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This is a poll, so please answer clearly and/or upvote an existing answer:

  • Do you have any additional arguments, whether in favour or against?
  • Should we keep the current policy, of telling people we'd prefer they don't post questions in order to self-answer them?
  • Should we keep the current "tacit" policy, of tolerating some self-answered questions (for example if they're upvoted), as well as of allowing or accepting a moderator's deleting such a topic if the moderator wants to?
  • Should we change (or simply undo, vote against), the current site-specific policy, and instead welcome (in general) the self-answering of topics?
  • Do we need to reconsider any other policy, related to "what is a 'high quality' question?", and, "Is a 'low quality' question ever closed and if so by whom?"

Introduction

Bhante Kumāra posted (and answered) this topic and that led to this chat.

In that chat I tried to explain this policy -- May I share my research, by posting questions on this site and self-answering them?

Ven. Kumāra (and Ruslan) would like to revisit and perhaps reverse that decision.


Reasons for disapproving of self-answered questions

Some of the reasons I gave in chat were that self-answered topics can be a vehicle for low-quality or disruptive content, for example:

  • Someone can use it to an argument across multiple topics, for example:

    Question: Is such-and-such true? User X said "such-and-such", in topic Y. Are they right?

    Answer: No! User X is wrong, and such-and-such is false! etc.

  • Someone can post questions which seem intended to prove that their knowledge is superior:

    • "Asks a question"
    • (Waits for other people to answer...)
    • (Posts an answer): "Thanks for trying, everyone, but here's the correct answer which I was expecting: etc."
  • Someone can flood the site with several questions and answers per day.

  • It can be used for posting dubious content -- conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, maybe spam-like topics.

  • It seemed to me that the community had voted against it -- including in this topic which has answers like:

    Personally, I find seeded questions irksome; it's generally easy to see that the asker isn't really looking for an answer, so there is no sense of accomplishment in answering. It feels more like a chore, like editing Wikipedia or something.

    ... and,

    Simply put, the best way for a SE site to answer questions from beginners is for beginners to ask them. However, SE sites make for great Q&A sites, not for great reference sites.

    ... as well as in this topic where even MathewMartin's answer, which appears to say "yes", also says,

    Yeah, posting a rhetorical question & answering it is bad business (for this site, fine for a blog/discussion forum tho)

    So it was a clear majority of the users who voted -- 9 users to 3 or something like that -- including all three of the moderators.

  • Contrary to SE norms, on this site we have little or no quality control on questions -- Moderation policies for Questions -- and if a question is closed it's closed by moderators not by users. Because "self-answered" question can be unwelcome -- low-quality and/or disruptive, we discourage them in general to avoid having arguments about why their question was OK but yours is unwelcome.

  • In practice moderators aren't strict in enforcing the rule.

    If a user does it occasionally/rarely, if the question and answer are welcome (up-voted), if it doesn't seem "disruptive", then (so far as I remember) moderators don't delete it, instead it's "tolerated".

    The existence of the rule lets us (moderators) delete things if we don't like it:

    • Usually the community has asked moderators not to judge the "quality" of a post (but this rule allows us to)
    • On this site it tends to be only moderators -- not users -- who will close a question (it takes 5 high-reputation users to vote to close, or only one moderator's vote)
  • In my personal experience or memory of other SE sites, self-answered questions are permitted but not very important. They're rare on any main site, and are mostly used for topics on Meta.

    The most useful, most-upvoted topics on Stack Overflow seem to be all people answering other people's questions, not their own.


Reasons for approving of self-answered questions

Ven. Kumāra's argument for permitting them includes:

Furthermore (quoting from chat):

  • And I'm also saying trust SE's design to make Buddhism.SE work, because it has proven to work elsewhere. There's no reason it wouldn't work here. And there's no proof that it's not working.

  • I'm believe when people use is like their onw blog, they question will get much downvoted and the person will eventually leave. This is not just a theory. We already have proof of this.

    (Therefore allowing self-answers isn't harmful -- instead simply downvoting is enough to solve the problem and/or make people leave.)

  • Besides, if we want to attract more experts, then openly allow self-answering, because that's an important factor in attracting them. By disallowing it as a policy, or even just to discourage it almost as a rule, the moderators have undermined a major reason why SE is successful elsewhere.

    Experts who want to share find this an attractive place. We should encourage the useful ones, and shoo away the useless one, instead of shooing away all of them.

