The rather clear direction of this discussion together with the current situation on the site led to the conclusion that identification questions are no longer appropriate on this site.

Back in May of 2016, the discussion was brought forth as to whether M&TV.SE should ban identifications outright. At that point in time keeping them won with 62 votes vs 28. Personally, since then I have changed my opinion on keeping them and know that many others have as well. I’d like to check in with the M&TV community to see if the overall shift has gone that way, or if it’s just us old curmudgeons. Please discuss below what your feelings are on the current state of Identification questions and the community of the site surrounding them. Also, let’s keep things civil.

Here are some of my personal observations (data captured as of 2017-11-21):

The numbers are better, but still not great

Since the discussion in May 2016, several new policies have been implemented to be a lot stricter on Identification questions in order to enforce a level of quality on them. Per the graph from Reference #2, the overall percentage of the site that consists of ID questions has gone down. However, it’s still hovering around 40%, with less than 20% of all ID questions being kept. In other words, ~20% of new questions on the site are closed because they don’t meet the communities expected quality for ID questions.

ID’s consume a lot of community moderation

Per reference #3, when it comes to Offensive, Close, Reopen, Deletion, Undeletion, Spam, Moderator Review, and Approve Edit Suggestion votes, since May 2016 ID questions average just shy of 50% (49.8%) of community moderation votes.

First Question as ID users are less likely to return

Per reference #4, for the years 2016 and 2017, of all new users that first asked a question, ~25% returned to further ask or answer questions. Of those that started with an ID question, only ~17% returned. When excluding those that first asked ID questions, users that first ask a non-ID question returned ~31% of the time, or ~85% more likely to engage further in the site.

People are still emotionally charged over ID questions

Whether to allow or ban ID questions, and our treatment of them to keep them in shape, has had a divisive result in our community. There’s always going to be a bit of disagreement on how a site should operate, but something about ID questions tends to split users into very fanatic opposites. I don’t think this is healthy for the long term for our site.

Movie and TV ID has too low a bar of entry

I personally believe that one of the prevalent reasons ID questions are currently working on both Sci-Fi and Literature is that the bar of entry is significantly higher to ask an ID question on either subject. Reading a story requires more time and effort, so you end up retaining more than when you’re passively watching something on a screen or distracted doing something else. To engage in a written piece of work just requires significantly more attention.

The hoops for asking an ID question have gotten too arbitrary and complicated In order for an ID question to stay on the site, you basically have to know a good portion of the plot and the who, what, when, where, why, and how. This helps make it easier to ID the movie in question, but it definitely raises the bar and makes it harder for new ID askers to engage with the site. We’re also pretty quick to delete closed ID questions, if they don’t get any improvement after nine days of being closed.


  1. The Last ID Discussion: Shall we ban identification questions?

  2. Percent of ID to site by Month: http://data.stackexchange.com/movies/query/655057/percent-of-id-to-site-by-month#graph

The first line takes the total number ID questions asked on the site and divides that number by the total number of questions asked on the site, broken out by month. The second bar takes the total number of ID questions that are neither closed nor deleted and divides by the total number of questions asked on the site, broken out by month.

  1. Voting makeup: http://data.stackexchange.com/movies/query/704527/voting-makeup-in-regards-to-ids#graph

Counts the number of Questions asked on the site and the number of ID Questions. It them sums the number of votes (or flags) on the site that are in the following list: Offensive, Close, Reopen, Deletion, Undeletion, Spam, Moderator Review, or Approve Edit Suggestion. It then sums up the number of votes on ID questions.

  1. ID Users: http://data.stackexchange.com/movies/query/691934/id-users

Counts the total number of new users by month, the number of new users that first ask a question, the number of those users that return to the site, the number of new users that first ask an ID question, and the number of those users that return to the site.

Please note that this post is not intended as an outright vote to keep or ban such questions, but rather to gauge where the community is at on this topic.

  • 4
    I'm kind of in the frame of mind that we should consider banning them or just relax the requirements so that we don't have any bar to reach. They take far too much moderation time, end up in too many disputes, result in us being called 'unfriendly' etc. If we had a clear policy saying they are simply not wanted here, or a policy saying that anything goes - would be a huge improvement. Those who hate them can filter them out. There's a danger that an outright ban would continue to create arguments, but I think a straightforward 'we're not here to ID movies' is simple enough. – iandotkelly Mod Nov 27 '17 at 19:18
  • 1
    I may write up something to that effect later to see how people feel. I kind of hate the current 'quality' situation - its very vague. IDs are pretty much only useful to the OP - we should either embrace that and have them as interesting puzzles to decode and who cares about quality, or just ban them. If someone asks a terribly vague ID then guess what ... it doesn't get answered. – iandotkelly Mod Nov 27 '17 at 19:19
  • I agree, but only in so far that only one of those two options is healthy for the ultimate fate of the site. Anything goes has been tried before. Anything did go in the past, and is what made us end up here. If we let anything go again, we'll raise the ratio and its growth further. (And I will adress the common "just ignore 'em" argument in my upcoming answer.) – Napoleon Wilson Mod Nov 27 '17 at 19:24
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    FYI, SFF would probably be OK with a migration path, if y'all want to add one. – Kevin Nov 28 '17 at 2:18
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    As far as I hear - it is good for the traffic. Although as stated most first ID-Q users do not return. For me the quality of ID and allowed random trivia contaminates the site and decreases its quality drastically. Moreover if a lot, maybe even majority get deleted, their usefulness is under debate. I am opting for other movie platforms exactly because of ID and random trivia spam here. – Paharet Nov 28 '17 at 7:07
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    The problem WRT filtering is that the default solution -- adding the various identification tags to your "ignore" filter -- doesn't do much except make the ID questions less prominent. However, when half or more of the homepage is ID questions, you end up with a disheartening sight. Only when you actively apply the ignore filter (via a setting in your profile) you get a cleaned-up homepage. The fact that there are various ID tags also doesn't help... – BCdotWEB Nov 28 '17 at 10:30
  • @BCdotWEB and the fact that they're often not used because some users simply can't tag things properly - which is expected from new users... but it means you still see them. – Catija ModStaff Nov 30 '17 at 0:36
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    Arqade went through similar discussions RE: 'Identify this Game' (ITG) - there were many, many, MANY discussions on this, with the end result of a complete ban. We did eventually relax this slightly, for questions that provide tangible evidence from the game (usually a screenshot). This is meant for situations where games appear in movies, advertisements etc. – Robotnik Dec 5 '17 at 23:26
  • Not sure if a similar situation could work on M&TV but I thought it worth mentioning at least. :) – Robotnik Dec 5 '17 at 23:27
  • 1
    @Robotnik We've specifically banned image only ID questions here for a long time, exactly the opposite of Arqade! There are so many more films and it's really difficult to ascertain if an image is even from a film at all. – Catija ModStaff Dec 6 '17 at 22:10
  • 2
    Thanks to everyone for all the input. We're assessing the situation and will likely come up with progress on this at the start of the new year. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Dec 18 '17 at 18:46

