I'm concerned about questions that have little to do with GIS but they involve somehow getting server or database software to run. Typical examples ask for help in communicating with servers, such as



Securing REST endpoint using custom database and Basic Auth?

just to name two that appeared this morning. There are hundreds more such examples.

The FAQ is no help: unlike other FAQs, it doesn't say what the subject of this site is, it only says whom it is for:

The Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is for cartographers, database administrators, geographers, programmers, and anyone interested in or using GIS professionally.

As such, these questions fit in because (presumably) they are asked by programmers "using GIS" in some capacity. I recognize that these questions are valid and important to people working in the trenches implementing GIS-like apps on the Web and other networks. (Indeed, I often vote them up because many of them are well and clearly posed.) But are they really about GIS and are they really sufficiently specialized to be posted here rather than on some other SE site like SO or SU or Webapps? Wouldn't those other sites yield more answers quicker?

There are so many such questions here that, IMHO, they clutter this site and distract from questions and discussions that would interest a wider group of "cartographers, ... and anyone interested in or using GIS." I'm developing a suspicion that this intense yet peripheral focus may be limiting the appeal of this site to the millions of actual cartographers, geographers, and GIS programmers who should be consulting it regularly.

What should be our policy? What is this site about, really?

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    I presume most new questioners come to SE through searching for an answer to their question via a search engine, rather than pre-emptively. So I don't think it necessarily precludes actual cartographers. Indeed, I suspect most professionals already know how to draw a map, and what they need help with is a technical problem that is outside regular cartographic training. This isn't a forum where cartographers can hang out and chat about maps, so it is bound to attract the sort of questions that I've noticed in my short time here. Apr 24, 2011 at 12:40
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    What you're saying is that we lack a cohesive and appropriately exclusive elevator pitch?
    – Nathanus
    Apr 25, 2011 at 22:23
  • @Nathanus That's a new term for me; but yes, you've pretty well summed it up. I suspect different members of this community might have slightly different concepts of what it is about: it's a diverse field after all. I'm just seeking some clarification concerning what's on topic and what's not; what is interesting and what's not; and how to help newcomers decide where best to place their questions on the SE sites.
    – whuber
    Apr 26, 2011 at 6:21
  • @whuber It is listed in the meta FAQ as one of the defining questions that we should answer for the site as a whole.
    – Nathanus
    Apr 26, 2011 at 14:05
  • thank you for raising the question whuber. Even if a definitive answer is hard or impossible to arrive at, the trying is revealing. I partially messed up, or perhaps underlined, your examples by migrating the one with no answers to Server Fault. I hesitated to do the same with the second example as it has generated some answer activity (people please feel free to flag Q's "belongs on other site"). Apr 26, 2011 at 19:42
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    @Matt that's ok. The examples were put in to illustrate the question, not as specific targets to defend or criticize, and it seems the question is clear enough to generate some good discussion here. Your comment suggests that a useful point to put in the FAQ would be links to related SE sites that would-be questioners might find more appropriate in some cases. As an example of what I mean, check out the [stats FAQ] and note the "ask elsewhere" link: it goes to a community-maintained meta page serving as a portal to useful alternative sites.
    – whuber
    Apr 26, 2011 at 19:50
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    +1 for a community maintained portal page to help the edge cases find a better home. That's a great idea. Apr 26, 2011 at 21:19
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    Pease see and contribute to meta.gis.stackexchange.com/questions/401/other-places-for-help, which I'll link to from the FAQ. Apr 27, 2011 at 14:37
  • @whuber what is a GIS? Jan 7, 2014 at 20:22
  • The title of this question does not appear to summarize its body. I think it would be better saying something like "Are questions about getting server or database software to run in GIS shops in scope for GIS SE?"
    – PolyGeo Mod
    Sep 18, 2014 at 0:08

3 Answers 3


I agree that there are many questions that probably don't belong here (like your REST question example). Imho, it would be best to move all non-GIS-specific questions to SO (or any other site more fitting). We just had a question moved here from Statistics SE if I remember correctly, so this doesn't seem to be difficult to do.

Maybe we could describe our policy like this:

The Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is for questions concerning geographic information systems and science. We welcome cartographers, database administrators, geographers, programmers, and anyone interested in or using GIS professionally.

