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On the topic of this question: Can we stop immediately closing "Where can I watch" questions as "Requesting illegal copyrighted materials"?


StackExchange used to have a close reason that sounded like so:

This question can be easily answered by a simple search query

Which most "where can I watch/read this anime/manga" are potential candidates for. I think we could allow such questions for titles with obscure series which don't have English translations (subs and/or dubs) and in other languages which are actually not so easy to google up.

We also have our big list of legal resources which can be browsed for a lot of the popular titles. But it's pretty obscure coz it's on meta and there aren't a lot of links to it (not enough if people still keep asking, I suppose?)

So, in case of questions which can easily be googled, should we close them as duplicated of our big legal list of anime streaming and manga reading sites?

(for that we'd need to migrate that list post from meta to our main site, which can be done, but requires some moderator help, so let's talk about this first)

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It used to be called General Reference. The guidance for it can be found in Are Some Questions Too Simple, which was written by Jeff Atwood in 2012, but it proved to be problematic and was replaced with custom close reasons in 2013 as a result of The War of the Closes due to abuse.

A question could only truly be considered general reference if it could be found within the first few results of a reasonable internet search, and even then finding the answer on a search engine was merely the start of the General Reference closure test, and when taken in its entirety it also needed to be considered if there was any redeeming value in providing more information than the existing answer provided. If redeeming value could be found, then answering the question was supposed to be the preferred option over closure.

By directing people to our big list of resources, you only tell them where they can start looking for a show. It does not tell you which services actually have it, and what you are proposing looks as if people should have to sort through a dozen of links, and perform dozens of searches on each service until they discover if the show is licensed or not. That is a few dozen times more effort than the General Reference standard was ever meant to require of our questioners. That is not to mean a given question, such as where to watch Dragonball Z legally would not be General Reference, as the first result in an internet search, should lead you directly to Funimation's website where it can be watched, but it is to suggest that it would have needed to be decided on a case by case basis depending upon the availability of the show, and other factors such as where the viewer is trying to watch it, since legal sources vary from region to region.

It is also for this reason that it is not a good candidate for duplicate closure, which is more or less an extension of General Reference, except for existing answers on Stack Exchange. In The Wikipedia of Long Tail Programming Questions, Stack Exchange co-founder and Chief Execuitive Officer Joel Spolesky has this to say about duplicates:

If you’re going to close a user’s question as a duplicate, it has to be a real duplicate. For example, if a user asks, “What does the IP address 128.0.1.1/24 mean?” it’s OK to close that as a duplicate of a more general question like “What do IP addresses of the form a.b.c.d/e mean?” But it’s not OK to close it as a duplicate of a twenty-seven page guide to netmasks. That’s the moral equivalent of saying “RTFM.” Stack Overflow is not meant to be a library of reference manuals. It’s supposed to contain the same information as a library of reference manuals, in the form of millions of questions and answers. Combined with Google, that gives us the magical power of a library of reference manuals you never have to read! It’s like, you got to the library, and there’s a wizard there at the door, and you ask your question, and, instead of being told to read a book, you just got (are you sitting down?) the actual answer!

This article is referenced in the network wide meta question How Should Duplicates Be Handled, and the guidance there is to only close real duplicates as duplicates, which I interpret to mean that the actual answer should be found there, not merely a lead to the answer. This makes a great deal of sense given that the main reason we have duplicate closure simply is not served like that:

The fundamental goal of closing duplicate questions is to help people find the right answer by getting all of those answers in one place.

If you really think about it, it makes a great deal of sense, because with enough of a research effort, the answer to just about any question can already be found on the internet with enough of a research effort, but knowing what information is necessary to find the answer is of some value, as is putting in the effort to actually complete the steps necessary to complete the answer. Putting us out of a job like that is one of the main fears people expressed when Gen. Ref. was proposed. Knowing how to find information is a skill in and of itself.

There are another problem with the close as a duplicate suggestion as well. One such problem is that if we do not expressly close these questions as being directly off-topic, it implies that this is the sort of question we want to answer, but if we were to implement this particular sort of plan it would mean we do not want to answer these questions. The discrepancy may lead more people to ask us than we might see otherwise, and as a result, our archive of questions would be cluttered with off-topic information. I think it would be better to commit to answering these questions, or not answering these questions instead of trying to reach a potentially confusing compromise that might not satisfy anybody.