My first question was an identify question. I know I'm not the most valuable member of the community, but I believe I've given valuable contributions to the community over time. I also know that any answer I write is going to be too late to change any policy since the decision has already been made. I would have voiced my opinion earlier but I didn't find out about this post until I read about the outcome on SciFi.SE.

First lets talk about the politics:

It seems to me that a small group of users really don't like identify questions, and they have been campaigning to get rid of them for a long time. I feel like this cadre of users doesn't want identify questions to succeed so they employ a variation of a time honored political game for repression.

  1. You find some reason to declare the thing you don't like bad. Bonus points if you can justify this with something that wasn't considered negative before.
  2. You implement controls ostensibly to help but they really just let you build your case why the thing is bad.
  3. Rinse and repeat step two while increasing the controls and building your case.
  4. Declare the thing you don't like unfixable once you feel like you have enough political support for elimination.
  5. Eliminate the thing you don't like.

That has been the evolution here, and in conflicts since the dawn of time. Here the progression was as follows:

  1. Decide that identify questions are bad. Then they decided to use closure rates as the 'reason' why they're bad. This fits well with the pattern I specified above because closing a question as unclear isn't supposed to be punitive. It is supposed to be helpful.
  2. Specify stricter guidelines for identify questions. Naturally stricter guidelines mean more flags/closures which reinforces our metric of why identify questions are bad.
  3. Rinse and repeat, with stricter and stricter guidelines while proclaiming in an exasperated tone how you keep trying to 'fix the problem' but it only balloons.
  4. Test the waters periodically on meta to gauge support for identify questions.
  5. Declare victory and ban identification questions.

As you can see identification questions were doomed from the moment we accepted their premise that closures are bad, and closures are the metric for worth.

Why I liked identification questions

I enjoyed identify questions here and still do on SciFi.SE. Here are some of the reasons why I like them:

Identify questions remind me of old works I enjoyed years ago.

Sometimes after reading an identify question I will be reminded of a show, movie, or story I'd read or watched a long time ago. I get a warm blast of nostalgia that brightens my day. Sometimes the connection is strong enough to drive me to re-watch or reread the work. So in this way these questions can increase my local happiness a little bit. While you might not care about that I do.

Identify questions introduce me to interesting new works I look forward to enjoying.

Admittedly this has happened more frequently on SciFi.SE than here but I have found some amazing creative works through identify questions. I regularly read the identify questions for this very reason even if they already have an accepted answer or if I know from the title that I haven't read it yet. At some level an identify question is like a positive peer review for the work because it resonated so strongly with that individual that they're actively seeking to reconnect with it. Don't you want to have more experiences that are so impactful you want to reconnect with them after a decade or more?

Identify questions allow me to marvel at the astonishing capabilities of my peers.

I don't know how many times I've marveled at the encyclopedic knowledge and seemingly perfect recall of some of our power users. The user on Movies.SE that I most marvel at with identification questions is Walt. I was continually impressed at his ability to correctly answer seemingly obscure identification questions.

Identify questions welcome new members.

Sure many of these members drop off and never come back but the same can be said of all new members. The fact of the matter is the user base on every stack is dominated (rep and generally participation wise) by a handful of super users. Most people just lurk or never come back. I personally don't see the problem with that. Some will stay and contribute more, like I did, and some will disappear. In my opinion all beneficial contributions are encouraged and continuing contributors are treasured.

