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Yesterday, a user asked How do you set up a long term colony on Mercury. The original title and text were

How could we survive on Mercury?

I am doing a project on planets and I was given Mercury. I need to say (in no more than 10 lines) how I would survive on planet Mercury.

This was edited until it reached its current form:

How do you set up a long term colony on Mercury

I want to set up a long-term self-sustaining colony on Mercury. What and how needs to be done for a colony to survive and thrive on the planet Mercury?

I was not involved in either the voting to close or voting to reopen, though I monitored the question since it was asked. I would certainly have voted to close the question (if my vote was non-binding), in its initial form, for several reasons:

  • It's not a question about worldbuilding, at all.
  • It's not very clear what the criteria for survival (i.e. the background for the question) are.
  • The author didn't show any effort in trying to answer the problem posed.

After the third edit, though, the question was put in a form I might not have voted to close . . . if it weren't for the fact that the original question was not about worldbuilding. The author is not (presumably) building a world about a colony on Mercury; it's a hypothetical situation for a project.

Based on this, it seems clear that it shouldn't be on-topic. So here's the question at hand: If a question not at all about worldbuilding is edited into a form possibly suitable for the site - different from the author's original form - but still not motivated by worldbuilding, is it on-topic or off-topic? My personal opinion is that it should be closed as off-topic, but obviously I'm not going to unilaterally close the question again.

What do people think? On-topic? Off-topic? Both? Neither? None of the above? I'm asking both about this question in particular and the general question class it belongs to.

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    $\begingroup$ Even if the OP doesn't want to use the answers for worldbuilding, that does not mean they will not be useful to someone else who does. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Nov 7 '16 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh I know; that's the one thing that gives me pause. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 7 '16 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Judging on the OP's motivations seems difficult at best. I think the question only should be the focus of the moderation. $\endgroup$ – PatJ Nov 7 '16 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with closing something like this and leaving it closed is that eventually someone else will come asking the exact same question, but from a world building perspective and that one will be closed as duplicate or they will see that other one was closed and just assume their question is off topic. So in the long run leaving it closed is harmful and makes no sense in the Archival way that SE is supposed to be used. Also the user made an account indicating they have interest, considering you don't have to have an account to ask a Q, so it's a turn off to them when it doesn't have to be. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Nov 7 '16 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868, voted to repoen, did not see the history. The edited form seems on-topic to me $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Nov 7 '16 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ According to Is a “real world” question off topic? just about anything is on topic if any answer to it can have applications to worldbuilding... (I still disagree; see my answer there for more in-depth discussion relevant to that specific case and also probably generally applicable.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 8 '16 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ The main criteria should be the question relevance to worldbuilding. Intentionality is a poor basis for closing questions. Some questions here seem to asked for the fun of asking them; often skating close to closure. But what if a genuine worldbuilder asks something that is ludicrous and nonsensical yet is part of their world? If intention was a criterion, it might be closed because of its absurdity & deemed not worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 13 '16 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe this is a stupid question, but how is "World Building" being defined? Does the world have to be in a story or a game? A novel or a child's book? Or could it be in the mind of a student needing to answer a question of possibility? I understand this is drawing a fine line, but who makes the call in answering, "What is World Building"? $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Nov 15 '16 at 18:49
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I think I agree with Durakken's position here:

The problem with closing something like this and leaving it closed is that eventually someone else will come asking the exact same question, but from a world building perspective and that one will be closed as duplicate or they will see that other one was closed and just assume their question is off topic. So in the long run leaving it closed is harmful and makes no sense in the Archival way that SE is supposed to be used. Also the user made an account indicating they have interest, considering you don't have to have an account to ask a Q, so it's a turn off to them when it doesn't have to be.

The motivation behind a question is not really important, since what we are trying to create here is a definitive source of information for anyone trying to build a world. This question and answer as it currently stands is very relevant for anyone trying to build a world, so is on topic and should be open.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's valid point. My argument against it is the same as Michael's; namely, that this could make virtually anything about the real-world on-topic. But I understand that's not the most popular position. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 9 '16 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 If a question about the real-world is needed to contribute towards building a world, then yes that's on-topic. But if the question is about the real-world without WB relevance, then no. Judgement needs to be exercised. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 13 '16 at 12:33
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A little late to this party, but I want to put in my perspective on what this site is useful for.

I (like many) came from Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow is massive and much visited (the 43rd most visited website in the world, according to Alexa) as an archive of information. It is much more than a q & a site; when you google something about programming, there is a very good chance that the answer to your question is already on Stack Overflow.

An internet archive for all things Worldbuilding is what I always assumed was the goal of this site. So the on-topic criterion should not be 'did the OP ask this question about worldbuilding' but 'do we want people searching for worldbuilding information to be able to find the answer to this question here,' if that makes sense.

Another way to look at it is: what if I posted the modified version of the question, with no intent to write a book about it, but just to generate an entry in our worldbuilding archive. Would it be on-topic then? I argue it doesn't matter how the question got here, as long as it belongs here in its final form, we should keep it.

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