In Jeff Atwood's post Let's Play The Guessing Game, he pretty much condemned that identification questions just don't work too well in the Stack Exchange format. However, our sister site Science Fiction and Fantasy have elected to keep their identification questions. Because of the hub bub that has arisen around identification questions, the movie mods decided that we wanted to make a meta post to get everyone's opinion on whether to keep the identification questions, or whether to make them off-topic here.

Here are some statistics about our identification questions:

  • two tags: identify-this-movie and identify-this-tv-show
  • the movie tag has 116 questions (16% of our site's questions), 17 of which are closed
  • the tv tag has 18 questions (2% of our site's questions), 0 of which are closed
  • 73 identification questions have been deleted (24% of identification questions asked)
  • 4 identification questions are considered unanswered
  • the highest voted identificaiton question has 21 votes (36 highest site wide)
  • only two identification questions have over 500 views (one of which is closed)
  • made a math mistake on the deleted percentage
    – DForck42
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 19:38
  • I got more to add to this once I have some time later, probably a wall-o-text :)
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 19:39
  • Since this is posted to elicit discussion, it should probably come with a stated (longer than normal) end time, so some plausibilty of fairness can be inferred. I have a feeling the decision is foregone, so I feel it is possible this will only remain open long enough to get the semblance of a fair election while the box is stuffed to the preference of the powers-that-be.
    – wbogacz
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 1:36
  • I also feel the recent push to close and delete identify questions helped pump some of those negative-seeming stats.
    – wbogacz
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 1:44
  • @wbogacz - thanks for the input. Lets be clear about this, the community of M&TV should set the policy unless it conflicts with StackExchange itself - like SF&F have identification questions, we can have identification questions if we want them. The 'powers that be' here are just ordinary people, not connected to StackExchange. The recent push to close identification questions, was targeted at unanswered and un-tended questions, not at boosting stats. I have not seen those stats before today.
    – iandotkelly Mod
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 2:39
  • @wbogacz - but I do agree that the question should be left open for a while.
    – iandotkelly Mod
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 2:43
  • 2
    @wbogacz My goal, personally, is this: Get a discussion going with the community, get it buzzed. Then whenit is well-known that we are discussing this, open up a vote for the community and leave it open for a while (thinking a month?) to allow as many participants as possible to weigh in. The goal is to decide if they're completely off-topic, or we moderate the crap out of them and leave only the gems.
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 12:17
  • Jeff Atwood describes it as a 'guessing game'. It's not. They are questions to identify a movie as the tag actually already says. Whoever's asking an identify-this-movie question wants to know him-/herself. So it's nothing like a game or quiz.
    – paddotk
    Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 11:20
  • I’m glad that many people here seem to disagree with Jeff. If you are trying to find something, then there is nothing wrong with asking for help, and telling people to go somewhere else is insulting. This is particularly true here because SE sites are Q/A format and there are already plenty of places to discuss TV/movies (IMDB, TV.com, etc.), so general discussion need not be here at all. One of the main draws to this site is that people can get help identifying things, which is harder on other sites because they have stronger show/movie-specific boards and poor/weak general boards.
    – Synetech
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 1:58
  • possible duplicate of Identify This Movie Questions?
    – Synetech
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 1:59

5 Answers 5


I've always had a hard time agreeing with Jeff's "the guessing game" statements. My main objection is that in my opinion his points are not specifically epitomized in questions.

  1. Any question can be impractical or unanswerable; questions can be practical and answerable. Maybe even more than others because there is one indisputably correct answer.

  2. 99% of the questions at any SE site that I like to visit do not help me (which is fine). Besides that, I think that the personal gain of an question is very large. It wouldn't surprise me if question had the most bounties issued to them (I don't know how to find out, expired bounties would count too). If a question helps one person big time, is that less useful than a question that has some significance to more people?

  3. Any question can convey “do my work for me”. Why would questions do that more than others? Vague and insubstantial questions get voted down, no matter the subject.

