This site has got a lot of history of discussion of 'identify-this-thing' questions on meta. Here are some that I found with a quick search;

Ultimately, this all boils down to a blog post by Jeff Atwood from 2012: Let's Play The Guessing Game. I highly recommend reading this post if you haven't before, as it explains in greater detail with more generic cases what the problems are with using a Q&A site to do guesswork.

I'm aware that some of the above questions are regarding specific types of identify-this-thing questions, most recently, about questions that just post an image. I personally am for identify-this-thing questions under a particular set of circumstances, and this community seems to have a strange split view on which questions are acceptable and which questions are not.


These questions are just bad. Not only do they potentially have nothing in them that have a basis in reality, but they're based off memories, and are only ever going to be useful for the specific person that asked the question. This in itself automatically falls under Too Localised. These questions boil down to a guessing game, based off the distant memories of the person who asked the question - before even getting to what is bad about identify-this questions within a Q&A format consider this: Most of the people asking these questions actually have no clue about what they're asking about.

identify-this-image, identify-this-clip

Personally, these are the type of identify-this questions that I find acceptable - they're based on something physical - you can view the image, you can view the movie, you have something to work off that is not as vague as a memory. While I find these types of questions acceptable, there have recently been a number of questions asked that are just bad questions, boiling down to nothing other than an image. The worst example of this that springs to mind was a question that is now deleted which essentially was a question where the asker only knew the screenshot was from a movie, because of a competition he was taking part in asked which movie it was from:


Further to this, there was another question raised shortly after asking about this screenshot:


The former was deleted in short order, and the latter has a boilerplate response on it basically stating "go to google image search". This is not a good answer - it's bouncing a user who asked a question here to another resource without providing them an answer to the question that they have asked. This appears to be the way that the community wants to go with these.

Closing a question as a duplicate of another question which provides an answer amounting to "LOL USE GOOGLE SEARCH" is not high quality content.

so what are we going to do about it?

If we're going to allow vague subjective questions amounting to identify-this-memory, then banning questions where actual physical evidence is provided on account of being able to use that information to find the answer is the wrong way of doing things.

identify-this-image and identify-this-clip questions give you something finite and conclusive to work from. These questions are answerable not just by the person asking the question, but by the entire community. They present none of the fundamental issues that are present in identify-this-memory style questions and they certainly add more value to the site than identify-this-memory questions (albeit, still not enough to make them high quality content).

The community should decide whether we're keeping all identify-this questions or whether all identify-this questions are off topic. Splitting them into two groups and then deciding to keep the worst kind of questions is not the right way to move forward. Answering questions with "LOL USE GOOGLE SEARCH" is not the right way to move forward, and comes across as unfriendly.

I am of the opinion that if we keep identify-this-memory, then identify-this-clip/image are also on topic. If we make identify-this-clip/image off topic, then all identify-this questions are off topic.

If we choose to keep them, then the quality of the questions needs to increase to the point where they're no longer 'guesses'. Provide an image, provide details of who was in the show, provide plot points, describe in detail scenes that you remember. A couple of lines is insufficient to make it anything other than a guessing game. Guessing games do not work well within a Q&A format.

  • 2
    If we are going to allow both then their should be quality check required too.
    – Ankit Sharma Mod
    May 17, 2013 at 13:30
  • 2
    +1 for starting a hopefully insightful discussion. And +1 for Ankit, it's not just about answerability, but much more about quality. There are many other trivia questions that are answerable quite easily, still they are just bad questions. And more often than not a text-only ID question is answerable quite well by SE (and quite hard by other means), but still this doesn't make identify questions in general neccessarily good questions on their own. And whatever get's finally decided, there definitely need to be quality guidelines.
    – Napoleon Wilson Mod
    May 17, 2013 at 14:32
  • Quality is the key focus, the most important part - whether a question is answerable is important, but not important enough to allow low quality questions to survive. It is important to consider that while many people dislike image only questions because they're easily answerable, these are no worse in quality than a couple of lines of "I remember this movie/tvshow..."
    – user1887
    May 17, 2013 at 14:41
  • Welp I'm not goign to try and enforce the Image-only policy since people keep vtcing them. I'll just comment with a link to this discussion and make sure things don't get too heated.
    – DForck42
    May 20, 2013 at 19:01