  • 2
    Here's how bad ID questions were: I've had to edit in the "identify-this" tag on such a question quite often. I've had them completely filtered out and yet they still popped up on my homepage, sometimes multiple times a week. People soured on them because they were so awful, because they required disproportionate care, and because they tended to completely overtake the homepage. – BCdotWEB Jan 22 '18 at 21:42
  • 1
    questions are put on hold because they have issues. questions become closed because they couldn't be fixed or the person that posted it didn't care enough to fix it. that IS an indicator of quality, especially when 2 for every 5 questions were closed because they WEREN'T quality enough ID to keep – DForck42 Jan 22 '18 at 21:57
  • 4
    @BCdotWEB well you've gotten your wish then. Our experiences with them are entirely different. I'm not going to argue their merit with you because I doubt either one of us will change the other's mind. I am disappointed they're gone though. – Erik Jan 22 '18 at 21:57
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    @DForck42 even if 2 out of 5 were closed that still leaves the bulk as good questions. Also should SO stop taking JavaScript questions if they tend to be poor quality and the answer is always use more jQuery? Honestly you can dress it up however you like but those people that don't like these questions decided that people who do like these questions weren't worthy. You made a value judgment on a class, not on individual merits. We should close bad questions but not every ID question is bad. – Erik Jan 22 '18 at 22:05
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    the JS tag makes up about 11% of all questions asked on SO with 20% of those getting closed. This is, in general, not to the same scale as the quality and quantity of ID questions on movies. reference: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/edit/789544#graph – DForck42 Jan 22 '18 at 23:03
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    @DForck42 :) 11% of all questions on SO is mountains more questions than we see on Movies.SE. So you're right, it isn't the same scale it is bigger. Like I said to BCdotWEB I'm not going to debate the merit of the questions. You're part of a group of people who encouraged aggressive closure of these questions and use closure stats to validate your desire to ban them. Of course closure rates are going to be high when you've aggressively closed them under increasingly strict guidelines. ID questions were actively targeted and hunted inflating closures. There is no denying that. – Erik Jan 22 '18 at 23:18
  • 1
    "even if 2 out of 5 were closed that still leaves the bulk as good questions" No, that simply means the rest aren't bad enough to get closed. Still doesn't mean they're good. "Of course closure rates are going to be high when you've aggressively closed them under increasingly strict guidelines." Those guidelines were put in place to IMPROVE ID questions. You lot pretend this just happened. No, this is a process that has been going on since this site's beta phase and no matter what was done, ID questions didn't improve without significant effort. – BCdotWEB Jan 23 '18 at 6:47
  • 4
    @BCdotWEB like I said before I'm not going to argue the merits of the questions. When your attitude is clearly all ID questions are bad and should be gone regardless of quality as evidence by comments like "No, that simply means the rest aren't bad enough to get closed." It is obvious you aren't willing to listen to anything anyone says unless it derides ID questions. You aren't going to change my mind and I'm not going to change yours. – Erik Jan 23 '18 at 16:32
  • 1
    In defense of @BCdotWEB, when you post on meta, you are are making the choice to receive feedback on your post, especially from those who don't agree with it. I don't really see anyone trying to change your mind, I see users who are trying to educate you with facts. It seems that in all of these ID discussions, nobody really wants to hear the FACTS. There's no political conspiracy happening here, the community had ample time to discuss this. The so called cadre of users who are apparently playing some political game for repression is just silly. Majority rules. It's that simple. – steelersquirrel Jan 26 '18 at 21:03
  • 1
    @steelersquirrel I agree that majority rules and people are free to post their opinions. As far as the political stuff if you encourage an action and then use the encouraged outcome as evidence against that thing then you are setting that thing up for failure. That’s what happened here. ID questions were encouraged to fail in a manner that has the veneer of being helpful. No one has presented any facts to contradict this assertion. People just say that ID questions are awful and we made rules to easily close them and the continued high close rate proves they’re awful. – Erik Jan 28 '18 at 17:04
  • I understand what you're saying and I defended ID for a long time because they brought me to this site and I never saw any problem with them when I was more of a casual user here. But, when I started becoming more involved with the site and started to understand the SE system better, I saw that they were not as great as I thought they were. I agree with you that we were way too hard on ID and the criteria were ridiculous to have an on topic ID question, but those people are here every day close voting them. Other members of the community were more than welcome to vote to reopen – steelersquirrel Jan 29 '18 at 1:16
  • 1
    Or to start a meta discussion about the ridiculous criteria. The entire community is welcome to start any discussion they would like, but when all of the pro ID arguments come in after the fact, then it doesn't really solve anything. I have learned to enjoy the site and appreciate the non ID questions and you have had great non-ID contributions here, so I hope that you continue to be a part of the community :) – steelersquirrel Jan 29 '18 at 1:22
  • @steelersquirrel I agree with a lot of what you said above. The only catch is I don't have the ability to vote to reopen. Currently only 126 users have that ability. So the group driving close/reopen stats is relatively small. Even 30 active users could control the narrative effectively since not all the 126 will be active, or care about ID questions. All that being said I'm resigned that ID questions are gone. I'll still contribute. Ironically I found out about the ban via SciFi.SE meta on the day I wanted to post an ID question here. – Erik Jan 29 '18 at 16:50
  • Erik, I came here to voice my disagreement about the policy. You did it better than I could, so I only needed to upvote. Especially being reminded or being made aware of good works is something I wouldn't even have said but which is clearly true. People ask ID questions because something made an impression and continues to resonate with them. Typically, that is above average stuff, so I really like to hear about it. – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 12 at 20:45

I think the difference in return rates of 17% vs 25% isn't particularly compelling but I completely agree with the argument that it takes a lot of the collective moderation of the site dealing with them, and the current rules are far too arbitrary.

The hoops for asking an ID question have gotten too arbitrary and complicated In order for an ID question to stay on the site, you basically have to know a good portion of the plot and the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

I think this is a bad experience for new users of the site.

I think the status-quo is not tenable, and that we're faced with two choices:

  1. Ban any sort of identification question.

  2. Allow identification questions of any detail and quality.

I'm personally in favor of banning them, however people can completely filter these out when viewing the site. I would be interested in seeing arguments for and against these position again.

The key question in my mind is

How do we in a manner that respects everyone's opinion, arrive at a decision which improves the site experience for most of the people here.