  4. They aren’t educational. OK, I admit that this is the only point where these questions are relatively weak.

Each subject/tag will score better or worse on these four points. , for instance, will do good at 2 and 4, but is a perfect candidate for discussion and, hence, unanswerable questions. They have 41% not accepted (identify this: 45%), to give just one comparison. So, what is it with these questions?

  • 1
    Yes, Jeff's blog post is complete bullshit. You can reword it to apply to just about any type of questions with very little change. Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 19:26
  • 2
    @Gilles Complete BS are not my words. It is a heartfelt cry from somebody who helped create a unique community. I think for him point #4 was most important. In his view SE should not be a place where people only just have fun. It should make internet a better place. That's pretty SErious business. But I don't see identify questions as merely fun. They can really be helpful, albeit to a very small number of people. Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 20:46
  • 2
    They're my words. Point #4 is bogus, identification questions are as educational as the rest. Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 21:00

I think these questions are on topic for this site and fairly useful. I have actually used these tags to learn about new movies that may be interesting to see. I have also used one of these tags to answer the question of what movie I saw a while back that had been nagging at me that after searching Google and talking to my friends who are movie fans I was still unable to find the title. After have the question up here for less than a day I finally received a solution.

  • I'm glad that you found them useful, but how is your question useful to anyone else?
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 12:59
  • 5
    @TylerShads the same could be said about any question ever asked how does it help others just because I came up with a question on anything the answer only helps me. I think the best way to look at these questions would be based on the community votes which I would say mean other people had the same question or they may want to check something out based on the premise shown in the question.
    – chcuk
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 13:05
  • The way I see it, if someone tries to explain something to me IRL, I'll help them try to remember by guessing. The conversation won't help anyone else, because I'd like to think most people have their own unique thinking style. This means my thinking won't help you, nor will yours help me. Whereas asking "Why is the sky blue?"; there is a scientific reason for this, that will always be true and solve future
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 19:08
  • 2
    inquiries. A more relevant example: asking "Why does Tony Stark need his arc reactor?" will always have the answer of "To keep shrapnel from entering his heart." This question helps people who don't know this in the future, and is easily discovered. Identify does not accomplish this, nor does it garner many worthwhile answers to begin with.
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 19:11
  • @TylerShads “I'm glad that you found them useful, but how is your question useful to anyone else?” → Don't you delete “me too” answers on identification questions? As a Science Fiction & Fantasy mod, I know I do. Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 19:15

I believe that there is merit in keeping identification questions, but as a community we need to be consistant in the enforement of quality of these questions. We need to come up with a set of rules that identification questions are required to meet.

For example, perhaps you shoudd be able to answer these:

  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • How

Examples of how these could be answered:

  • What: a sci-fi horror movie in space
  • When: Mid 70's
  • Where: in the united states
  • How: the movie threatre, it was a new release

I'm oversimplifying, but I believe that you should be able to extract text from an identification question that answers those questions. Wihtout answers to these simple questions, it's a lot harder to figure out what a person is talking about.

  • 3
    Definitely an oversimplification of quality, but some sort of standard must be established if the decision is to keep them.
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 9, 2012 at 19:34
  • I agree with your layout as from what I can see the identify questions that meet this criteria are the ones with the up votes and the most likely to be closed
    – chcuk
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 12:37
  • @chcuk do you mean most likely not to be closed?
    – DForck42
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 13:31
  • 1
    what I meant was actually "most likely to be answered" or "not to be closed"
    – chcuk
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 13:36

I think everyone said pretty much everything. Though I will just give my input as someone who used the tag to ask a question and then as someone who answers them.

Movie about army reserve soldiers on rotation and they are stranded with combat knives

This was a movie that escaped my memory for quite some time. I did many Google queries to find this but no luck. When Movies was first created, I never really thought of asking it here because I am personally not a fan of recommendations/identify questions. Nevertheless I gave it a go. It is important to note the level of detail I transferred from whatever was fuzzy in my mind straight to the text, even if they were from separate scenes.

It only took a day at most for someone to answer it. This is amazing I am not going to joke. But really my level of detail was up there. What, where, why, how and when. Doing this, even if you didn't know the movie you can try your Google queries against the description and watch a few trailers to see if it matches.


