As we have received more questions we have started to get a few more borderline questions. I think we are getting to the stage where we have to set some harder boundaries on questions.

For instance is this question on topic?

What about this one?

NOTE: don't forget that you gain the power to vote to open or close questions when you reach 500 rep. SE is a democracy, if you don't think a question is on topic then vote to close. It takes 5 votes so you won't be the only one. If you think the community or a mod made a mistake or a question has been improved since it was closed vote to reopen it. Its your site too.

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    FWIW, both questions are poll/list questions (what JSBangs calls "clearinghouse"), and could be closed as "Not Constructive" on that basis alone. Your community will have to decide if such questions are "interesting" enough to stay. I personally like both questions, but I'm not involved enough in your community to have a say. Jul 14, 2011 at 19:56
  • Btw, I would like to ask, why did yoda can close a question by himself? In other SE, usually a closed question was shown to be closed by multiple persons. gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/1283/… Jul 15, 2011 at 1:17
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    My $0.02: in the beta, I'd rather err on the side of letting borderline questions stay open than closing too many. We'll know if we make a mistake in leaving some "bad" questions open if we see a pattern of bad questions. But our volume is so low right now that it isn't really causing a problem. I'd also really like to ask the mods to let the community close a "borderline" question instead of making a unilateral vote. (You guys can cast a regular-user vote, and not just a moderator-close right?)
    – bstpierre
    Jul 15, 2011 at 2:42
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    @Dori What is the reason to give Mod such great power if SE encourage the participation of community? Especially when the SE is in beta stage and the borderline is not defined. I don't encourage a Mod to close a question "in this stage" because who can guarantee it is right to close when the borderline is not defined well? Jul 15, 2011 at 3:53
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    @bstpierre: As Dori said, I can't cast a regular vote. For this reason, I normally refrain from casting close votes unless it is obvious it should be closed or if other users start casting votes. In this case, I was responding to a flag raised by another user who did not have the privilege to close. I gave it a good thought and I felt it was sufficiently off-topic for the reasons I have given below and in my comment to gunbuster's answer below. Jul 15, 2011 at 4:07
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    @bstpierre: As to the "let borderline questions in beta" comment, I disagree. Beta phase is when such issues should be hammered out so that a consensus can be reached, which will eventually shape the site when it graduates. Letting bad questions slide will only lead to a pattern and by then it is too late to correct it. For e.g., there are plenty of questions on Stack Overflow that are blatantly off-topic and invariably, they point to earlier (2008 era) questions (which by now, have 1000+ votes) as justification for asking them Jul 15, 2011 at 4:10
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    @yoda, @Dori - Understood on the voting issue -- though you could wait to vote on a borderline question until there are >1 or 2 regular votes. I'm not talking about bad questions, stuff that is obviously OT by the standards that exist. I'm talking about borderline questions that are likely to generate a fair amount of discussion in both directions on meta.
    – bstpierre
    Jul 15, 2011 at 11:55
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    @Dori - You're putting words in my mouth. I did not say they should ignore flags. But if you automatically supervote to close because someone flagged it, then you've given any user the power to supervote. I'm saying that you should let it get a couple of votes (or flags) to close. All I'm asking for is to give the community a chance to make decisions. Leaving a borderline question open for an extra day or three isn't going to hurt anything. There isn't any urgency to close a question like the two we're discussing here.
    – bstpierre
    Jul 16, 2011 at 11:29
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    @bstpierre: That's not giving any user a supervote. I only cast a close vote on a flagged question, if I would've voted that way even if there was no flag on it. I don't see all the questions all the time... sometimes I happen to miss some or skip because I'm not interested. Flags only help to bring these to our attention, not sway us. Jul 16, 2011 at 13:56
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    @bstpierre: A good number of the users in this community have nothing to do with the original sites (SO/SF/SU) and really do not know the concept of voting/closing/deleting/migrating, etc that is the backbone of the SE model. The only three votes cast on the above question (which I later reopened once it was narrowed), were from the users who had already answered. The rest of the community (including you, who have close vote privilege & access to mod tools) didn't respond. At times it is necessary for mods to step in until the community gains momentum. Jul 16, 2011 at 14:01

3 Answers 3


Firstly, I'd like everyone reading this to understand that just because a question is closed doesn't necessarily mean it was a bad question to begin with. It simply means that the question was not a good fit for the community. Now, what is on-topic and what is not is something that constantly evolves as the community grows and we require your (users') input on where to draw the line.