  • 6
    I am personally for banning them outright. To me, at the end of the day, we are not a movie-id site, we are a site that people go to in order to get answers about plots, themes, characters, and other in-depth questions. – DForck42 Nov 28 '17 at 15:39
  • 4
    The problem with option 2 is that it brought us exactly here. We tried that before and it simply led to the site getting drowned out by ID questions and the community trying to contain their contageous nature. Ignoring these questions doesn't work when they basically become the brand of what this site's purpose is to the outside world, distorting the image if the site and basically leading to just more ID. It's not about the high-rep users ignoring some questions they don't like, it's about new users ignoring questions that just aren't representative of the content we want to see here. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Nov 28 '17 at 15:39
  • 4
    I admittedly have defended ID questions for the majority of my time here because I have always liked answering them and they brought me to this site. It was only until recently that I really saw how negatively they affected the site. I can now see that they just need to be banned. as @DForck42 said, this site is for plots, themes, characters, etc. The majority of ID posters simply post a bad ID and just leave the site never to return. I understand that it increases traffic, but unwanted traffic. I would rather have quality over quantity. – steelersquirrel Nov 28 '17 at 16:08
  • 2
    Personally I don't answer them or particularly enjoy them - but they are enjoyed by some. I'd rather they didn't exist - but I don't want to pretend that banning them won't have any negative consequences. I think in conclusion we need a new "What should we do with ID questions" with 2 or 3 answers to vote on. My preference would not to include the status-quo, but that is also worth discussing. – iandotkelly Mod Nov 28 '17 at 17:04
  • 2
    I don't suppose that there would be the possibility of creating a MovieIdentification.SE for those who enjoy them? Similar to how SoftwareRecommendations.SE was created after StackOverflow et al. decided that they didn't want them any more? – Thunderforge Nov 28 '17 at 17:38
  • 1
    @Thunderforge You can certainly try to propose one on Area51. But I think this has been tried before and is likely to fail for pretty much the reasons those questions failed on this site. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Nov 28 '17 at 17:45
  • @iandotkelly Yes, and that's exactly what we got here. An open question to gather input about how the community feels about these questions. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Nov 29 '17 at 10:39
  • 1
    I generally find that when you think there are only two options to resolve an issue, then you are simply looking at it incorrectly. Are you unable to simply ignore ID-This questions? – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 12:14
  • @Mr.Kennedy .... that solves the solution for me, or for any significantly experienced user - that doesn't address the poor experience for new users. – iandotkelly Mod Jan 4 '18 at 14:13
  • 1
    @iandotkelly banning them is bad policy decision, it won't stop them from being asked and it will ensure that new users who ask them are completely turned off to SE. – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 14:17
  • 3
    @Mr.Kennedy... actually evidence from other sites that have gone in this direction is that it does cut them down eventually, to the order of 1 per day. Its also the case that it is for us to decide the scope of what we want to ask and answer on this site - and the data shows that (with notable exceptions) ID users don't stick with the site. – iandotkelly Mod Jan 4 '18 at 14:22
  • @iandotkelly well then, I suppose we shall see. – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 14:34
  • 2
    @iandotkelly I will say that even though we're on opposite sides of this debate I really appreciated your input on this issue. I like how you seem to have a willingness to see both sides of the issue. – Erik Jan 22 '18 at 22:26
  • Thank you @Erik ... much appreciated. – iandotkelly Mod Jan 23 '18 at 4:35

I have to say that who want ID question to stay didn't get the chance to say anything. And (like me) probably wasn't aware of this discussion.

As for why it should stay, is simply because it's simply the most active part of the site (~40% of all questions). And "identify this movie" is the 2nd highest tag despite deleting a lot of its questions due to some strict rules. And this site should belong to it's community (all of them). I don't see a reasonable way to disregard about half of it's users.

And it simply fall withing the site criteria, Q&A.

As of it being hard to moderate, that's a moderation problem, should try to solve it by adding new mods.

  • 4
    everyone got a chance, the id check in was featured on meta for over a month and there was no barrier from proponents for pro-id users to vote. also, something being prolific isn't an argument for quality. sexism is prolific in society, should we fight to keep it? – DForck42 Jan 4 '18 at 16:13
  • 2
    and it does belong to the community, but if people don't voice opinions or ways to help fix things, then we can only go with those that spoke out. I am truly sorry that you feel that you were missed out on, but at the end of the day there was nothing preventing you from seeing this to begin with. – DForck42 Jan 4 '18 at 16:14
  • 1
    also, the moderation issue isn't just about having bodies to edit, close, reopen, and delete id questions and answers. the issue, imho, is that the rules have become so convoluted in an attempt to make id questions work on the site that it's simply not fair to new users to expect them to get it right the first try. for a significant number of id questions it's not clear if they SHOULD be on-topic or not, we have just tended to err on the side of closing them. – DForck42 Jan 4 '18 at 16:17
  • 4
    also, something "simply falling within the site criteria, Q&A" is a MASSIVE misrepresentation of how stack exchange sites work and are developed and continue to develop. please take a look around area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/3698/movies-tv – DForck42 Jan 4 '18 at 16:22
  • 8
    The fact still remain, we didn't get a chance to "defend" id questions. We didn't even know it'll be banned, It was even stated in this "check in" that "it's not a vote to ban id questions" but when you liked the outcome of your discussion, you decided to treat it as such. – madmada Jan 4 '18 at 17:24
  • 9
    If you really want a discussion, open a new thread that gain a lot of attention. The top answer of the previous post was at 62 upvote this one at 17 despite the site growing up. Don't go hold on a secret voting (that's not a voting) and then say oops you should've known about it and spoke out earlier. – madmada Jan 4 '18 at 17:28
  • 4
    @madmada You did get that chance. You just didn't use it. Please stop saying you didn't, it's simply not true. And as said, nothing stops a clear conclusion resulting from an open discussion. And this was as clear as water. Nothing was kept secret here. Stop playing your lack of attention and care for the issue as some secret conspiracy and complaing that the rest of the community stopped sitting around when you didn't. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Jan 4 '18 at 17:46

I have addressed the tremendous problem these questions pose on the health of this site in this previous question before (which with its many links might also be a good starting point for related reading for anyone not too familiar with the long "tradition" this issue has on our meta site), but I'll try to summarize the essentials again. First of all, I consider these questions

The biggest problem this site is facing and its possible demise

Identification questions have only ever been tolerated on here as a service provided in addition to the site's primary purpose. They have never been the essence of what this site is about, though. They provide little to no long-term value and generally don't contribute to the archive of engaging questions about films and TV-shows with interesting answers this site is supposed to build. Yes, not every non-ID question on this site might be of high interest to everyone either. However, the difference here is that these questions are basically one-off services that only ever help the asker (who likely won't stay around anyway) and net the answerer the fun of a quiz show. Yes, quiz shows can be fun, but are badly asked quiz questions why we're here and what we strived for when creating this site? You won't ever go back to an identification question to gain some useful insight about a film (other than how you could paraphrase its story maybe, provided that paraphrasal isn't too bad to begin with).