This one, this one, is crap. The OP cannot give us more information. We are not even sure the frames all come from the same movie. These questions should not be here. It's a treasure hunt and not something that adds to the appreciation of movies.


Guessing game. There is much more the OP can tell us.

Video in which a man follows a string all his life to end in the desert

This one came out to be luck. I couldn't even confirm if it was the movie because it was only shown in select film festivals.

Basically I am saying there can be a lot of hiccups in identify-this style questions. I have spent much time using my Google Fu to look for clues for questions only to realize the movie is localized, the OP mixed up the information or the OP isn't even sure what is what

I am not going to sit here and type that identify is all bad. There is value in some of these questions just not all. Fact is, the site needs to figure out what it wants to be. Its prime area of expertise is currently between plot-explanation and identify-this. The analysis tag, something I was looking forward to in more questions has been less than loved.

  • 2
    This is my other point on keeping it. If we do, they need to have a certain degree of quality
    – Tablemaker
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 1:22

While most of this will be based upon a lot of Gaming's arguments, I believe they're example is the best due to the success of their site and their lengthy discussion on the matter (almost 2+ years discussing).

is crap. It is as simple as that. With the stats linked above, and always looking around at the site on my off time, I always see either 1-liners that make absolutely no sense or a wall-o-text with no formatting that is just a person's ramblings.

How do people's ramblings help anyone else on the internet?

If there is a minor detail that gives a clue, it is usually buried somewhere in what they try to express that results, in most cases, in an easily Google'd answer.

The purpose of the Stack Exchange sites is for free higher quality Q&A; it is the result of less structured sites like Yahoo Answers or ones that require money like Expert's Exchange. I feel allowing Identify only reduces that claim for making the internet a better place; especially without any type of rules set forth at the very least on the subject matter.

The biggest linchpin of the whole argument is that most are from users that don't even bother to check back. While there are 66 with accepted answers, there are another 55 with no accepted answer and a majority of which are from users that are unregistered and inactive. Which only furthers my thoughts on them being useless to anyone else that stick around. Should we really allow these to blemish our site like this from people who won't pay it forward and have no interest on at least accepting which answer is right?

Another argument against them is the fact that they do not help anyone else but the asker making them too localized to begin with. The argument can be made that it is possible but it is also *possible for a meteor to strike you right now, or to be hit by a car while you're in your office. The possibility is there, yes, but does that mean you're overtly concerned about it?

The argument of helping other people on the internet with these types of questions just makes no sense to me. This is because I have a bit of a problem when talking to someone about something I can't really explain well. I may be able to picture exactly in my mind what it is, but that does no one else any good because they cannot read my mind and interpret what only I understand. The same goes with identify, how do we know the description is accurate, or even our guesses are what the asker is looking for?

The argument that they can bring in some users is great, but the quality of these questions at the very least has to be there, otherwise, I see them driving away more users than they bring in.

I completely disagree that this will cut off the head of the beta like @Ankit says. There are tons of quality questions found on this site and our quality has only improved over the last few months, and will improve even further with the summer releases coming out this year. Avengers alone spiked the traffic and that only makes me more hopeful for the other big hit titles coming out.

Let me make this part clear about my interest in this.

Yes I disapprove of identify

However, this does not mean I, or any other mod is making the final decision in this.

This is a community decision.

The purpose of this question is to let arguments be made, and let both sides of the coin be known. We plan on pushing this to a final vote after some time that will be open for a significant amount of time (my thoughts are 2-4 weeks of voting) to ensure that as many people as possible lets their voice be heard by voting on this issue.

Keep an eye on the community bulletin. With this tool, we will be furthering the discussion and announce when the final vote will occur.

  • 1
    You have some good points, BUT the discussion is about the identify-this tag, so some of your arguments are invalid. To my mind, only registered users should be allowed to post questions(it would be great if it was done something about it) and the lack of interest they show in the answers to their questions can't be related to a specific tag, only to specific users. Regarding the making the internet a better place argument, not all of my "problems" are common, and the internet can be made better one step at a time, providing useful info to anyone who needs(and deserves) it.
    – Dragos
    Commented May 24, 2012 at 8:02

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