For e.g., when StackOverflow started, a question like "What blend of coffee is most suited for a programmer?" would've been acceptable. As time progressed, the focus of the site became narrower and such a question wouldn't last a minute today. This is a good thing, because now there is less opinion, less circlejerk and more focussed answers on SO, and this is what we hope gardening.SE becomes eventually.

Now coming to the two specific questions:

  1. The first question was flagged as off-topic by a user and I too felt that asking for scientific research on the ability of plants to clean the air is not related to gardening in any way! If botany.SE or biology.SE ever comes up, it might be a good fit there. The OP tried to make the case that it was on-topic because he had one sentence expressing his interest in having indoor plants to clear out the smoke. However this is only superficial and you can in fact make any question seem on-topic by adding "... in my garden" or something related to gardening. For e.g., would these questions be on-topic?

    • What kind of hat will provide shade while working in my garden?
    • Which brush should I buy to paint my trellis?
    • What flowering plants should I grow to impress my date(s)?

    I hope not. Now, a case can be made for opening it if the user were to ask a specific question related to indoor plants (something along the lines of "What indoor plants double up as air purifiers?"). However, questions that elicit multiple subjective answers are not allowed and will be closed (an example along the same lines: "What are some good indoor plants?")

  2. The second question didn't strike me as odd at first, and I did answer it too. However, thinking about it some more, it fits into the class of questions I outlined above and is only tangentially related to gardening. Hence it should be closed as "not constructive"/"off-topic"

Lastly, the community should be equally involved in this, else it will seem like the mods are taking unilateral action (especially since a single vote closes it). If you find something off-topic/bad/not constructive, vote to close it! You only need 500 rep in beta phase to cast a close vote. If you feel that a question has been closed unfairly, cast a reopen vote or bring the discussion to meta.

  • Can you clarify that the reason for closing my initial question? Are you trying to say this SE does not encourage understanding to the plants we're going to plant? Or that I've mention the plants absorbing smoke? Or this SE does not welcome answers in the form of links to other sites? btw, it is unfair to use some misleading examples such as the hat/brush/dates because they are just not similar to my case. You can just focus on my case. Jul 15, 2011 at 4:27

@yoda My initial reaction to the first question, concerning the ability of plants to clean the air, was similar to yours; I thought it was off-topic and was going to flag it for closure, suggesting the 'Health' site in Area 51 would be a more appropriate place for it. However, upon reflection, I changed my mind for these reasons: (1) even if the questioner was not an aspirant (indoor) gardener, he/she might well become one as a result of an interest in this health issue (and surely, wherever possible, we should encourage this), and (2) the research required to answer the question would be an interesting learning experience: it would widen our knowledge of the plants involved and improve our gardening skills. I therefore decided to answer the question and, in the process, learned a good deal about indoor plants and their needs. I have voted to have it reopened.


I think poll/list questions would be acceptable in this SE and this SE should not always behave like other SE to only accept question with solid questions.

It is natural for gardeners to ask which plant is suitable for them and of course every answers are equally valid in some aspects. In the mean time, the questions can become a community wiki and the answer get voted by users. For example, this question/wiki about gardening tools were accepted.

Back to the choosing plant problem. Every answer is equally valid only if it is valid and correct as an answer, so there are less problem of too subjective. The only matter is the effectiveness of the answer, and that would be judged by the votes. For example, this, this. And how to defeat pest: this, this.

And btw, this question is not closed too and I think this is a decision by the community to not vote to close it. Although a question regarding labelling a metal is of course can be consider as off-topic.

As for the opinion of yoda, I think Botany.SE is far from beta phase. My opinion is that Gardening.SE is more suitable for this because we have more users who are interested in planting different plants, whatever of their purposes. You cannot ignore that if you simply search google about "air clean plant", the top 10 results are all plant suggestions for gardeners.

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    I must disagree with you. While plant suggestions (like what cherry is the sweetest, etc) are OK on this site, your question (the version before it was closed) was not of that nature. Your initial question asked for more links to scientific research, which most certainly is not a fit here. There are probably several highly technical articles from serious journals that go into detail about air purification by plants. But most of them are behind pay walls and hence inaccessible (even to provide an excerpt). It's better now, as the focus is on "what plants" than "what research". Jul 15, 2011 at 2:40
  • Don't bother about initial question. Question can be broaden too. So if my initial question is off-topic. Now I've made a review so that everyone can get benefit from it. Jul 15, 2011 at 2:47
  • I don't think journal/article/paper are behind pay walls...they are just published most of the time. You can found plenty of them by just searching up google for pdf, which is common format used by journal/article/paper. Jul 15, 2011 at 4:23

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