I'm talking about questions like this, and this? I feel that they can be good questions if properly worded (the second one was edited substantially following my suggestions).

The first question is about the clothing of an American soldier in Japan. Worded as such, it doesn't seem interesting to me. A more historical question would include a guess: Is this during or after World War II/Korean War/Vietnam war, etc.? The followup would be: "Why would a "GI" be issued this, and not that?"

The gist of the second question was something like, I'm used to five digit zip codes and this letter/photograph has a two digit code. At what time point did zip codes change from two to five digits (so that the OP can narrow down the time frame for this photo)? And the logical followup question would be, "why did this change in zip codes occur? It is the last question that would make the post historically interesting.

As "standalone" questions, I feel that they can fall into the realm of "archaeology,: "trivia" or "curiosity," unless an active attempt is made to involve history in some way. This can be achieved by putting in appropriate "hooks" into the question to link it to historical events. Should we require such "hooks" before allowing such questions?

Put another way, should we encourage people that want IDs to ask for historical context (as I did by coaching my answer in that vein)? Or should we just take and answer the questions at "face value," even though there is, or could be, quite a bit of history behind the "face?"

  • Related (but I think not identical) question: history.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1985/…
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 16:12
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    This probably isn't a good answer, but I know I've lost count of the amount of photo ID questions we've gotten that I thought were pointless, and the answers ended up being fascinating. We ought to have some standards for them just out of principle, but I'm not sure what they would be (and boy howdy, do they generate a lot of interest).
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 16:14
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    @T.E.D.: That's why I said that we should try to "upgrade" these questions, not bar them. But maybe it's a case of the answerers doing that on their own, as I did.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 16:31

2 Answers 2


Both questions got numerous, highly upvoted answers. So as T.E.D. pointed out in a comment, it seems like answerers are "taking the bull by the horns" and constructing excellent answers out of weak questions.

So for the time being, nothing needs to be done about these questions because "no harm, no foul." Just to note that the questioners ought do better. And to give kudos to the answerers for working around these limitations. And kudos to the one questioner for working on his question.


We should close all identification questions that lack verbose verbal descriptions for the blind. These questions often dump a poor quality image file with no further information, and no text that allows deep or useful searching. Apart from the discrimination against the disabled, this results in poorly searchable questions which have no long term community value.


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    The problem that I see with requiring a verbose verbal description is that these types of questions are often from people with little knowledge of the field that they're asking about. They will, therefore, lack the technical vocabulary to be able to accurately describe the item that they want identified and, in my opinion, a vague description or a "not even wrong" description would be every bit as bad as no description. [Not the downvoter btw]
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 9:58
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    I've given four to six go throughs our search catalogue and supplied question edits with verbose descriptions. It is fatiguing work, nobody seems to model, we get blow through amateur genealogists ^W^W^W^Wproviding very low quality questions. It inhibits the sites over all quality. It makes it useless for specialist systems (Google search). It makes it openly hostile to the disabled. And question askers fall into the blow and go category. And being the only one improving the quality of the questions makes me feel like I'm behind the bloody bicycle sheds. Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 1:45
  • @SteveBird You mention a two-sided coin: 'not even wrong descriptions' are common in questions here, visual or not. Those can always be misleading answerers. But even a 'wrong' description is nevertheless what OP 'sees', and thus not unlikely other might see as well. OP has probably much higher resolution and more perspectives on 'item' than we do. Thus a technically wrong vocab might still reveal important detail. And tech-wrong should be quite low for the basics ('man', 'long cuff', 'deep ridges', 'heavy metal', etc.)? Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 9:16
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    It seems that we might need to remove the downvotes on this answer? Perhaps the language is too radical/'unfriendly'? In fact, it is indeed too negative even for my tastes in the "ultimate goal" formulated here: us closing a question from what certainly is a newbie (alas, one that only in a minute fraction of cases will come back here for another take regardless of the success of any such questions) should not be the default. We should strive to keep it open (but temp-close if necessary) by nudging OPs to increase quality, while restraining ourselves from answering a still substandard Q. Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 12:11
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    That would mean: commenting nicely, requesting improvement, helping with edits, pausing to write an answer, at least not upvoting any answer posted on such substandard questions. Rewards should be avoided for: 'OP not improving' (in form of OP getting that one thing he registered for and then leaves), 'regular user posting prematurely' (the usual upvotes on any 'military' question for answers of almost any quality seem to be somewhat around +5? Too much incentive for posting while disregarding quality?) "Leave closed", the least preferred option close 2nd "premature posting". Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 12:17
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    If modification of this answer doesn't lead to more upvotes, I'l suggest posting a new metaQ: "How do I post a good identification question?" In there describe all the problems presented here, emphasising your viewpoint, but then focus on the user-angle. In this thread we educate our regular users, in the other one we might guide newbies posting their ID-Qs? (Not just to avoid a meta-dupeā€¦) Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 12:21
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    I am going to wash the bicycle shed mess off me. Internally model the positive community we want to achieve. Think about how to positively encourage genealogists and milhist identifiers. And post a new meta question. And a positive answer incorporating what LangLangC has said and made me think. Thank you Commented Sep 19, 2020 at 0:23

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