Recently in chat the topic of community wiki questions came up, and turned into a discussion of taking select topics that we get a lot of broad questions to and providing resources so that users can answer them for themselves.

https://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/17213/conversation/community-wiki-to-handle-common-off-topic-questions

This isn't without precedent, as seen in this CW post on stackoverflow about C++ programming books:

https://stackoverflow.com/questions/388242/the-definitive-c-book-guide-and-list

So what makes a good community wiki post? According to a stack exchange blog post on the future of community wiki, CW posts should not be used as a way to get around the rules, specifically, not to sneak in just for fun questions, and not to be a quick fix to allow on topic but problematic questions.

The purpose of this is not to replace valid questions, or even provide answers to broad or off topic questions. The purpose would be to provide resources to help users either bring their question on topic, or allow them to answer their own question.

A few examples:

A user asks a broad question about building a magic system. They could then have their question flagged as a duplicate of the community wiki on magic, which would have lots of information and ideas on making balanced, consistent magic systems. With that information they could then either answer their own question, or narrow it down to bring in inside site guild lines.

  • Related idea: "canonical questions". (No time to expand on this right now, but you'll find some discussion on Meta.SE and probably Meta.SO. Probably elsewhere too.) – Monica Cellio Sep 28 at 22:49

I support this idea. I run into the need for it all the time.

I find a solid pattern of new world builders that come here asking a question which is not a good fit for the site, but where they could easily have answered the question on their own if they knew just a little more. For example, this happens in the domain of Time Travel all the time. Many novice world builders come with the assumption that there is one correct form of time travel, and ask some question about killing a grandfather. The whole beauty of time travel is that there are myriad solutions to that problem, and the author gets to choose which ones they want. This rapidly leads to the question being closed as too story based or unclear.

Now these questions should be closed. They don't fit the site. But having your question closed by 5 people in 3 minutes as "not good enough" is a really daunting experience. Sure, one of us might take the time to write a comment directing them to the sandbox, but we've already announced that we're not willing to answer their question.

Picture a different story. Imagine if there were a Community-Wiki question on Time Travel, with the most common gotchas all listed. There could be an answer recommending people read up on Novikov's Consistency Principle. For those who are seeking a broader answer, an answer summarizing the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on Causality may be able to address the concept of free will and time travel. We might have an answer which links to a Universe Factory article containing advice on how to pick your time travel methodology.

Now, the same question comes in. It is closed, as it should be. But now it can be closed as a duplicate of this Community-Wiki question, with comments saying, "You may be able to answer this question yourself, after reading this answer" or "If you read this answer, you'll realize that there's a great WorldBuilding question just around the corner. You just need to learn a little more first."

Now, instead of giving them the cold shoulder, we can point them towards the resources we believe will help them in their WorldBuilding efforts, as I feel it should be.

These overarching questions would make for poor non-Community-wiki questions. Given that their explicit intent is to help answer many many worldbuilding questions, they will almost certainly be too broad to stand on their own. They aren't questions. They are collections of resources for new WorldBuilders. We really need something broader than a proper question, and a community-wiki question fits that bill.

Ideally, I don't want to see a bunch of new good questions closed as duplicates of the community wiki. The purpose would not be to close new questions. It would be to provide a better way to close the questions which needed to be closed anyway in a way that also helps the poor world builder out.

Topics I can see fitting this pattern:

  • Time Travel
  • Building a Magic system (always too story based, but the general principles are timeless)
  • War (Few truly grasp what war is, so the questions are often off the mark)
  • Economics and Trade
  • AI and consciousness (what can real AIs do, and what happens when you try to bring the 'c' word into the discussion)

Edit: I'm going to keep a running-log of sorts of new questions that I think are perfect examples of this issue, as I see them. I won't catalogue old questions, so this shows an ongoing trend of questions that could use these CWs:

  • I just came across a need for it here worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/126632/… . Both an AI and an economics/trade CW, together, would become an answer for an otherwise open-ended question. – Cort Ammon Oct 4 at 4:24
  • How about a tag like concept-help or world-concepts where all the posts are community wiki, so you can search for them when you need to explain one of the topics you described to someone who doesn't quite understand it. Or does a tag like this already exist? – John Locke Oct 7 at 18:12

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