And if necessary:

For general questions on databases, server setup, web services, etc., please post your question on Server Fault instead.

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    +1. I was the one who migrated that question from stats.se :-). You're right, it's easy to do. But as a mod one wants to tread lightly. It helps immensely to have a clear policy to back you up (and to help all the mods act consistently). That also saves a lot of time: when a question is marginally on topic, you need to have a conversation with the OP to determine its best destination. That gets to be a lot of work. In the present thread I'm trying to anticipate the issues that will come up for our new mods and involve the community early on in addressing them.
    – whuber
    Apr 22, 2011 at 19:50
  • Stack Overflow isn't going to welcome questions about server configuration, however your central point still stands strong. Should I add the new wording now or should we have some kind of vote? (or perhaps wait for the moderator election to finish?) Apr 26, 2011 at 19:47
  • @Matt If you're willing to make the changes, go ahead. I'm sure that if people have opinions, they will make them known :-). The new mods can then do with it what they like. BTW, I like Underdark's description.
    – whuber
    Apr 27, 2011 at 1:29

I think both of those questions are valid in that they are from people working with a GIS solution but don't known enough about the systems side to ask the question elsewhere. Many peope who get pushed into setting up software like AGS are not or have never been a SysAdmin and don't know really what to ask in a appropriate forum. So they are seeing questions related to a GIS product and assume this is a appropriate forum.

I for one would have attempted to answer both questions if I had time supporting a fellow user; but not all questions will be easily put into another local

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    Why aren't such questions more appropriate on other SE sites?
    – whuber
    Apr 24, 2011 at 2:21
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    Not saying there are not; but just saying that I understand the feeling from a lot of users who put there stuff here. That and they are not always sure if it isn't something that can be done with said GIS tool that they just don't know.
    – D.E.Wright
    Apr 24, 2011 at 2:35
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    +1 I think this is a valid point. I'm not sure how similar Esri's REST would be with the REST practiced by folks over at stackoverflow, but I suspect it might be different enough that few useful answers would be offered. Suppose someone had a question about some programming construct for Avenue that had no GIS aspect. I bet they'd get an answer a lot faster here than on stackoverflow. In some cases (like the licensing question I voted to close) it is clear that the question is more appropriate on a different forum. But for these two questions I'm not so sure. Apr 24, 2011 at 2:56

Maybe we should find where the question is duplicated in some other forum, and flag it as a duplicate.

I just commented about this question: Suggestions for how to secure a custom ArcGIS extension using a license file or install key

Maybe I should have flagged it as a duplicate and put the link in the flag instead of in the comment.


I succumbed to peer pressure and voted to close.

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    That's a fine idea for actual duplicates, but I suspect many of these questions are not duplicated or cross-posted. It comes down to triage: where do we draw a line--probably a fuzzy one, but a line nonetheless--between questions considered "GIS" and those considered "programming"? It's not a matter of valuing one kind of question over the other. It's a matter of (a) finding a good home for all questions and (b) creating communities of shared interest. A GIS site that focuses on getting-this-server-running questions will foster a different community than a site focusing on doing GIS.
    – whuber
    Apr 22, 2011 at 19:19
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    The thing that I (and a lot of OP, I suspect) find attractive about GIS is that it overlaps with so many other areas. Defining boundary conditions will be very tricky indeed. For the other forum where the question may be more appropriate, perhaps we should have ambassadors who suggest tags. That way if the 2 questions you mention were moved to stackoverflow, I'd still be able to see them assuming they're tagged with arcgis-server or whatever. This will happen in many areas (e.g. photography and aerial photogrammetry). Apr 23, 2011 at 19:00
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    This question is a good example: it's of interest to ArcGIS developers but--as the ensuing discussion puts clearly into evidence--it's really a general question about copy protection. If we allow such questions then we should also be allowing almost any question about algorithms, computing, software development, etc., that ever could come up in a GIS application. These are interesting and useful to GIS developers, but they are not GIS questions. The "gray area" is where a question is about computing but involves idiosyncrasies of a GIS platform (such as ArcGIS).
    – whuber
    Apr 24, 2011 at 22:02

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