But you basically get the site you make and the problem with these questions is their contagious nature. They generally create a constant stream of low-quality content (that is hardly ever fixable without the help from the asker, who often never returns to his question), posted primarily by users who are unlikely to contribute further to the site (let alone in its non-ID section). This in turn leads to more users getting attracted to those questions and the questions gradually overtaking the actually useful content this site is supposed to provide. This is observable in the steady increase of ID question ratio over the last years, with no real halt or at least quality improvement in sight. At the moment about half of new questions asked are identification questions, about two thirds of which will ultimately end up closed/deleted.

In this quantity and quality and with this contagious nature they just distort the image of what this site is about and ultimately drown out its community. This site isn't IDThisMovie.SE, but go tell that to someone looking at it from the outside. As metaphor enthusiast Shog9 rather fittingly puts it in a related answer on another site's similar discussion:

Identification questions are like... The cabbage, radishes and shredded carrots that some sushi shops put on the platter before stacking up the meat & rice. They make the plate look nice and full, and they're something to chew on once you've eaten all the meat... But you still gotta have plenty of meat ...If this site gets a tiny handful of ID questions, just enough to fill in the gaps between more interesting and useful questions, they'll probably be fine. But if a majority of questions fall into this category, it becomes quite unlikely that the site will survive. And, let's be honest: if the site takes off, y'all will want to get rid of ID questions anyway simply because when there's plenty of meat they're a distraction, keeping them around doesn't help anyone, and the folks who ask them don't stick around to help anyone else.

The site was okay with providing that service along with its actual meat content, because yes, they have a rather low bar of entry and initially brought in site traffic (which I will address later, though). But this low bar of entry is also part of their problem, as you already address in your question. Over time they just grew unbearable and we have to ask ourselves if they are still worth the trouble and all the useless work they generate. I'm afraid the point prognosticated by another SE employee in this very old answer might have long been reached already:

The problem is they are easy to ask, but they ultimately help exactly one person, and then they're useless. It gets tiresome, and drives away avid users who drive this site. They will continue to pervade the question space. And then they wear down a community. ...It's really hard to articulate as to why these questions are not good for this site; but suffice it to say that, once they permeate the front page, a few users will work long and hard to try and get rid of them. But the masses will keep them coming, inexorably...In a not-too-distant future, most of those questions will be asked by hit-and-run users who will never return to this site. And you'll get bored having to tease out a decent question and provide answers to a post that will not add one lick of value or interest to this site.

The arguments in their favour only work on the surface

There have been made quite a few arguments in favour of these questions over the years, but many of them don't really hold up to scrutiny.

  • Yes, they indubitably bring in new questions and site hits. But are these the questions we want and are they the advertizement this site wants across the web? Besides that, with current trends about two thirds of those questions won't even stay open and will ultimately vanish again anyway. Yes, stopping support for ID will lower our questions per day, but it won't stop the site from being active either. Instead that activity will concentrate more towards what the site is really about. I'd be willing to sacrifice some quantity for more overall quality.
  • They bring in new users and new users are most likely going to start with an ID question. However, as many a statistic in the past has shown, the retention of users starting with ID who then go on to contribute valuable non-ID content is relatively low. The warm cozy feelings of helping a lost soul in all honours, but a user account that posted a single low-score ID question a year ago doesn't have much actual long-term value to the site itself. Stopping support for these questions won't stop new users joining. They will just join with more engaging questions and answers instead and go on to contribute further along those lines.
  • They do actually solve "real-world" problems and might generally be regarded the question category with the most practical relevance on this site. However, this is a flawed premise. We are a site that discusses works of art and entertainment, of course we don't cure cancer here! Saying that the lack of practical use for any individual's life makes our topic less worth discussing, is ultimately a statement against the very site itself. Once you feel guilty for pondering on the significance of violence in a Tarrantino film instead of feeding the poor out on the streets, I'm not sure helping someone remember that YouTube trailer he saw last week is going to help.
  • They might have the occasional pearl as a starting point for interesting further insight into a topic and be a generally interesting question for the field of movies and TV. However, this is one in hundreds and if that further discussion is what really concerns the asker, he can very well ask that. The occasional pearl among hundreds of turds just doesn't seem worth the trouble.
  • They profit from the film expertise of its community. This is certainly true to some degree. People engaged on this site have likely seen many films and text-based identification is still a job that profits from abstract human recognition. However, the same arguments can be made for recommendations, which we never did here. The fact that we can answer something is not necessarily a reasonable argument for site-scope. There are enough other sites that deal with movie identification specifically and there is no need to serve that here.

But often the users concerned about the problems these questions pose end up refuting theoretical arguments (like the ones above) that noone actually made. The users who like those questions and don't deem them a problem rarely tell us why they're not a problem and why they don't think our concerns to reflect reality or be relevant with regards to the broader course of the site.

So often one of the most prevalent arguments I see personally brought up for these questions is, though, that they are just "fun to answer" and who are we to rob those users who enjoy them of their fun? Well, sure, of course quiz shows are fun (as is recommending your favourite movies to others), but is this site supposed to be a quiz show? In light of the tremendous problems these questions pose for the site and its community at large, this argument seems to at best close its eyes against the broader fate of the site (and at worst ignores it). Which brings us to one of the primary questions sometimes asked by their proponents:

Why don't you just ignore those questions if you don't like them?

The live-and-let-live attitude that is brought up with regards to those questions now and then is certainly a noble goal and we as a community do generally live by that. There are many questions on the site that I don't have the slightest interest in. They are, however, very well reasonable questions and contribute to the collective archive of valuable information that this site has to offer, if I want to or do know the answer or not.

However, this is not about just ignoring a bunch of questions I don't have interest in. The identification questions as a category are so inherently different to the rest of the questions this site deals with (as explained above) and they ultimately distort the image of what this site is about. Their ratio is steadily increasing while their quality decreases and we have tried time and time again to improve that situation but it just seems to get worse.

