How should we deal with questions that are attached to a specific time or event?

The one that is currently in the spotlight is https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/218178/are-there-any-practical-ways-people-with-computer-skills-can-contribute-help-to which was originally asked as:

Are there any practical ways people with computer skills can contribute help to the relief effort of typhoon Haiyan. Really simple question, is there any answer?

I'm putting this on Meta in an attempt to head off the associated comments in the question.

  • 1
    As the OP on one of the Meta questions you link - I have to agree with your answer. SE just isn't the right format for that type of question & associated answers.
    – user53019
    Nov 12, 2013 at 17:44

1 Answer 1


There are two core problems with this type of question:


The question is tied (closely or loosely) to a specific event. These questions have difficulty developing long term value for the site. In this case we are talking about Typhoon Haiyan, however the response for another natural disaster (earthquake somewhere, storm in another nation - compare Sandy vs Haiyan, tsunami at Fukushima) will have different answers.

The nature of it being related to a specific time also means that different agencies are available or applicable.

List question

The nature of the question leads to a list of options.

One can go through and add the latest group that is doing something. The poverty question mentioned above has 39 undeleted answers (and another 3 deleted ones) that each list a way. You get answers such as:

Has no you yet posted a link to hackers for charity? They have a list of volunteer positions that need to be filled, many of which can be done over the web.

Stack Exchange as a whole doesn't do a good job of handling list questions. Listing charities or projects is no exception. People haven't shown an interest in curating existing historical list questions, I have little faith in their willingness to curate and maintain new ones.

Stack exchange and content

The goal of Stack Exchange, as a whole, is to produce long term quality content that people see and trust in search results. With this in mind, it is difficult to use it to mobilize a response to a specific event. The question becomes outdated, the answers become outdated (I've voted to delete questions asking about what sessions to attend at a conference in 2010, or how to register for MacWorld 2011). Stack exchange just isn't designed to be able to handle that type of question and answer.

What can be done?

If someone wants to help with an event, form a chat room and get people to crowdsource a blog post for the Programmers.SE blog ( http://programmers.blogoverflow.com ). But the Q&A side of Stack Exchange is a poor way to get poor answers.

If you have your heart set upon having the question in the Q&A side, talk with the moderators about making a good, long lasting question with a good answer and the necessary steps to use a collaborative lock.

However, please remember that a question being collaborative does not absolve people of taking on the responsibility of making sure it retains good content.

  • Another alternative: The humanitarian toolbox aims to help with challenges like this. They can use help at any point in time, not just during a disaster. htbox.org
    – user53019
    Nov 12, 2013 at 17:44
  • The disaster help question has been edited so it is not temporally limited. There are permanent organisations that respond to different disasters as they arise - so no temporal limitation. It is a list question though. I hope someone volunteers to collaboratively moderate it. What is actually involved?
    – MarkJ
    Nov 15, 2013 at 14:06
  • 1
    @MarkJ I would talk to the moderators, likely in Software Engineering Chat. Demonstrate that you can write a really good answer for the question that isn't inviting people to add their own little bit of data. Consider the answer to programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/46716 to be your target in thoroughness of the area. The other approach (as mentioned elsemeta) is to work on the charity tagwiki. For that, look at Stack Overflow's scala tagwiki as an example.
    – user40980
    Nov 17, 2013 at 1:30

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