Additionally, what happens when our list of resources contains no legal source for the show whatsoever? What we have effectively done, by closing the question as a duplicate of the existing list, is send the questioner on a wild goose chase! This is contrary to the purpose of duplicate closure, which is to direct people to pre-existing answers, and frustrating enough to them as to merit being against the notion all on its own, even if the other points weren't factors.

I would like to nevertheless make one more final point, and that is that strictly speaking, Meta is not really supposed to be as an alternative form of Q. & A. for otherwise off-topic questions. Meta is supposed to be for discussing website policy, and how Stack Exchange Software works. Strictly speaking, everything else, including resource request topics, are off-topic questions. Please reference this administrative note on this Meta-Latin S.E. by the network's Director of Community Development Robert Cartaino, and the following closure flag, which refers to this help center page:

Flagging > Closing > Off-Topic This question does not appear to be about Anime & Manga Stack Exchange or the software that powers the Stack Exchange network within the scope defined in the help center.

I think the problems that trying to harbor off-topic questions on meta would pose are similar to the sorts of abuse Community Wiki questions posed, when they were still possible to ask, prior to the feature's removal in late 2010.

Now I opine that the existing topic is fine, since a rationale regarding why a list of legal resources is policy related could be devised: We should not be supplying links to illegal resources. That opens up the S.E. network to nasty contributory infringement claims, and while D.M.C.A. safe harbor protects them I have observed we had D.M.C.A. takedown problems in the past in the Maid Cafe. However, to close a question as a duplicate, you stated that we would have to migrate those other questions over to meta, where they certainly do not belong, and interfere with efforts of people trying to find relevant answers to relevant subjects. I think topics asked on meta should be on-topic for meta, and that we should only accept categories of questions on the main website if anywhere.

In conclusion, I do not think we should close these questions as duplicates, and what we should really be doing is asking ourselves if these topics are problematic, or relevant enough to our goals to merit answering here. I shall formally reserve my opinion on that matter for another topic, since I have already gone on long enough, feel as if I have exhausted what can be stated about what is being asked about here, and do not want to burden the voters with yet another point to consider while deciding to vote for, or against, this answer.

Also, here is an afterthought: None of this is meant to necessarily suggest that we should not direct people to the existing list of resources, but I think duplicates are the wrong tool for the job. I think comments are more apt for this purpose, since they may be used for "minor but transient information", such as "providing a link to a related question".

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I'm certain at some point I had recommended that we migrate that resources over to the main site...I can't seem to find the post, but no bother.

My stance on this issue is fairly simple: we shouldn't allow these kinds of questions.

It's easier for us to maintain the one list of legal resources, and keep that fairly locked down (i.e. protected and watch it like a hawk) to mitigate the damage of others coming in and adding their own illicit sources than it is for us to look for a single specific series.

Note that this has the unfortunate side-effect of locking out series which have gone long out of print, or are otherwise not available through legal channels. Even with that in mind, I don't want us to be in the business of maintaining a resource dedicated to those series if I can help it.

This will also have a knock-on effect on how many people come to the site, since they're not going to get an answer that will satisfy them, but I have other ideas on how to solve that...

  • My own opinion is that it's not on topic (or on brand) of our site to actively maintain a list of legal sources for… anything! So what we should do is add a simple "how to google" guide into that list of ours, migrate it to main site and close all new such questions as a duplicate to it. This is the kind of question that the seekers should find answer to on their own, as it's impossible to keep up with every title's legal watching/reading options. – Hakase Jul 25 '17 at 10:49
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    @Hakase Would suggest migrate to main, and lock it. It doesn't get updated all that often, and as you also stated, neither do we really want to maintain it. – Dimitri mx Jul 25 '17 at 13:40
  • @Dimitrimx I support that idea – Hakase Jul 25 '17 at 13:56
  • @Dimitrimx just to clarify, if we are going to lock it, what should we do if we find dead links? Or if we find more legal links? Do we just leave it as is or do we need to unlock it, edit it and then lock it again? – Darjeeling Jul 26 '17 at 7:40
  • @Darjeeling I would say leave it locked. Possibly a historical lock would fit it best even. As the question is currently set up, and answered, it is not really fit for the main site, but fits flawless in meta. Leaving it open would be a good incentive for new people to ask similar questions which we are trying to avoid with this proposal to begin with. – Dimitri mx Jul 26 '17 at 14:48

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