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A little while ago, I asked this question and a senior member voted to close it saying it's a 'trivia' question. He said:

Please do preliminary research before posting questions to H:SE as How to Ask points out, we're not trying to replace google.

The rule for closing questions as 'trivia' says:

Requests for trivia or basic historical facts are off-topic if they can be easily answered by looking up the relevant topic on Wikipedia. We're trying to complement common historical references, not duplicate them.

My question is, are questions that can be answered on history.SE by searching Google with little efforts off-topic? If so, does the rule for closing questions as 'trivia' needs to be updated?

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It looks like you are looking for some kind of completely objective rule. The problem there is these rules are enforced by human beings (our users), not by computers. So there's always going to be a wee bit of subjectivity.

The basic issue is that we as users want to actually contribute something. We like to do historical analysis. If all a question is asking us to do ultimately is look up the relevant paragraph in Wikipedia and quote it back, that's just not the kind of fun activity we come here to engage in.

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From help

[History Stack Exchange] is not about:

Asking for reference material Questions answered by a simple Google search or to be found in a Wikipedia page

[Emphasis added]

Yes, posters are expected to check Google and Wikipedia before submitting questions. Questions that can be answered by Wikipedia or Google are likely to be closed as trivial.

@Thunderforge points out that there are a class of questions where OP may not know what to search for. Why is the US Independent in 1776 but the first President isn't inaugurated until 1789? is (IMO) such a question; answering the question relies on knowing a specific concept (The Articles of Confederation). If you don't have that concept, it will be difficult to interpret the results of the google search.

Before I vote to close any question as trivial, I copy and paste the question into google. If the answer is clear in the first five results (discounting results from H:SE), then I'll vote to close as trivial. If, as in the case above, the answer is present, but cannot be understood without some missing knowledge, then the question is non-trivial and it is worth submitting an answer that interprets the results in the context of the missing knowledge.

  • Sometimes it's not clear what to search Google for (e.g. they don't know the right term). What may be obvious to a lifelong historian may not be obvious for someone with a passing interest in the subject. New users are likely to be the latter. – Thunderforge Nov 17 '16 at 7:28
  • Concur - but if you copy and paste the question into google and get an answer in the first page of results, then the question is off topic. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 17 '16 at 9:41
  • Personally, I'd love for this site to be the first hit in a page of results. Of course, that would require answering the question rather than closing it. – Thunderforge Nov 17 '16 at 15:21
  • Actually the question is generally in the first five results of my search. Google knows me and knows that I spend too much time on SE. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 17 '16 at 15:22
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I think it is useful to note that other SE sites have similar guidelines

The referenced questions link to many others. if this is H:SE consensus, we should probably make that more explicit in our site meta and help center.

  • 'A' problem of the subject history is that we can assume that nearly everything is 'google-able'. I personally browse this SE because: 1.) I like history. 2.) People here tend to give a really comprehensive analysis of the question, backed up by sources and conclude the best possible answer, see history.stackexchange.com/questions/33708/… for example. – Roberrrt Nov 25 '16 at 10:13
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    In theory yes. In practice no. When I find a question that looks trivial, I copy and paste into google. If the answer is in the first page of results, I VtC as trivial. If not, I leave it open. We have many good questions where OP lacks the context to identify the answer, or has an erroneous assumption, and many where google simply cannot answer. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 25 '16 at 12:07

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