3 Answers 3


View from another perspective:

I am always interested in these discussions about what is an acceptable question and what is not. I remember answering a question once about a piece of music that was in an episode of Louie. In hunting it down, I found that people were looking for this answer in forums all over the Internet. I found the answer and posted it, and fortunately the asker was quick enough to see it before it was nuked as being trivia. We could have been THE website with the answer to this question, but someone determined that knowing where the music came from and being able to hear it again was not important to the viewer’s appreciation of the show, never mind that the viewer (and many others out there) thought it was important.

Stackexchange is building libraries. Here are some things I know about libraries:

  • Libraries collect information and organize it to share with a community.
  • Library collections are community-driven. If the community has an appetite for cookbooks, you have a lot of cookbooks. If kids love Guinness World Records and Garfield comic books, you make sure you have them. We have classics side-by-side with 50 Shades of Grey.
  • Libraries offer a wide variety, so that everyone in the community can hopefully find what they need.
  • As information becomes outdated or no longer useful, it is weeded from the collection after it has had its day in the sun.
  • A good library is a platform for its community to share information. We run into trouble when we start trying to prescribe for the community what information they should be seeking, and when we tell them to go ask their questions somewhere else. This is how libraries lose customers. This is how libraries become irrelevant.
  • Libraries are more than their collections. They provide services, like answering questions that no one else cares about simply because one person DOES care.

Here is what I know about movie and TV questions: they are all trivia. They may vary in quality or in the number of people interested, but there is nothing answered here that affects how anyone lives. We help people enjoy a particular art form by sharing details about the artistic decisions, the history, the plot, and sometimes simply the name of the film.

Stackexchange differs from libraries in one significant way: it has a user point system. This has value in that it lets users know that the person answering a particular question does appear to know what he’s talking about based on reputation. Because of the user point system, though, you have a library that you cannot weed, because people’s points would get weeded at the same time, and apparently they are not happy when that happens. In an ideal situation, people could ask their "identify" questions, and after 6 months, any with fewer than X votes could be weeded. This would maintain the quality of your collection while also being open and inviting to new users.

Stackexchange also differs in that it is completely digital. We are not going to run out of room on our shelves. So what is so bad about keeping the absolute trivia next to the slightly-better-quality trivia on our virtual shelves? It’s searchable, via tags or keyword. No one has to read the questions they don’t like. No one has to answer questions they don’t find interesting. Questions with no upvotes or no up-voted answers can surely be nuked at any time. Question that do not give enough information can certainly be closed.

I participate in the Parenting Stackexchange as well, and on meta there have been discussions about how we get people to use the site – an issue here as well, since we are still in beta. In the world of library advocacy, this is a question of selling versus marketing. In selling, you create a product and you try to get people to buy in. In marketing, you choose your market (movie and tv buffs) and you create the product they want. It appears that 20% of our market has “identify” questions. I think we should create a product that addresses this preference. I think it is better to have these questions mixed in our collection than to shut out these users, as the platform does not offer us a way to answer a question without adding it to the collection.

Sorry if too long-winded.

  • 1
    Don't be sorry for posting your perspective on things - this is a good response with a point of view that hasn't been put into these words before that I largely agree with. One of the many points raised on chat during our discussions about this to date is that by removing these questions we're potentially removing users and also distancing ourselves further from the level of activity we require to graduate from being a beta site.
    – user1887
    Jun 15, 2013 at 21:07
  • 1
    Excellent explanation. +1 Jun 16, 2013 at 0:59

