To riff off of What is this site about, really?, we have (at least) two major classes of questions welcome here, which for the moment I'll call deep and surficial for lack of better terms (feel free to suggest alternatives).

For the purposes of this discussion a deep question is one which is about theory, general principle and best practice. It's software and maybe even method agnostic. Some examples of deep questions:

A surficial question -- by no means to be confused with the derogatory connotations of superficial or shallow -- is characterized by time limited nature or narrow to a particular software or project environment. Examples of surficial questions:

Please let me be clear, I consider both styles of questions to be a vital and important to our community. We have far more surficial than deep questions, and even a brief survey of the world at large will show this is no more than reflection of the greater macrocosm. In other words it is to be expected. The aim is to come up with tag or some other method of filtering between them, a means to unearth the gems (which never arise on their own; crystals precipitate out of a surrounding solution) to which the "fluffy" questions owe their existence. The stack exchange voting system has done wonders for separating wheat from chaff, seed from stalk, but we can go farther, perhaps. So, at long last I arrive at my real question:

  • can you think of a tag to filter out the deep questions?
  • or some other method? (e.g. the blog idea)

5 Answers 5


I like the blog idea too. I think sometimes a sequence of seemingly surficial questions can be chained together to form a meaningful (deep) workflow. In those cases I hope we can encourage community members who've benefited from answers to surficial questions to summarize their workflow in a gis.SE blog post.

When that happens, I would expect a link to the blog post show up under the Links sidebar for each question referenced by the blog post.


I would also like to see a Wiki section. There are numerous posts on this site that would make excellent Wiki contributions and would head off a lot of questions. Blogs are an alternative but tend to be temporal rather than task/question centric.


I really like the idea of a GIS Stackexchange blog. It offers the chance to pick up interesting questions and compile extensive answers in a different form than what's possible on the main page itself.

An additional tag would be useful too. A tag for "deep" questions could be something like "GIScience". Or maybe "featured"?

  • "featured" could work, it's better than anything I've thought of so far. Commented May 5, 2011 at 18:32
  • 1
    I like the GIScience suggestion so much I tagged @matt's three examples with it and drafted a Wiki entry (which points back to this thread). Ultimately the utility of a new tag is determined by how it is used, so rather than perform a wholesale tagging of likely candidates, I would like to leave it to the community to remember that this tag exists and to decide how to apply it.
    – whuber
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 4:25

I just realized we may already have a mechanism at our disposal, or very near to it. A quick peruse of my favorites, on this and other Stack Exchanges sites, shows that most of the ones I star are of the "this discussion will still be useful in next year or the year after" and most of those tend to be of the deeper variety.

So if we had a means of showing summaries of everyones favorites across the whole site we may have a defacto "deep" tag already.


I am concerned this suggestion (and the GIScience tag) will bifurcate the community. While I agree that many of the questions relating to programing (particularly applications I do not use and have no intentions of using) are of no interest to me, I don't think ignoring a whole group of questions for the site is a good thing. Particularly I feel that effective community members can make positive contributions to both types of questions (and learn from both types of questions). Even questions related to programming should have some tagential relationship with GIScience (or they shouldn't be asked here!) Hence knowledge related to GIScience should be applied to all of the questions on the site.

A secondary concern I have is that any tag system discriminating between the two would be so generic it would be near worthless for archiving and searching questions/answers. Is the GIScience tag only to be applied to very broad (deep and philosophical?) questions? Do the questions "How could I rate roads for scenic drives?" and "How to bring polygons closer to a point?" not require understanding of GIScience to answer (even though they ask for specific code implementations)?

EDIT: In response to @whuber's comments

I do think that making it easier to ignore the tags en masse is not a good thing for growth of the community (it would take a long time to blacklist all of the tags related to Arc software!). That is not the main point I'm trying to make though. When their is a tag making such a distinction it perpetuates a perceieved distinction between the two types of questions. This perception is what I believe could lead to the bifurcation of the community, and segregate those contributing mainly to one side or the other. IMO it is segregating programming from GIScience when they shouldn't be segregated at all. I believe you have said in other places essentially that SO can get away with that due to its size, I don't think it is conducive to growth in this community though. Regardless if the scope of the tag is refined, I don't think this is a good idea.

  • Good questions in the last paragraph. I wonder, though, how you construe judicious application of a tag to be tantamount to "ignoring a whole group of questions." How would that work? If you refer to the ability of people to ignore questions with certain tags, well, that's already with us. (Eg, I have zero interest in any SDE questions, would likely learn nothing from them or the answers, and am glad to suppress them. Others probably do similar things with certain tags.) How then does creating a GIScience tag raise concerns not already present in the ARCSDE tag and hundreds like it?
    – whuber
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 17:07
  • 1
    GIScience is country specific, for example, the equivalent in Canada is Geomatics which encompasses all those disciplines that have direct or peripheral ties to the more narrow term(s) associated with GIS. As soon as "pigeon holes" are created, the birds begin to peck. I think that the current direction, titles and content of this site are pretty self-explanatory and should one venture from the field of computational geometry or computer science to this site, I wouldn't exclude, but I would welcome, their queries and comments.
    – user681
    Commented May 6, 2011 at 18:35

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