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Dear fellow network engineers,

I have been trying to contributing my two cents to this community, and have gotten back many interesting bits of knowledge in return. However, the site's strict management has been bothering me for a while so I tought I'd bring it up. I would like to ask if we could be a bit more open and lenient as a community. It's great fun to talk amongst us, but it is also normal for others to reach out to us for help.

I know the network is often the "default gateway of blame" when something doesn't work as expected, and more often than not something fishy is going on at the application level. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in a slightly dismissive attitude, and I feel this site sometimes reflects that. ("Well, I can ping it so it's not the network. This problem does not appear to be about network engineering within the scope defined by our ITIL service catalog, so go ask someone else.")

There are gray areas between network engineering and other disciplines and the problems living in these gray areas are often the trickiest ones. I even feel that one of the differences between a good and a great network engineer (/ server admin / developer / ...) is having sufficient knowledge in bordering domains. Typical examples include application protocols, DNS, proxies, load balancers, (policy) routing on servers, ...

I am sure many of you are such great network engineers, so we are actually saying "Hello there, we know the answer, but we're not telling." Again, this is the right thing to do if someone cannot get his web server to listen on port 80, but we should acknowledge that some questions are not clearly part of one domain and in that case, we should be a bit more forgiving.

Take this current example about DNS TTL and retry timers. It is clearly not about running a DNS server, but about understanding the protocol. Reading our, SuperUser's and ServerFault's help center does not make it clear who is supposed to answer this question. I could look for more and maybe better examples if it helps the discussion.

One of the goals of Stack Exchange is to create a body of knowledge easy to find through search engines. The likes of Google are going to find the answer on this site or the next. If we know the answer, and it is related to our field of expertise, why don't we just answer the question.

The same thing is true for the strict policy on consumer-grade equipment. I agree we do not want to be Comcast's help desk. But when someone is trying to learn about networking and experimenting with whatever is at hand, I would hope we are a welcoming community. Yes, troubleshooting is harder without show commands or decent logging, but that is one of the lessons that a question asker can take away. I would compare it to those high school students they send us every now and again to get a taste of "real work", we take some time to show them around without it being actual network engineering work. We're just being friendly.

Why does a question suddenly become interesting because it contains a(n expensive) magic word like Cisco or Juniper? We are sometimes happily doing their support department's or even Google's work. Some examples where I felt this: monitoring user input and disabling a reset button.

And here we are happily giving DIY advice about mounting a Cisco to a wall, just because it's about a Cisco? I the exact same question was asked about a second hand 2U device for someone's basement, we would refuse to answer...

So, to make this a question instead of a mild rant, couldn't we be a bit more lenient in the interpretation of the rules? I agree with the intent of those rules, I am not talking about completely opening any gates, but about tolerating a gray area and sometimes following the spirit rather than the letter..

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    Could you please edit this to make it a question to which the community could provide answers? Most of what you have put here would be more appropriate framed as your own answer, and just like the main site, you are welcome to provide your own answer. – YLearn May 24 '15 at 1:11
  • I fully agree with this question I didn't read as a "mild rant" :). A network with just network equipments, and no operating systems, no network stacks, no servers configurations, no programs to communicate, and finally no users, would be a perfect network, without a failure. A network without any communication :(. – dan May 27 '15 at 7:49
  • Suggested edit: add a ? at the end of the title. – dan May 27 '15 at 7:50
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    I fully support this questions/answer. I don't know how to fix it, I just know that it needs to be fixed. I can't recommend others asking questions here because it comes with a page of caveats. Ranking members have a lot of pull, so most community members mindlessly follow. – Ryan Foley May 30 '15 at 6:53
  • @RyanFoley You took the words right out of my mouth. – Todd Wilcox Jun 8 '15 at 20:39
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Summarizing and paraphrasing your questions:

Should this stack be welcoming to strangers?

We should be respectful to everyone, and to the degree that we're not enabling help vampires, we should be welcoming.

I have always maintained that we should be polite, but firm with help vampires and trolls.

Should we expand the site scope to include consumer networking devices, dns, etc...?

No. (but I mean that in the most welcoming and nicest possible way)

Summary Version

As I wrote this answer, it grew much longer than I hoped it would. To summarize a lot of stuff below: We don't want to bite off more than we can chew. If we open the topics up to billions of people, we make the site a thousand times harder to manage.

