I'd like to present for comment a process by which we might productively handle requests for lists of reference material on the History stack using the current StackExchange software.
Requests for references are a common type of question people would like to ask on the History stack. This shouldn't be surprising, as the study of History is all about reading and analyzing references. Unfortunately, the StackExchange system is not well designed for this type of question, so these often get closed, as much as many users here would like to answer those questions.
Some stacks allow questions like this, but an examination of the results show that the content doesn't end up being very useful (low votes, seemingly capricious acceptances). What is needed is a way within the system to set up such questions in a way that does encourage the production of useful content.
Under the proposed Reference List Question process, when a question that qualifies as a request for a list of references or books is submitted by a user, the following will happen:
- Someone1 notices the nature of the question, and adds the tag references.
- Someone creates a community wiki answer.
- Someone adds a comment to the question giving the questioner the option of either accepting the community wiki answer, or having the question held until they can rephrase it to no longer qualify as a list of references. The comment should reference this meta post for a fuller explanation to the original poster.
- Users who wish to answer at this point may do so (with normal non-wiki answers).
- Any references listed in a new answer will also be added to the accepted wiki answer by someone (preferably the person who posted the answer), with no commentary.
1 -"Someone", in true StackExchange fashion, means any user who happens to notice that it needs doing and has the requisite reputation to perform this action. Users who notice and don't have the needed reputation may flag the item to request it get done.
Advantages of this approach:
- The compilation wiki answer puts the complete list of mentioned references at the top of the answers (regardless of voting activity). Being a wiki, no user will get reputation credit for it, as is right for a compilation of everyone's answers.
- The other answers, all sharing the property of not being accepted, will be automatically sorted via the voting process.
- Users who post answers will get reputation credit for the quality of their answers as per normal.
- A random web surfer hitting our page should find first the question, second a complete list of references, and following that answers with references and explanations, sorted by quality (votes).
In short, I believe it sets up a system where the existing SE engine will provide the proper incentive for good useful answers.
Drawbacks of this approach:
- It requires an extra step from the person asking the question. Often such people are brand-new users who are likely to have more trouble than most comprehending jargon like "accept button" and "wiki answer".
- It requires extra moderation work from alert and knowledgeable users.
- It doesn't solve the fundamental issue of such questions being solicitations of personal opinion.
- Its a big experiment. As far as I know, no stack has done something like this. It seems to me it ought to work, but nobody knows how it will perform in practice.