Shutting the eyes to this fundamental distortion of site purpose won't help, since in contrast to long-time experienced users who refuse to give up on the site, new users don't know the difference between the tolerated "necessary evil" that is supposed to be ignored by anyone interested in serious movie discussion and the actual meat of the site. They can't ignore these questions and they won't, rather they will take them as a model. And you can't tell someone who looks at this site and sees an irrelevant quiz show that the "real" questions are much better than that, since by that time he's already decided to either not participate or participate in the quiz show and at some point those become our real questions.

Just ignoring those questions ultimately means giving up the site. And if the majority of avid community members has to ignore a question category that to the outside world looks like the main purpose of the site, things are quite a bit wrong. Which brings us to the current situation:

How does it look like now?

God knows we debated about ID a fair bit on this very meta site in the past. We implemented a ton of special rules and features (some of them even ingrained in the technical realization of the site) to accomodate for their increase in numbers and decrease in quality. But it's ultimately just treating the symptoms instead of the desease, and it doesn't even work at that.

About 1.5 years ago we asked if we still wanted to allow those questions and we decided to give them another chance. However, the situation hasn't improved. Yes, the community got made aware of the problem and seems more engaged in fixing or closing those questions. However, the majority of users who work on moderating those questions seem to be people who don't particularly care about them to begin with. The deeper problem did not improve. We're getting more and more of those questions and they take up tremendous moderation time (be that of moderators or other engaged community users).

Besides that, it drags our community down. It's a frustrating situation for both the avid users caring for the site at large and the new users asking those questions, who are ultimately the ones (if not the only ones) that those questions are actually supposed to help and be tolerated for. But they more often than not end up getting their question closed and/or downvoted, on a site that supposedly accepts identification questions. This makes us look like a bunch of evil jerks pushing on new users who just want to get their question answered on a site that claimed it will. On the other hand new users begin to look like locusts (or "help vampires" in SO jargon) polluting our beloved site with their low-quality content.

None of these characterizations are fair or even true. Neither can we just stop moderating content and trying to improve the site, nor can we blame anyone for coming here and thinking those are the questions we do, since we say so, as do our existing questions. But those are characterizations that emerge out of this frustration and create a wall within the community.

Then where should we go from here?

While it might sound counter-intuitive at first, I do think entirely disallowing identification questions will ultimately make the site look more tolerant and consistent to new users. Instead of practically "soft-disallowing" those questions and trying to mitigate their bad impact as much as possible, implementing rules over rules and special features over special features, but ultimately just beating around the bush of not wanting them, we would make a stand and clearly say that we just don't do these questions here.

Of course this won't magically make all the new questions disappear, but it gives a clear statement to visitors that those questions are just not welcome here and over time we can work on restoring the image of this site back to its place for engaging film and TV questions with interesting answers which will ultimately also work on throttling down the ID questions asked in the first place.

At the end of the day we just have to face the truth that many a site before us has already faced and dealt with and many a site after us will likely realize and deal with, and that's been harrowing over our heads for quite a long time now:

Those questions have been tried and they failed. They won't improve nor will they stop dragging the site down. They just don't work on this site and we don't want them here.

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    Wow! Just wow...Nailed it...I don't even have to post my answer which would have said exactly the same things just not so eloquently. – Paulie_D Nov 29 '17 at 7:33
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    I think your mentioning of pearls (intentional or not) hits the nail on the head. It instantly reminded me of the old blog post. ID questions are sandiest (easy to ask and low quality) of all and the most difficult to produce a peal (answers will be short, maybe a few sentences at most). – Skooba Nov 29 '17 at 13:13
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    I see all the same arguments which were brought up on Anime&Manga when voting to ban ID requests. I suppose I should congratulate you guys for finally agreeing on this collectively :p – user1306322 Dec 1 '17 at 11:17
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    Closely related: SE blog post "The Trouble with Popularity" – jscs Dec 2 '17 at 17:52
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    So what is and when will the next step be taken? Seems like there is a pretty good consensus here. – Skooba Dec 5 '17 at 14:09
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    @Skooba There is no contrete plan for anything yet. For now we're gathering the community's feedback on this open discussion and will see how it goes. We will concern ourselves with this problem in a more concrete manner soon, though. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Dec 5 '17 at 15:23
  • So what to do with new ID questions in the meantime? Flag and close? Downvote? Upvote and answer? – Luciano Dec 20 '17 at 16:40
  • @Luciano As of now nothing has changed yet. So do as before, close the bad ones, answer the good ones. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Dec 20 '17 at 19:27
  • Based on the meta responses to closures of ID questions on Music Practice & Theory, I would expect that many possible new users will feel the site is less tolerant and consistent if ID questions become off-topic. One of the big problems that will arise is that it’s not practical to go back and close all the previous ID questions, which means there will be meta posts about “why is my question closed when this older ID question is still open?” Aside from that, I agree with this answer. – Todd Wilcox Dec 21 '17 at 8:30
  • @ToddWilcox I suppose we'll have to close all older questions without answers or no accepted answers, that should be fairly easy. These meta questions could be redirected to an explanation why we don't accept ID questions anymore. – Luciano Dec 21 '17 at 10:01
  • @ToddWilcox Any possible declaration of off-toppicness would necessarily have to be accompanied by some kind of cleanup of older posts, of course. And even if not all old questions will get deleted, they would all be closed, of course they can't stay open. I agree that this would be highly inconsistent. "Practicality" isn't a concern here, especially since SE is willing to help with automated procedures. So the problem of inconsistency likely won't arise that much. There might still be some closed questions left on the site, but they would likely be historically locked anyway. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Dec 21 '17 at 11:00
  • Is it even possible to automatically close all old ID questions? I guess if they are tagged correctly. I think Music.SE never had an ID tag so it hasn’t been feasible to close all the old OT questions from the beta days. Some manual history locking has been done. My main point was that there will be some upset “new users”, but that’s gonna happen either way. – Todd Wilcox Dec 21 '17 at 16:35
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    @ToddWilcox They are quite consequently tagged identify-this-* here, a special case among each 1000 notwithstanding. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Dec 21 '17 at 16:50
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    In the early 1970's, while I was a child, I recall my seeing a horror movie. My memories of the film were vague as an adult, but I remembered the salient element of the chilling ending. For years as an adult, I was curious about this movie, its title, its director, its cast, etc. Three years ago, I posted a question (which has since been deleted by this site's administrators) that asked about this movie. I received a fantastic answer and felt thrilled to have finally uncovered the mystery that plagued me all of those years. Why would you want to take away that specific power of this site? – Mark Viola Jun 7 '18 at 18:16
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    "Identification questions have only ever been tolerated on here as a service provided in addition to the site's primary purpose." This got me thinking. Where can I learn what is this site's primary purpose? I haven't located any "about" section or anything like that. – tsuma534 Jun 19 '18 at 9:00