I suspect that users in favour of this change, and/or who may want to post self-answered questions, include Ven. Kumāra (who's proposing this change), Ruslan, perhaps other (current or former) users including Theravada and Lowbrow, and perhaps Samana Johann.

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Generally, what I like to do is to post a question sincerely i.e. where I do not know the answer to the question.

Then I choose the best answer to the question, and this must come from others.

However, I may later post an answer based on useful information that I discovered AFTER posting the question, in which case, I will never accept my own answer.

The reason for this is that I think this is very useful information that should not go unposted, and would add value to the question.

My example for this is Was the Abhidhamma taught by the Buddha?.

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  • Yes that's currently/already welcome -- that was the reason why, and the (only) extent to which, MatthewMartin's answer voted "yes". – ChrisW Jul 5 at 7:57
  • I think this is the best way to go about it. – user2424 Jul 14 at 13:44
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  • "Asks a question"
  • (Waits for other people to answer...)
  • (Posts an answer): "Thanks for trying, everyone, but here's the correct answer which I was expecting: etc."

I think this kind of answer should be edited so that it neither extolls some nor disparages others by asserting one's correctness.

I know some people post answers like this to regular questions and i am pretty sure i've flagged some as abusive. I've been annoyed and posted answers like "how on earth can people think that..." i think even that is unnecessary and id be rightly censored.

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  • Thanks. I wish I didn't feel I had to moderate this kind of behaviour and/or expression i.e. "conceit" -- that it didn't happen or that I could cheerfully ignore it -- but I fear it does annoy some users, and/or leads to arguments (annoyance, people leaving), and a few people seem to do it for whatever reason, so I get involved in trying to moderate it. Even if people don't say it explicitly (comparing people, disparaging others), I'm mindful of what Ven. Yuttadhammo said (above) about "seeded questions". – ChrisW Jul 3 at 20:38
  • So, editing it (as you suggest) is a start -- but I'm not sure it's sufficient -- even if it's edited (not explicit), if other users don't answer a question because it's just a "chore" and "irksome" and "no sense of accomplishment" then I fear that the quality-per-topic might drop, and engagement (enthusiasm) may drop, and the community splinter e.g. into those who do and those who don't want to engage with the questions or assignments from that OP. – ChrisW Jul 3 at 20:38
  • IMO there's a certain symmetry to keeping people separate (i.e. you can ask a question if you want someone else's answer, or answer someone else's question if you want to and can). – ChrisW Jul 3 at 20:40
  • There is a whole 'nother, separate topic -- which is that we have e.g. a lot of questions about for example anatta and so on, which aren't clearly organised. If someone wanted to write reference material (instead of answering other people's questions), perhaps there ought to be some "FAQs" on this site. But that's more work (time and effort) than I want to put into this myself at the moment; and that kind of scribing (re-reading and editing, synthesising existing answers) might not be the sort of work that an "expert" would want to do (they might prefer to write their own answer). – ChrisW Jul 3 at 20:51
  • Anyway I'll take your/this answer as a vote to continue my current policy, i.e. that an answer must not explicitly disparage another user or their answer. Your answer is also a vote for a new policy, that authors should or must not extol themselves or assert their own correctness. Though on the subject of at least implicitly asserting one's own correctness, note that references which "back up" an answer are welcome but are not required. – ChrisW Jul 3 at 20:58
  • I think answering one's own question should be done as if one was able to answer anonymously and if community doesn't like the content they can downvote it like any other answer. Ideally imo there should be no special dynamic between the question and the answer. I am not a fan of playing games with the questioneer nor completing or handing out assignments. – deadmanposting Jul 3 at 21:40
  • The case of basically mere posting of Q/A from the sutta requires little to no effort. However i think these can be good as a wiki of sorts, so i wouldn't mind this content either. especially if the Q/A derived from the sutta is complemented by other discourses or relevant information then these become very good imo. – deadmanposting Jul 3 at 22:35
  • This is very similar to people posting sutta excerpts on facebook as i see it but here done in a q/a format. I personally don't mind it as it is good that people read the discourses and maybe the answers complement eachother. Furthermore if there was a big database of this type of content and it was well organized & searchable, that would be quite valuable. – deadmanposting Jul 3 at 22:36
  • To summarize think this type of content is basically an effort to repost the entirety of the Q/A contained in the Suttapitaka to BSE in accessible format for easy reference. – deadmanposting Jul 3 at 22:36
  • I assume it was more targeted, i.e. that sutta was chosen to be especially relevant to the readers of this site. That intention itself makes self-answering questions slightly at odds with this popular policy: "In general, unless you actually are the questioner's teacher, don't assume a teacher's mantle." (even if the suttas and his commentary may be good advice, as well as well-intentioned of course -- plus it is good/better to have some actual teachers on the site). – ChrisW Jul 4 at 7:12
  • Looking through topics which previously mentioned AN 5.159 I found this -- Which early canonical references help one find a skillful teacher?, posted when the site was started. That was popular and you might like it because "the Q/A derived from the sutta is complemented by other discourses". That's something Piya Tan does too somewhat, i.e. cross-reference suttas. – ChrisW Jul 4 at 7:20
  • Of course some people don't think that sites should be for copy-and-pasting references and for emulating Wikipedia (Shog9 was was of the SE "community moderators") -- IMO what makes this site especially useful is that it's interactive, responsive, personalised -- because otherwise there's lots of reference material on the 'net already, and the content of this site isn't especially well organised or structured for reference. – ChrisW Jul 4 at 7:27
  • I guess the most compelling arguments were "the moderators have undermined a major reason why SE is successful elsewhere" (is that so...?) and "self-answering is an important factor in attracting them" (if you say so...!). Another thing he said is we can "shoo away the useless one" (I'm not sure how that would work). – ChrisW Jul 4 at 7:32
  • I made a similar question recently (among others) about how to discern true Dhamma and it's not something i am proud of. I feel that if i kept posting such questions it is somewhat dishonest because the motive for asking was muddied and i just think this may or may not be what the site was intended for. It's not organic content so to speak, it's just otherwise fabricated content even tho indestinguishable from a genuine question from one seeking knowledge on a subject. – deadmanposting Jul 4 at 9:57
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    I could name a few users on this site whose questions I wouldn't want to answer myself -- in my experience, trying to answer their questions feels like attempting and being told I've failed an exam -- so I don't answer but I read the question with a kind of dread of what will happen to any unfortunate new users who naively make a good-faith effort to answer, given that the OP already has their own "right answer" in mind, an agenda to push. That's one of the worst-case scenarios, imo. – ChrisW Jul 4 at 11:09
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I think there is 3 situation:

  1. One does not know the answer and later after finding something useful hence adds a late answer which is acceptable.
  2. One has an answer in mind. Unless one is a pure novice one will have some answer, in many cases it is the level of confidence and depths in the knowledge is what changes. In this case, the answer should be posted with the question so others do not was time digging up the same information or trying to answer at the same depth. Also, others can share answers where their angle differs from the given answer. This can also be verifying if one's position is right or if one has missed any angle. Not being able to share what one has got would mean one gets answers on what one already knows or may not be at the depth one is seeking and wasting everyone's time. E.g. one has a Sutrantha answer but not the full Abhidhamma angle not sharing this means someone may also give a Sutrantha answer wasting his and your time. Providing and answer reduces the burden on others to the amount of facts they have to research to complete or different angle to the question.
  3. Questions to test others might not resonate well with uses and these are the ones which need to be discouraged.
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  • Right. So your #1 agrees with ruben2020's answer. Your #2 agrees with existing policy i.e. ask a detailed sincere question about what you don't know, show your research about what you know already in the question (but don't self answer). And #3 agrees with existing policy i.e. especially don't self-answer in order to test people and to claim that your own answer is superior. – ChrisW Jul 7 at 9:33
  • In #2 I mean answer your own question immediately (do self answer immediately or without delay) when you ask the question if you have an answer so others can give something 1) different 2) additional and not wast time answering what you know. Your answer is just another answer which can get votes by its merit. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Jul 7 at 9:48
  • #3 is not giving an answer immediately and when someone gives an answer saying "this is a wrong answer and this is the answer I have been expecting". – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Jul 7 at 9:51
  • Oh -- when you said "the answer should be posted with the question" I thought you means "as part of the question" -- a bit like in this question where I posted some references and partial answers as part of the question. The way I read your #2 example, your actual question is really/only about the Abhidhamma, and that is the question which only other people can answer. – ChrisW Jul 7 at 9:55
  • Re: #2 - If you post as part of the questions the voting mechanism cannot work for one's partial answer. One's own answer serves as and references on which others can give something additional or another angle. Say my answer is the Sutta angle some sone else can give another answer with the Abhidhamma angle. If my answer is based on say X, Y sutta someone else can give another saying Z Sutta also mentions this. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Jul 7 at 10:00
  • So you're in favour of posting self-answered questions so that your answers can be up- or down-voted. – ChrisW Jul 7 at 10:02
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    Answers are sorted by votes. So what should be at the top is what is the best. So if the subsequent answers are mediocre one's answer should be at the top. If other answers are better they should Bubble to the top. For this to work properly though we need a reasonably knowledgeable community. What if you have a good question with bad assumptions about what the answer is. If it is the body of the question others cannot signal this by voting other answer over this. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Jul 7 at 10:16
  • Thats an excellent point: some answers may actually be incorrect(based on well known concepts such as The Four Noble Truths) yet presented flamboyantly etc readers may infer that it is correct cf a plainer answer(or perhaps boringly written) which might go unnoticed or even misunderstood yet is fairly accurate! Also, the further a question or answer is from central concepts, the more expertise and insight may be needed to discern its accuracy! good stuff is assumed to rise up, but may not. Or a question may seem abrasively worded, but more because of an Askers language ability! – M H Jul 10 at 17:51
  • And if very good & insightful answer was misunderstood & received downvotes , the Answerer might delete it because they wouldnt want people to be mislead and infer that is wasn't correct! Whether a question was selfanswered wouldn't affect that! so maybe it's good to try consider questions & answers individually rather than to try aggregate them into groups to either be unallowed or allowed. If some selfanswered questions seemed getting out of hand, maybe just ask them to ease up. And if selfanswered questions are open to information, they could be helpful. – M H Jul 10 at 18:17
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I'm strongly opposed to giving green light to quasi-questions posted with the sole intent to share an opinion, an unsolicited teaching, rambling, philosophical musings etc.