Details

Perhaps you'd like to understand why I don't want to expand the site's scope to what you suggested. YLearn's answer covered some of my reasoning, but I'll point more reasons for advocacy of a limited NESE site scope (at least to start, while we have a small number of active close voters).

First let's look at some numbers...

  • Number of users on the internet in 2015: 3 Billion users
  • Number of network engineers in the world: maybe 3,000,000 Note 1
  • Number of NESE close-voters (assume beta requirements of 500 NESE points): about 100 users (as of May 2015)

Boiling it down, assuming 100 close voters...

  • Ratio of total internet users to potential-NESE-close-voters: 30,000,000:1
  • Ratio of total network engineers to potential-NESE-close-voters: 30,000:1

Some math behind community-building

Before NESE was proposed, I had been an active Stack Exchange user for a couple of years. While I participated, I noticed that moderation can make or break a site. During beta, our most basic mission is building a network engineering community, which is often considered a group of people with a common interest.

But in our case, building a community is more than merely people with a common interest, it's also about building a core group of users who we trust to moderate the site. Stack Exchange sites are not moderated by the people with diamonds, they are moderated by the entire community (explicitly the close voters). Like it or not, every time you upvote, you're incrementally empowering that person to govern the community, set the rules, vote for closure, etc...

So, back to the math...

  • How many people could have DNS problems / questions? Billions
  • How many people could have consumer-grade networking questions? Billions
  • How many people are seriously interested in Cisco / Juniper / etc...? maybe 3,000,000

If we open the list of acceptable topics up to allow DNS or consumer devices, we make the site hundreds-if-not-thousands of times harder to moderate.

Rep Hounds

Furthermore, if we start encouraging "simple" questions on the site, we also have the reality that some percentage of those active users will be rep hounds, who answer anything and everything so they can get more fake internet points.

The more "simple" questions we allow on the site, the more we get of those people who typically resist keeping the site as purely professional network engineering. This winds up diluting our professional network engineer community for little gain.

Close voting on life support

Our NESE close-voting is already on life-support; while I think that's a common problem with other stack exchange sites, the point is that we should be smart about what problems we tackle while we have a relatively limited number of close voters. Remember it only takes one person to ask an off-topic or confusing question, and five people who care enough to both read and vote to close it. The numbers work strongly against the close-voters early in a site's life; especially if we open the topics up to (potentially) billions of people.

Taking the example of DNS... and setting aside my other arguments against DNS on NESE, one might argue that we don't have to make this an all DNS or no DNS site... sadly, I think it's really that black and white when we have so few close voters. It's a lot of work to suck enough details out of people for us to even know whether we can help them. DNS is one of those things that's going to be labor intensive to get documented well... especially from network newbs. On top of all that, many DNS servers are not in the direct control of the person with the problem; that means we can't help much besides telling them to talk to a network admin, or to call the company which operates the DNS server. In short, it's a lot of work with very little real value beyond what Super User already provides.

As for consumer devices, this site's name is irresistible to anyone with a home network problem. NESE might as well have a neon sign blinking "Dump your home networking question here!" What site is better to solve billions of peoples home networking problems than one full of network engineers? When we point out those home networking questions are off-topic, it's not uncommon for the question to chameleon into a "I just want to learn about this subject" (which seems to be a topic you'd permit). If we embrace consumer devices, our workload will significantly increase for no good reason that I can find.

Finally, I'd point out that the number of our active close voters is way lower than 100... right now, it's more like 20 active close voters; this multiples the problems described above (because the ratio calculations were based on 100 close voters).


  • Note 1: I have no idea what the real number of network engineers is, but this seems like a reasonable estimate and it makes the math work well.
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    Quoting this answer: "I have always maintained that we should be polite". NE.SE is more lacking in politeness than any other SE I'm on. So much so that I just don't participate any more. I came across this meta while considering whether it's even worth it for me to vote in moderator elections. I have 18 years experience and certifications under my belt, and I feel like I'm not welcome on NE.SE. That's a problem that I don't know how to fix, but it sounds like letting people know it's a problem is worth something. – Todd Wilcox Jun 8 '15 at 20:33
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I have been waiting for you to divide this more into an actual question and answer before responding, but it doesn't look like that will happen. So, I guess I need to address your post in it's entirety.