I am not a highly active user on the main site here (I mostly just answer Game of Thrones questions) and even less on your Meta (this will be my first answer) BUT I am active in the community through the reputation based privileges, specifically the review queues.

What I notice in the Close Vote queue are many ID questions and I would say I vote to close around 90% of what I see in the queue. This I feel is because of the strict standard used to judge the questions. You almost have to know the movie you are looking for before you ask the question (obviously a pointless endeavor). However, I do notice that descriptions of the ID questions are not very good to begin with, it is almost impossible to identify a movie by one scene and a vague genre. Combined with the "we don't want to duplicate IMDB policy" knowing an actor in the film would likely generate comments of "Just look at their credits on IMDB".

Anyway, what my point is to all this is, it seems to me the community (or at least those active enough to enforce policy) has already decided what to do ID questions... and that is get rid of them. Whether that is through an outright ban or through strict rules that cause high closure rates the message is clear... these questions are not interesting to the majority of the users on this site.

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    is it clear that they are of no interest to the "majority of users" or simply of no interest to a small and vocal minority? Seems the latter to me. – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 12:32
  • @Mr.Kennedy If that were the case we would no be seeing close to 90% of ID question being closed. Surely there are enough 3k+ users to leave open or reopen from review to override a vocal minority. – Skooba Jan 4 '18 at 13:20
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    do we have data on which users are closing 90% of ID questions, or is this simply your impression? – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 13:28
  • To be clear, I'm all for deleting closed questions and questions which get low votes (i.e. do not engage the community) but it seems out-of-line with the site goals to ban and eliminate the option to even ask ID-This questions. Especially so if it is merely a small minority of what the OP characterizes as curmudgeons. – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 13:28
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    There's a ton of question types this site doesn't do because they just don't work here, like recommendation questions. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Jan 4 '18 at 13:49

I'd been planning on having this discussion once the full 2017 figures were in but given the numbers that David has produced I don't see that these will differ, substantively, from anything I could come up with.

@NapoleonWilson has covered pretty much my thoughts on this whilst remaing significantly more calm about the subject than I.

I concur with his points in every way.

ID questions CAN be fun but the sheer volume of cr*p we have to wade through every day just makes the good questions a complete rarity.

"Pearls in a pile of stuff" indeed and most of the time we're left trying to polish the stuff and it's just not worth it any more.

The regular users of the site (we know who we are) are, more and more, coming over to the opinion that ID questions are just plain BAD. They see the fun in googling away to get an answer but the sheer volume of effluent tends to suck the life out of any fun that might be had.

Even when we take these and actually manage to get the OP to polish up a t*rd real nice into a question that is barely sufficient there is little positive response by way of acceptance, upvotes on the answers or ongoing community involvement.

I know that this isn't a voting post where anything will be decided (or perhaps it will be)...but what I see is the users who (it seems to me) are most involved in the community &/or moderation are having to shoulder the burden of dealing with the constant inflow of poor questions. That does not seem equitable.

We should be reaching for the stars, not trying to clean the muck off our shoes.


We should not ban identification questions as off-topic!

They do fit the Q&A format and should be allowed here. And the situation still can work well if we go by the current rule of closing all detail-lacking ID questions and keeping the proper formatted ones. We already have done a lot to control their quality too. And it has many benefits too:

  • By banning them, our questions-per-day rate will be reduced by a lot. Maybe even by half.
  • We will lose new users who came here to find answers to their ID questions, which might be good assets for the future. For example, one of our moderators started here after asking ID questions and our top reputation user as well, and maybe many other similar users.
  • Many people do consider them good and they help them to present their competitive answers and help a user in need. Some people beside the OP genuinely enjoy reading and answering them. And as mentioned previously, some of the questions are significant and interesting beyond merely identifying something.
  • To reiterate another previous point, it is a service befitting and utilyzing the film and TV experience of this site's users.
  • We are not the only site allowing ID. Anime.SE did ban them, but SciFi.SE didn't and they are still working very well there.
  • Ankit Sharma's answer from the last discussion. I know he changed his mind, but the points still stands. – madmada Jan 4 '18 at 17:35
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    All of these points have also been adressed in another answer already. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Jan 4 '18 at 17:44
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    as i commented here how id requests on scifi are "working very well" is baffiling as a question asking "where is this image from" which a google search (basic research) gets the character names and series yet still gets +15 when normally it would be downvoted for "lack of research" – Memor-X Jan 5 '18 at 1:18

I know this might be too late. Like many, I didn't see that discussion about banning ID questions. It was my fault as I am not a frequent visitor on meta. In fact, I am not a frequent visitor in the main site also. But whenever I visit, I used to hand pick ID (ID=Identify the movie/series) questions. I thought it was one attraction that kept this site different from other so called movie discussion portals. Thats why I was really shocked to find them banned.

I would have written this in that discussion thread had I been aware of its existence. But better late than never, so here are my thoughts.