If someone can enumerate and define scenarios when self-answering is not utilized in order to take advantage of Buddhism SE platform to push unsolicited info at the audience, and develop some sort of guidelines for telling them apart, we may be able to find a better compromise than today's black-n-white policy.

I believe when people use it like their own blog, their question will get downvoted and the person will eventually leave.

Regarding the above, my experience from being on this site since 2014 is exactly the opposite. Instead of getting downvoted out of sight, low-quality content -- including the preaching/rambling-style questions and answers -- attract other similar low-quality questions, answers, and comments, which creates a self-supporting cyclical tendency that eventually crowds out good quality content, discouraging serious users and pushing them to leave.

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  • Ven. Kumāra's example of a self-answered question was not down-voted, seemed to be orthodox, well-explained, a conventional format (a sutta which previous users have seen occasion to post more than once). Self-answered questions are by definition "unsolicited", aren't they. Apart from "unsolicited" are there another criteria to distinguish low-quality posts? For example whether they're "Disruptive behavior" (i.e. "other users tend to react poorly, etc.")? – ChrisW Jul 8 at 14:31
  • To me, Kumara Bhikkhu's post was off-putting exactly because of its unsolicited nature. Imagine if I started posting unsolicited Mahayana teachings copy/pasting verbatim quotes from Chogyam Trungpa's lectures - wouldn't that be off-putting to many users? My guess is that some users would quietly leave and some would start posting their own content in response to mine and the whole thing would snowball. – Andrei Volkov Jul 8 at 14:47
  • The only exception I would make is when the OP posts a sincere question, is not satisfied with any answer, then subsequently does his/her own research and posts a satisfactory answer. Even in this category moderators would have to remain vigilant to censor unsolicited advice disguised as "better answer". – Andrei Volkov Jul 8 at 14:59
  • Right. Another scenario/use-case I imagined was, someone might post a summary here each time they posted a new Dhamma talk on YouTube or a blog -- in theory the number of posts could explode. And I know you're sensitive about one user's not pushing other topics off the front/active page of questions, "flooding" the site (though other sites have to learn to deal with many questions per day). But if it's so that self-answered == unsolicited == off-putting, there's not much wiggle-room, not much room for discussion or compromise. Would rate-limiting help, e.g. a guideline of 2 per week per user? – ChrisW Jul 8 at 15:05
  • Maybe I should ask on meta.se how do other sites welcome self-answered questions without their being treating as spam (i.e. "unsolicited" albeit not commercial). On a big site like SO I guess it's taken for granted that nobody will read everything that's posted, and if you don't like an on-topic post (self-answered or otherwise) then downvote it or just shouldn't read it -- and there's some ability to ignore tags -- and that might work, or be the best they can do, for huge sites. – ChrisW Jul 8 at 15:09
  • Sure, you can ask around. I'm thinking, maybe a combo of rate-limiting and reputation-thresholding? Unfair but reasonable in a way... [FromScore, ToScore, UnsolicitedPostsWeeklyAllowance] 🤔 – Andrei Volkov Jul 8 at 15:20
  • So you're not against rate-limiting. I wonder whether Ven. Kumāra would accept it as reasonable safety valve, or whether it's just another unwanted rule. I wonder what else we could do; if this were Discourse (which it isn't) they could be posted as a new Category; but SE only supports two categories, i.e. main and Meta. – ChrisW Jul 8 at 15:51
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    ... the whole thing would snowball And not sure whether snowballing would be a bug or a feature, I guess it depends on what you want of a site and the quality of the snow. Increased volume would mean more to moderate, other sites expect the users (not the moderators) to moderate content -- to vote-to-close and so on -- which I'd say they haven't been doing here. – ChrisW Jul 8 at 15:59