However, the site's strict management has been bothering me for a while so I tought I'd bring it up. I would like to ask if we could be a bit more open and lenient as a community. It's great fun to talk amongst us, but it is also normal for others to reach out to us for help.

Yes, it is normal for others to reach out to us for help, but the scope and goal of this particular site is not to help everyone. From the very beginnings, the scope of this site has been determined by the community, including what is determined to be on or off topic. It has never been intended as a site to cover all things networking. It was meant as as an alternative to Server Fault by network professionals and for network professionals.

While network professionals are welcome at Server Fault, where such questions are on topic, for most network professionals SF didn't suffice because the actual network questions got buried under the volume of server questions. Most busy professionals don't want to use their time sifting through a lot of unrelated content to find the occasional question of interest.

Super User didn't suffice because while there were many networking questions, they centered on home/consumer networks almost entirely. Again, same problem as SF in many respects for professionals.

The result is that most network professionals did not find a place in the SE community and in turn did not spend much time on the SE sites in general. Speaking for myself, I know I am more active now at other SE sites than we would have been if NE did not exist.

Unfortunately, this sometimes results in a slightly dismissive attitude, and I feel this site sometimes reflects that.

You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I personally don't see this played out as you describe. There are quite a few examples where people have helped to troubleshoot issues and refine questions until an answer is found.

I don't have a lot of spare time now to dig up examples (and most of that usually goes to moderating when I have it, although this is taking up quite a bit), so if someone wanted to edit in a couple I would appreciate it.

There are gray areas between network engineering and other disciplines and the problems living in these gray areas are often the trickiest ones. I even feel that one of the differences between a good and a great network engineer (/ server admin / developer / ...) is having sufficient knowledge in bordering domains.

Absolutely, and I agree in part with this as you can find recorded on meta here. However, the community was a bit split and the strongest voice for them to be on topic was mine. Even then, I also said for now they were a better fit on SF and still believe that to be true.

Until the community is more established and makes a definitive stance on the issue, they are still better served on SF or another site. I will also note, nothting prevents members of the NE community from contributing on those other sites and I know a number of them do so.

I am sure many of you are such great network engineers, so we are actually saying "Hello there, we know the answer, but we're not telling."

No, we are saying that they are questions that are not deemed on topic on this site and that they should be asked on the appropriate site. This ensures that their question will reach the widest possible pool of knowledgeable people to statistically get the fastest, most varied, and best answers possible.

Community members from SF, InfoSec, and any number of other stacks are often very knowledgeable in a number of disciplines. However each site also has their own limits on what is on/off topic and close a great many questions for the same reasons we do here.

Unfortunately, I believe we get more than our share because so many more people are involved in networking casually. By this I mean that most homes today have a network, but not nearly as often run a server or have users who are concerned about information security to such a degree that they find themselves on those sites.

One of the goals of Stack Exchange is to create a body of knowledge easy to find through search engines. The likes of Google are going to find the answer on this site or the next. If we know the answer, and it is related to our field of expertise, why don't we just answer the question.

So, is it easier to find the answer you are looking for if you get a single better quality link or a half dozen links of various quality that you need to sort through to find the answer?

We are welcome to answer any question on any site, so wouldn't it be better if we do so on the more appropriate site?

The same thing is true for the strict policy on consumer-grade equipment... But when someone is trying to learn about networking and experimenting with whatever is at hand, I would hope we are a welcoming community. Yes, troubleshooting is harder without show commands or decent logging, but that is one of the lessons that a question asker can take away.

I feel this is mixing a couple of different types of questions. So, if someone is learning and has questions about networking concepts in general, we of course would hope to provide a welcoming community to address the question if appropriate. Howeverit seems most consumers are often only looking to fix a problem, not to learn about networking.

As for consumer devices, while not being able to utilize tools/resources that are expected to be found in an Enterprise environment is part of problem, it is by no means all of it. There are many other issues with consumer class devices that we as a community do not want to address, such as lack of technical information about the product/firmware/features, code that is more prone to bugs/known issues that are never addressed, non-standard approaches, etc.

