. Specifically what methods are feasible for people to use to face this threat. When designing a mountain part of building that world is specifying how people can climb that mountain. Here I've defined part of the mountain (Cthulu friending people) but am looking for plausible ways to climb it.

Risking off-topic? Borderline on whether it is plot or world building.

Santa is Satan, but why?

About Worldbuilding? This one treads close to the "actions of an individual person" line. The "out" here is that Satan/Santa isn't really treated as an individual character, it's an essential part of the framing of the world.

Risking off-topic? Borderline on "individual person" or Worldbuilding. Note that I wrote this as part of the "Santa" challenge which almost guaranteed a lot of questions about an individual, was that challenge a bad idea? It was certainly popular both with regular users of the site and visitors.

What's the most likely “post democracy” form of political government?

About Worldbuilding? Selecting methods of government for countries is an important part of worldbuilding when working at that scale.

Risking off-topic? It Risks straying into "list based" answers or idea generation which is why I was careful to narrow the field and specify the criteria by which answers would be rated.

In an atheist alien society where bodily functions (reproduction and waste elimination) are not taboo what would be used to curse?

About Worldbuilding? This is about building the society of inhabitants of a world. While individual people would be using these terms that actual nature of them is a part of that society and hence the world.

Risking off-topic? This had the same problem as the "post democracy" question that it could easily be too broad or Idea Generation.

Planetary Scale Artworks

About Worldbuilding? This is clearly about building worlds (or multiple worlds).

Risking off-topic? Again this risks going too broad or idea generation.

Hopefully this list starts to illustrate the problem here, every single one of those questions could be argued as either off topic or on topic. Looking at my next few questions we see the same thing as well: Alien Viewpoints risks idea generation, Centaur Feeding is probably fine, Natural Projectile Weapons again could be idea generation, Landmass Formation is fine.

So of my top 9 questions only 2 do not in some way risk being classified as off topic. So where do we draw the line? Is the popularity of these questions enough to justify their existence? My personal opinion is that by itself popularity is not enough to save a single question, however if a lot of similar questions are popular then we should consider the fact that clearly the people using this site have an appetite for questions along these lines.

So I invite people, take a look at these questions and answer in the comments to this answer. Should they be closed, if so why? If not then do we need to adjust the guidelines to say why they should not be closed? I promise not to get offended, I just offered them up as sacrifices for the greater good after all :)

For what it's worth I believe that all those questions are on topic for the site (or I wouldn't have asked them) but several are definitely pushing a long way into the "grey area" between what is actually building the world and what is not. Anything that can reduce the grey and make the boundaries more explicit would be a positive step.

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    $\begingroup$ I think scope trumps popularity every time. If everyone starts upvoting questions about programming, we aren't just going to morph into Stack Overflow. I think the reason we tend to flow with popularity is because we're still defining our scope, which is a problem all its own. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2016 at 16:40

3 Answers 3


Spoilers: I'm going to say most of these are Idea Generation.

1. How would Facebook Sysadmins prevent the summoning of Cthulhu?

About worldbuilding? Meh. This one seemed what-iffy to me - there was no clear link between the fact that Cthulhu was running rampant and needed to be stopped by the sysadmins, and the world it was happening in. This wasn't so much about worldbuilding as specific-event-building, which I don't think is what we're here for.
On/Off Topic? Off topic. Idea Generation, or if we had a plot-building close reason I'd be using that.

2. Santa is Satan, but why?

About worldbuilding? No. This is character-building. Again, there's no link to the world here - why are the answers any different based on the world it's all in?
On/Off Topic? Off topic. It's almost the definition of idea generation - there was an attempt to add an objective criterion, which would have salvaged it (though it would still not be worldbuilding), but define plausibility - that's still subjective.

3. What's the most likely "post democracy" form of political government?

About worldbuilding? Yes. There is clear evidence that this could easily be used as part of building a world based on Earth in the future. There could be more details about the world added, but I'm happy with the worldbuilding aspect here.
On/Off Topic? Tentative on-topic. There is potential that this could be IG, or even primarily opinion-based, but frankly the nature of WB is such that quite a lot of question are. We should apply the IG and POB close reasons sparingly, therefore, and I wouldn't use one on this question.

4. In an atheist alien society where bodily functions (reproduction and waste elimination) are not taboo what would be used to curse?

About worldbuilding? Yes - this was an excellent question. There's detail about the society, the tech level, the state of the world. This is the kind of thing we want more of.
On/Off Topic? Do I even have to answer this? Absolutely on-topic.

5. Planetary Scale Artworks

About worldbuilding? Eeeeehh. Race-building, perhaps. Thing-building, more like. I'd be tempted to say it's not. There's not much information about the universe they live in.
On/Off Topic? Off-topic, as Idea Generation. It's quite literally asking for ideas.

  • $\begingroup$ This is solid analysis...I concur $\endgroup$
    – James
    Feb 5, 2016 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ I think this is spot on as well. Something else that might be worth considering is the question text itself. Questions 3 and 4 actually represent the real nature of the question. Questions 1, 2, and 5 have less descriptive names and the content of the question might not be what a user expected. Questions 1 and 2 also feel like they were designed to be click bait. Looking at the current site, it seems as though it's become common for the "Question" to really be a topic (that doesn't even have a question mark after it). Like "Planetary Scale Artworks", this seems to encourage idea gen. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Feb 5, 2016 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, to tweak the question slightly. should these be off topic? And why for each one. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Feb 6, 2016 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ See also the fact that "individual actions" doesn't necessarily apply to godlike/leadership style characters that are used as a part of the world (for example designing a pantheon) rather than as characters in their own right $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Feb 6, 2016 at 13:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TimB I like the scope as it is (or should technically be, if it were enforced correctly) - so that question doesn't change these responses. $\endgroup$
    – ArtOfCode
    Feb 6, 2016 at 17:05

Summoning Cthulu - It's just a fancy way of saying 'there's a virus, how do they stop it?' It's more about dealing with a specific, limited instance, rather than building out a world. You weren't asking how this could be prevented, and you're not asking about the long-term effects. Thus, I'd say it's off-topic because it's about individual actions. Possibly refactor and ask on another site on the network where they deal with hardware problems.