Some statistics

  • Id this movie
    • 157 deleted (35%)
    • 291 open (65%)
      • 9 closed (3%)
      • 17 unanswered (6%)
      • 203 accepted answer (70%)
    • 448 total
  • Id this tv show
    • 25 deleted (25%)
    • 75 open (75%)
      • 4 closed (5%)
      • 12 unanswered (16%)
      • 45 accepted answer (60%)
    • 100 Total
  • Combined
    • 182 deleted (33%)
    • 366 open (67%)
      • 13 closed (4%)
      • 29 unanswered (8%)
      • 248 accepted answer (68%)
    • 548 total
  • Site wide
    • 594 Deleted (20%)
    • 2,327 Open (80%)
      • 45 Closed (19%)
      • 145 Unanswered (6%)
      • 1603 accepted answer (69%)
    • 2,921 total
  • ID paired to site wide
    • 31% deleted
    • 16% open
      • 9% closed
      • 41% unanswered
      • 15% accepted answer
    • 19% total
  • if you have any other stats that might be conducive to this discussion, please feel free to edit them in.
    – DForck42
    May 17, 2013 at 15:36
  • maybe "accepted/non-accepted", shows both answerability (even if that is not the crucial argument) and maybe also "site determination" of the askers? And I'm not complete sure what "ID paired to site wide" actually is. Ah wait, I got it, but better titles might help others (or I'm just dim-witted)?
    – Napoleon Wilson Mod
    May 17, 2013 at 16:08
  • @ChristianRau an unanswered question (stats above) is a question that 1. doesn't have an accepted answer and 2. doesn't have an answer with a score of 1 or more.
    – DForck42
    May 17, 2013 at 17:34
  • @ChristianRau the ID paired to site is the percentage of the site that ID questiosn take up. So 19% of all questions ever asked on the site were an ID question.
    – DForck42
    May 17, 2013 at 17:35
  • And from the questions thus regarded answered, woulnd't it be interresting to know the ones where a present answer was accepted and those where it wasn't?
    – Napoleon Wilson Mod
    May 17, 2013 at 17:37
  • @ChristianRau added the stats
    – DForck42
    May 17, 2013 at 17:45
  • 1
    Thanks. So they don't perform that badly compared to all questions. I would have guessed a worse accept rate.
    – Napoleon Wilson Mod
    May 17, 2013 at 17:50
  • @ChristianRau Thats mostly because I do regular cleanings of the questions.
    – Tablemaker
    May 18, 2013 at 2:54

Honestly, I'm behind just getting rid of all identification questions. They create more problems than they solve, they're hard to moderate to have a consistant level of quality, and frankly their scope is just too small. It is very, very rare, in my experience, for someone to find a movie they're looking for by using google and finding an ID post. The probablility of one person remembering the same details as another person are just too small.

We have other content on here that deserves more attention, but these ID questions tend to cause the most problems so we are looking at them the most. I believe for us to grow as a community we need to jsut get rid of them. If people still want help IDing questions they are more than welcomed to come to chat for help.

I used to be an arbiter for these types of questions, but now I can't defend them. I used to say that they're great way for new users to come to the site, but that's not 100% accurate. If a user comes and asks a deep question, they'll get a range of good answers. If they come and ask an ID question, they're more likely going to get asked a range of questions to help nail down the answer, IF it's answerable. Most of the time someone will ask their ID question, get their answer, then leave. These questions do very little to pull new users into the site.

  • 4
    I couldn't disagree more. An ID question is what brought me to the site, and they're why I've stayed.
    – FredH
    May 17, 2013 at 14:47
  • 2
    @fredh was it an ID question you asked, or one you found via google?
    – DForck42
    May 17, 2013 at 14:50
  • I asked this question. I don't recall what led me to the site in the first place.
    – FredH
    May 17, 2013 at 15:01
  • 1
    @FredH providing a balanced argument, that question contains more information than most identify-this questions. In my mind, ideally as a result of this discussion, a middle ground could be reached where identify-this questions remain on topic as long as they remove as much of the guessing game as possible
    – user1887
    May 17, 2013 at 15:12
  • +1 Hmm, interresting arguments, never was a friend of ID (well, long ago maybe), still completely nuking them is a large step (if even one I could tend to agree with).
    – Napoleon Wilson Mod
    May 17, 2013 at 15:16
  • 3
    @ChristianRau While nuking is a step I'd love to take, I understand we must step slowly into this. Going with Kalina's idea and phasing them into such a high standard of quality.
    – Tablemaker
    May 17, 2013 at 18:56

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