Further, as I have stated elsewhere, when I answer here I can assume a certain knowledge level from the community. My answers on Super User are tailored for that audience. That is only possible because they are two different communities and if I had to frame all my answers here just like I would on Super User, I for one wouldn't spend nearly as much time here.

I would compare it to those high school students they send us every now and again to get a taste of "real work", we take some time to show them around without it being actual network engineering work. We're just being friendly.

These are great experiences for those students, and I fully support them...when I can. I have rejected requests to do these when work did not allow time for them and have never been questioned by my management at those times.

In this sense, when I have time to just be friendly, I spend time picking through and answering questions on Super User.

Why does a question suddenly become interesting because it contains a(n expensive) magic word like Cisco or Juniper?

Frankly, I don't find a great many of the questions asked here interesting personally. And I only skim or even skip a great many of them, even if they use a "magic word."

It does generally make them on topic, although we have closed many a question for various reason even if they used a "magic word" in them.

We are sometimes happily doing their support department's or even Google's work.

Yes, in a sense we are providing an alternative to vendor support. So what? Aren't all SE sites doing that in some respects?

As for Google, I again agree. Many questions can often be answered by a quick Google search, and sometimes we (and other SE sites) call questions out on this as well. This has been a complaint before by members or former members of the community. But again, aren't all SE sites doing that in some respects?

And here we are happily giving DIY advice about mounting a Cisco to a wall, just because it's about a Cisco?

No, not because it is about a Cisco, but because this is part of the job in many cases. Shall we survey network engineers to see how many have had to figure out "creative" installations for their equipment at least once in their career?

Whether in a retail environment, an inherited deployment, or mounting access points, I have often joked with other network engineers that growing up with my dad as a general contractor has often been more valuable in my career than many of of the network training courses I have taken and that the interior of my car often looks more like that of a handyman.

I the exact same question was asked about a second hand 2U device for someone's basement, we would refuse to answer...

Yes, because as a home network question this then falls outside the scope of what the community has determined to be on topic. However in this case, it is possible that it may be edited to be on topic.

Whether removing the context of the question will make it on topic has been discussed here before as well. This and this would be examples of such discussions, and details why this would or wouldn't work in some cases.

So, to make this a question instead of a mild rant, couldn't we be a bit more lenient in the interpretation of the rules? I agree with the intent of those rules, I am not talking about completely opening any gates, but about tolerating a gray area and sometimes following the spirit rather than the letter..

If we start allowing greys areas, which ones? Who determines which to accept and which we don't? When does grey become so common it is now white? And when that happens, what are the next shades of grey we allow?

The community has set boundaries on what is on or off topic. Some are very clear cut, and others not so much. There certainly can be some grey areas, but when the moderators feel the issue is clearly black/white, they will take action based on what the community has determined. When it skirts those grey areas, speaking for myself, I tend to leave it for the community to make the decision.

I do apologize for any mistakes or logic jumps, as I haven't the time to fully proof read and edit this now, since it took so long to write. I will try to return to it if I can, but feel free to edit if you find something you think you can fix.

