I am curious how we can improve the quality of our open-ended based questions such that they are on-par in terms of long-term value to our more fact-based questions. Could the answers to open-form questions that try to provide direction rather than typical answers make the open-form Q&A as valuable as the more traditional closed-form Q&A?

I find myself dividing questions into two major categories.

  • Closed-form or fact-based questions: "Is X plausable?"
  • Open-form or opinion-based questions: "What happens if Y?"

Closed-form questions

When I categorize questions this way in my mind, closed-form questions have a common pattern. It comes with an attitude of "I have this great idea, but I do not know if my readers/visitors will accept it or not." Whether X is really plausible doesn't really matter much for these cases... what matters is whether the visitors to the world will accept it or not. If they accept it, hang plausibility! Viva imagination!

Of course, we don't know what our visitors will actually say until they visit our world, so we have to be more strict. The value of the closed-form questions seems to be very similar to the alternate hypothesis/null hypothesis structure used in science. "If I did have a visitor who didn't accept my idea, what fact based evidence can be presented to defend my position." This is very evident in questions like the Could underwater living organism create technology series, or the Natural Projectile Weapons question.

The effect is to say "visitors should generally not disbelieve things that exist in reality, so if we can find real defenses for our idea, then it will be easier to give our visitors a believable world."

With these closed form questions, the results appear clear to me:

  • Affirmative answers ("Yes, X is plausible") have immediate and obvious long term value, especially to google searchers.
  • Negative answers ("No, X is not plausible because of Y") bug me for other reasons, but they also have obvious long term value to save future worldbuilders time on ideas that lack believability.

Open-form questions

With open form questions, the situation is murkier. This is Worldbuilding. We are trying to be creative, and inspire creativity. If someone asks "What happens if Y," the question is officially open for creative answers, if not perhaps risking becoming a "list" question outright. What is the judging criteria for a large group of creative people exercising their creativity?

I have trouble with the long term value of such questions for worldbuilders and google searchers. So much creativity goes into the answers to open-form questions, that it would be tempting for the next worldbuilder to just start from them. However, I do not believe that's world building; rather, that is world borrowing. We didn't help them build the next world. In fact, we may have impeded creativity in the long run by distracting future searchers from finding their own simple worlds.

Using "direction" answers to reign in open-form questions

I see one approach which appears to have great promise when I mull it over. While all of our creative juices will take us to different and incomparable places, we share one common point: we all start from the question's point of reference, and then take off running from there. Right at the start of our run, we all share a common direction.

This direction is interesting to me because:

  • Two very creative people can come up with different worlds, but start running in the same direction, meaning those two people are likely to agree upon what is a good direction(answer) vs. a bad direction(answer).
  • Someone asking an open-form question is going to be re-imagining our answers in the end, so all they really need is the direction. Then they'll let their own creativity flow!
  • Future Google searchers will see not just point destinations, but entire paths where they can get off at any time and stretch their own imagination.

Examples of end-point vs direction answers:

  • (end-point) Aquatic beings would have trouble getting to the moon because water ties us together closers, so family structures would be tight and it would be hard to find astronauts. They'd probably rely on sending fish to the moon first, likely a carp because they're intelligent.
    • Natural next question: "Is there a better fish than a carp to land on the moon?"
  • (direction) Aquatic culture would be dominated by tidal forces because water can exert more force than air (scuba divers are warned about undertow). This would cause cultures to be closer knit because that makes it easier to not be separated by undertow. Close family ties could have a huge effect on how a culture grows towards colonizing the moon.
    • Natural next question: How would close knit family structures affect the growth of technology towards landing on the moon?"

I think the aquatic series of questions is barking up this tree. It is shaping up into a series of closed-form questions that add up to an open-form journey.

I find this "direction not endpoint" or "the journey, not the destination" attitude has promise for maximizing value from our open-form questions. So I'd love to ask others what creative solutions they might have to help turn the answers to open-form questions into directions. However, in the spirit of consistency, I am going to stop short of asking that open-form question. Instead...

Could the answers to open-form questions that try to provide direction rather than typical answers make the open-form Q&A as valuable as the more traditional closed-form Q&A? The best answers would include suggestions of things that could be done to provide more direction, or suggestions as to why direction isn't the way WB needs to go.


2 Answers 2


I like your take on what you term "open-form questions" this is generally how I approach these questions. for example

What is the distance between large settlements?


How can I ensure my cities don't all look the same?

which came up today.

I feel like this is a teach a man to fish kind of scenario. I don't want to create a world for other people, I want to assist them in creating their own with methods I have found useful.


"Closed-form questions" sound like . So it seems we're defining the scope of all of WB outside that tag.

Discouraging world borrowing is the same broken window fallacy used to rationalize over-expansion of copyright.

To me, your "direction" point reminds me of the "answers that explain why and how" from the "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective" essay.

Some "what happens if Y?" questions can be reworded as "In the background of a particular species or culture in this world, what challenges would they have had to overcome due to Y, and how might they have done so?". This is still open ended but less overly broad.

  • $\begingroup$ I will have to read that essay and comment on it. But I did want to clear up what might be a confusion regarding my word choice. I wanted to discourage world borrowing, but I didn't explain why (I will edit the metapost when I get a chance). I want to avoid borrowing world not because "they're my world," but because of my personal life experience regarding borrowing creative ideas. I find that, if you give a person too good of a creative idea, they often turn it into a prison for their own ideas rather than a springboard for them without even realizing it. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 17:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am not worried about those asking the question getting pinned in by our ideas. They certainly understand how this site works. However, I am concerned for Google searchers. In programming, the general rule these days is "if StackOverflow says it, it is authoritative." That attitude could be treacherous as we turn open-ended explorations into answers. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 17:08

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