  • Come to think of it, your last comment has some logic to it. – Andrei Volkov Jul 8 at 18:57
  • Aggressive Staggering by Reputation would prevent the worst part of the problem IMO. Like, until you have a ~1000 points (maybe even 5000) your Unsolicited Allowance should be zero. – Andrei Volkov Jul 8 at 19:29
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    Historically the two users of this site who posted the most numerous rhetorical or pedagogical questions, which weren't entirely "well-received", and which we've tried to stop because they seemed to be flooding the site and poorly-asked, and/or argumentative+disruptive, were both high-reputation "trusted" users (over 4,000) -- so I'm not sure that (reputation) is a very useful correlation. Conversely some of the most expert (and reputable) people in the world are not the most avid users of this site, and I'm not sure we ought to discriminate against them on that basis. – ChrisW Jul 8 at 19:41
  • What might you think of this as a policy: "if users don't want to vote-to-close, then why should we (moderators) try to do it?"? Maybe we should stick to moderating users instead of content, including moderating users for reasons like, "consistently low quality questions over time We've noticed that you've asked many questions, a large number of which were not well received by other members of our community. Specifically, many of your questions were downvoted and closed etc." – ChrisW Jul 8 at 19:47
  • That would imply that we moderators should refrain from voting-to-close if there's any doubt (though we can down-vote and comment). – ChrisW Jul 8 at 19:49
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    To me the fact that the two worst offenders were in 4000s just means we need to set the barrier even higher, maybe to 10k. One I'm thinking of was 30k, isn't that so? An infeasibly high bar -- which goes to show that a user's being an avid/prolific user of the site, and knowledgeable, doesn't necessarily imply their questions or their "unsolicited advice" are necessarily well-received (welcomed) -- so instead (if we allow it all) we might need to allow it on a case by case basis, perhaps depending on the community's reaction to it (instead of e.g. a reputation-based privilege). – ChrisW Jul 8 at 20:56
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    Alright, your arguments against the reputation-boundary are sound. And yet I'm not convinced we should greenlight a random newbie getting on the proverbial soap box just because they are a Bhikkhu channeling EBT or a Vajrayogini spontaneously speaking rhyming Dharma poems, or anything else. How are we to decide who is allowed to get on the box and who's not? I suppose the main issue here is community self-moderation or rather the lack thereof, right? – Andrei Volkov Jul 8 at 21:00
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What about self-answering questions?

I vote to keep the policy as it is now.

Removing it would allow anyone (teachers, self-appointed experts, preachers etc.) to post their own answers. It could become messy and lead to arguments and discussions on the site which we have tried before. It takes a huge toll on moderator resources.

IMO it's better to keep the policy as it is now and do as @Ruben has mentioned in his answer.

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    You might want to vote "no" here in that case. The first time we voted, all 3 moderators as well as other users voted against it. But with Ven. Kumāra's saying now that the policy is unattractive to experts, plus the fact that self-answered questions are allowed on every other SE site, I thought we should at least reconsider (even if our answer is still officially "no maybe better not"). – ChrisW Jul 14 at 14:27
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    @ChrisW. Thanks for the info. I see the issue and think it's fine that the topic gets brought up. – user2424 Jul 14 at 15:21

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