Santan This one's tough, because while it deals with an individual character, that character has a lot of power over the world, and the question deals with his actions over a long period of time; thus, the reasons behind his actions could actually have profound effects upon the world. The bigger problem I see is that it's too-broad/opinion-based/idea-generation; there's no good way to deal with this character's motivations except to make an incredibly long list of possibilities. 'Judged based on plausibility' seems like a pretty flimsy and subjective criteria.

Post-Democracy I find the use of the word 'might' dangerous here, almost as though you knew going in that this was going to be idea generation. And again, judged on plausibility. The right answer should be right because it's the right answer, not because it's the best-looking guess anyone could come up with. Also, this is about our world, our future without anything changed. I once had a question closed because it was about our world; I agreed with that closure, but if other people disagree then I'll nominate it for re-opening.

Curses I think this one is fine; I don't know why. Though I would say it could look bad based on answers.

Big Art Close as too broad. What are the limits of these beings' power? Without an upper bound, the number of possible answers is literally limitless.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ We did specifically discuss "god-like" characters as not automatically off topic. I think Jesus and Elminster were the examples used. Their actions/the characters may be on topic because those actions impact the entire globe at a fundamental level. But it was all about how the questions were asked/framed. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Feb 5, 2016 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @James Are you thinking about Questions about single individual actions? Because that's the one I was thinking of for that part. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2016 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah that seems like the one, though I could have sworn Elminster was brought up...I have no idea why that comes to mind but it does. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Feb 5, 2016 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @James I also found Are questions about characters and personalities on-topic?. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2016 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that was the one I was thinking of. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Feb 5, 2016 at 20:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think plausibility is a valid (if subjective) measuring stick. There's a lot of stuff we have to ban otherwise. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Feb 6, 2016 at 13:55

1. How would Facebook sysadmin prevent the summoning of Cthulhu ?

About worldbuilding ?

This is quite hard to answer. If you had asked about what will the sysadmin do, it would definitively be about plot. Since you ask what they can do, it can be interpreted as a question not about the characters, but about the world.

I can not conclude only based on that, but I do not know what to add which will actually make sense (and I spent like 2 hours searching, and it is already to much introspection for one day). My instinct tells me it is not worldbuilding, but it is not consistent with my instinct about question 5.

So "No... ish".

2. Santa is Satan, but why?

The real question actually is :

What reason would the font of all evil and the generally unpleasant one have to pretend to be a jolly fat man and give away presents to make people happy for one day each year?

About worldbuilding ?

Yes. You ask about the devil, as a force of nature, a fundamental principle. The answer you implements in your world, will shape the way of thinking of the absolute evil there. That is a defining property of the world you are building.

However, if you consider Satan and Santa has just two guys, it is about plot, but it is not how I understand the question.

On topic ?

The problem is rating the answers. You propose :

Would a very powerful evil being of corruption and darkness actually think that's a good plan?

But that is a cyclic argument, if your evil being do it, it obviously thinks it is a good plan. So it does not help, since you basically tell us to use what we are asked to define to judge an answer.

3. What's the most likely "post democracy" form of political government?

About worldbuilding ?

Yes. It can actually be useful to build a near-future world.

On topic ?

Yes. The definition for the judgement of the answer is :

Answers will be rated based on plausibility (both that the society will function and that we could transition to it) and on originality (they should be different both from our current systems of governance and ones that have been widely used in the past).

One important point is that the criterion of plausibility is fundamentally different from the one of the previous question. We have historical examples and other kind of data to let one judges if a scenario is actually plausible or not. Of course, since these data are based on social sciences, there is still some subjectivity and interpretation, but that is a problem of social sciences in general and not of the question itself.

4. In an atheist alien society where bodily functions (reproduction and waste elimination) are not taboo what would be used to curse?

That is a question about social science (here linguistic) in a given setup. As such the question have the same flaws and quality as the precedent.

However, to be a bit formalist, it lacks a criterion to rate the answers. I do not see why the accepted answer is better than the second most rated one (more on that at the end).

5. Planetary Scale Artworks

About worldbuilding ?

That is basically the same trick as in the first question. You do not ask about what your beings will do, but what they can do, knowing their objectives. However here, my instinct tell me it is about worldbuilding.

So "Yes... ish".

Concluding remarks

Both questions 1. and 5. are about exploring the possibilities offered by a world to then choosing one. The possibilities it offers are part of a world, so I think we should either accept both as valid questions, or both as not valid ones.

The other thing is that in my opinion all questions, except (arguably) 3, are equally "idea generation", in the sense that they do not provide an actual way of rating the answers. It is yet easy to spot an answer which make sense from one which does not, but it is not possible to select the answer, not even the best one.

I actually think that all question are acceptable with respect to that last point. However my main point here is more that they should not be treated differently. For example 2. and 4. both as much lacks of objective criterion to rate the answer.


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