  1. ID tags were useful as they helped to bring back many unheralded, easy to forget movies back into the memory. All other tags here normally attract questions on either presently popular, or acclaimed movies only. That is, we will continue to get questions on Game of Thrones (presently popular) or The God Father (Classic). But we may never get any mention about a good movie from 1970 that had a IMDB 5-7 rating. We will never get to remind about movies that people forget, but likes to rewatch if they get a chance.
  2. A large percentage of movie watchers falls under the category of watching movies for enjoyment factor only. They don't worry over the technical details, camera position, hidden plots and things that a knowledgable movie buffs are concerned with. They enjoy the movie while they last and forget about it in a year. The only question they can ask here is an ID question so that they can rewatch a movie that they enjoyed 15 years back. By shutting down that feature, we are no longer approachable for a large percentage (50-60%) of movie watchers.
  3. I can see other answers/comments here saying that the moderation on ID questions were strict as compared with other tags, thereby making their stats look negative. I didn't look into the stats so I don't know much about it. But I can see that many ID questions were deleted after the ban, leaving behind a selected few in locked state. So I am taking it as a working hypothesis that the questions that were preserved were written after good research and considered acceptable by the community. I have only asked two questions here, both were ID questions. One of my question is still there while the other one is missing. I don't have the link to the deleted question so I can't view it anymore. But I remember it as a good enough question where I mentioned lots of informations like the probable release year in range, continent of release (asian), black and white movie, a good part of the plot etc so that someone can help with the movie name. So if that question is considered to not have enough research, then I will say that you have set the bar too high.
  4. I don't agree with the argument that ID questions only helpful to the OP. There are lot of people who frequent the ID tags only to come across old movies they would like to rewatch. And secondly, it is not a crime if a question only help the OP, as long as it is asked well and is in a QA format.
  5. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling and getting reminded about an old movie that you would love to rewatch is a very handsome thing. The site lost some of its romantic attractiveness, a personal observation.

I agree with the community that some of the ID questions were of poor quality and shouldn't be allowed. It was correct to take actions and do something to rectify the problem. But I am not sure whether banning them was the only solution, especially a popular tag that attracted a big percentage of users/questions. I hope you had exhausted all other possible alternatives before deciding to ban a popular tag. Looking into the front page of current active questions list, it seems like the site is no longer approachable for a simple movie watcher who don't dissect and analyse every frame or think about the intricacies of the plot. Let us hope it turns out to be a right decision in the end, though it alienates some users like me.


Banning ID-This questions is a very poor policy decision: it won't stop the questions from being asked, it will entrench those who dislike them and encourage non-nice responses, and it will that new users who ask them get turned off to SE completely.

Seems to me that not being able to ask these questions will turn away new users of the site who come here imagining they are addressing a nice, friendly, helpful, knowledgeable audience. Especially considering the flow of:

  1. Ask an ID-This-Movie question.
  2. Get shut down by everyone who interacts with the question.
  3. Question gets closed rapidly with little explanation other than, "DON'T ASK THAT KINDA THING HERE!" or "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!!!"
  4. Leave the community having been shamed for asking a simple question to what advertises itself as a knowledgeable, nice and helpful community.
  5. Seek out answers on other non-Stack Exchange forums.
  6. Never engage SE again and warn off others.

Sure, the long term value of these questions is ...questionable from an archival perspective. Why not have them auto-deleted after, say a month, if neither the questions themselves nor the answers manage to attract any significant amount of votes (say, at least three votes to the question or any one answer otherwise they get the SE Rhoomba). That way, people who don't like them can just ignore them and soon they'll disappear if they don't engage the community.

Seems to me these kinds of questions are actually a great way to introduce new folks to asking useful, clear and well-researched questions. Unfortunately, most responses to ID-This questions I see from members of repute here are curt to the point of being rude, condescending, unhelpful, not-friendly nor nice.

Besides, isn't it just a small group of otherwise vocal, curmudgeonous regulars here who find them so annoying? Is there an option to simply ignore questions which are tagged "ID"? At the very least ID-This h8r's could edit the tags and then they'd never see them again. Out of sight === out of mind.

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    And that's pretty much how the majority of users' (or at least the ones who even dared coming back after dropping off their question) experiences turned out already. Just that now it's an official policy and the site tells them clearly that it's just not doing these things. The argument of attracting new users has already been adressed and is an illusion. As have the arguments of ignoring them. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Jan 4 '18 at 12:35
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    @NapoleonWilson So why not ease up the policy, allow the ID-This questions, delete the useless ones and let the H8r's simply ignore them? – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 12:37
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    Not sure if you noticed, but that's what we already did and it didn't work. As said, this isn't about closing your eyes from the problem or people ignoring questions they don't like. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Jan 4 '18 at 12:39
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    If you have reference to a clear demonstration that the arguments re: attracting new users and ignoring them are "an illusion" I'd appreciate you posting it, otherwise, it seems to me that this is really only a problem for what the OP refers to as the "curmudgeons" on the site - a small and vocal minority. – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 12:39
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    @NapoleonWilsonyou are contradicting yourself - either the policy has been eased up or it has not. Again - references would help you make your point. Thank you for demonstrating the ways in which these forums are used which are not helpful to the community: condescension and presenting opinion without reference. – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 12:40
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    I did, in my answer and answers to the various questions linked from here, from throughout this site's history. The problem is, noone spoke up at all. No matter if you like those questions or not, you can't not have noticed that they're at least controversial at best. And noone took the effort of telling the concerned community that their conerns are ungrounded. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Jan 4 '18 at 12:42
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    @NapoleonWilson there's no time like the present. Not everyone who contributes to the community is here every single day, nor participating on Meta, so please calm down. If you don't have a link demonstrating the arguments as illusion that is fine, however, without any reference, this statement is simply your opinion. – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 12:44
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    It's not every single day, it's years of site development and an active discussion that went on for over a month. Want links, start here. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Jan 4 '18 at 12:47
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    @NapoleonWilson Sorry, but you have not demonstrated in your answer above that the arguments for ignoring ID-This question and re: attracting new users are an illusion. You have simply begged the question. – MmmHmm Jan 4 '18 at 12:47
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Napoleon Wilson Mod Jan 4 '18 at 13:02

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