  • In response to OP's comment about a dismissive attitude on this site, you wrote: "I personally don't see this played out as you describe." Maybe look through my history on NE.SE and see how I've been (from my point of view) rudely treated in a dismissive way, as if I'm a 15 year old who knows nothing about business networks. There are some NE.SE users with very high reps who maybe have let it go to their heads and have been very rude. To me that's a bad sign, since to whom does one turn when those at the top are part of the problem? – Todd Wilcox Jun 8 '15 at 20:36
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    @ToddWilcox, I am sorry you feel this way and I do take your comment seriously, so please don't take this the wrong way. I just spent the last 20-30 minutes going through all your answers and the comments on them and I don't see any trend of rude or dismissive behavior. It is also possible this took place in comments to other people's questions/answers, but I can't possibly be expected to try to track down every comment. Would it be possible to provide examples of the behavior you describe? – YLearn Jun 8 '15 at 22:00
  • Looks like a particular user who seemed to have an unexplained and mysterious vendetta against me has gone through and deleted almost all of the comments they have made on my answers and comments. I routinely see that same user being what could most generously described as "curt" to pretty much every new person to the site. It's not that this one person has been so rude that I pretty much can't come to NE.SE without getting stressed, it's that this person is seen as an asset to NE.SE and their attitude seems to be accepted and validated by the mods. It's a bad culture here. – Todd Wilcox Jun 9 '15 at 13:33
  • Doing my own research it seems like something has changed for the other user in question. The places where I would normally see their superior attitude now have either no content from them or much more polite content. So that's a very good sign and I guess my original comment on this answer is no longer as valid, but I will leave this all here becuase it's not so far back in the history here that this was a real problem and this question seems pretty crucial to NE.SE right now. – Todd Wilcox Jun 9 '15 at 13:43
  • @ToddWilcox, for the record, 2k+ users and mods can view deleted content. So my comment actually includes deleted content as I did go through any deleted comments. I don't know if they ever get purged, but a quick search showed that deleted comments stay around a long time. Here is a timestamp from one: deleted by YLearn♦ May 13 '13 at 4:28 So even if you can point me at an answer that you feel was treated poorly in this fashion, I should be able to see the comments. – YLearn Jun 9 '15 at 22:12
  • @ToddWilcox first and explanation of what I see happening with the comments being deleted. It looks like you moved the conversation to chat when it became extended (thank you!), and this copied the contents of the comments to chat. You then deleted your comments. A month or so later, the other party noticed and removed their comments (as one side of the conversation makes no sense). The chat room however then was deleted due to inactivity. – YLearn Jun 10 '15 at 3:58
  • Now, what I see in that exchange isn't what I would personally classify as rude or dismissive behavior on either side, although both sides may have gotten a bit frustrated with the other. This is one of those internet conversations I would chalk up as more of a "not quite getting each other's point of view" experiences. Personally I think I can see the points each party was trying to get across, but I don't feel either side really addressed the others points well. – YLearn Jun 10 '15 at 3:59
  • Well Ylearn, I participate in a lot of SE communities, and for some reason NE is the only one where I think to myself "I don't have any reason to put up with this". If you see any validity to this meta question then it seems to me that you'd want to try to understand the point of view of the people who feel like there's no place for them at NE.SE. Or maybe you are happier staying smaller and cliquish so you know whom you are dealing with. I can't think of a better way to get my point of view across. – Todd Wilcox Jun 10 '15 at 10:18
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    I found a good example of exactly what I'm talking about. The second comment on Mike's answer here comes off as if the question in the first comment is a stupid question, and the second commenter seems to be saying, "avoiding damage to SM ER or ZX optics is as obvious as not sticking your finger in an electrical outlet". If it were that obvious to the OP, he wouldn't have posted a question. And this rude comment has an upvote, even. networkengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/19090/… – Todd Wilcox Jun 10 '15 at 15:27
  • @ToddWilcox, since my response is longer than usual and this is already getting into a long conversation, I have created a chat room to continue this converstation. – YLearn Jun 10 '15 at 22:57
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I agree with Gerban, I think more can be done to make us a more welcoming community.

I wonder if someone could Venn Diagram the knowledge circles for Super User, Stack Exchange, and Network Engineering, (and maybe InfoSec). Those are the most commonly confused/overlapped subject areas, it might be a bit easier to link to when closing new posts. Something a bit easier to digest then reading all the individual FAQ/etc questions that each of those sites have individually. (to be hoenst, I think I could benefit from this as well).

On a positive note, I've seen a recent increase of comments that start with "HI, welcome to NESE, here are the rules", which is much better than an outright "off topic, closed". I think that goes a long way in fostering repeat visitors.

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    I agree, just because a question even begins to approach a non completely network focused protocol/concept - we mark it off topic. As network engineers we work with more than just the branded hardware, we work with Linux servers running iptables, quagga, bird, or something else. So why is it when a question about linux comes up, its immediately voted off topic? I mean if it's about some crazy kernel implementation for TCP, by all means, off topic the thing. But we really should just be a little bit more lenient as stated above. This is just one of a few examples I've noticed. – Jordan Head May 26 '15 at 18:08
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    ....those "welcome to NESE..." comments are from me... I have two static ones I paste in before pressing the instant-death-moderator-close button. I wish SE would let us make those happen by default.... oh, wait a minute. Feature request! :*D – Craig Constantine Jun 4 '15 at 15:00

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