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I've noticed a recent(ish) uptick in poor quality questions about Google Earth Engine and we appear to have currently 259 unanswered questions (out of 1027).

So wondering why this was happening I did some poking around and found that, on their Get Help page, Google are pointing their users here.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Stack Exchange is a place to ask technical implementation questions (e.g. How can I overlay polygons on images with Earth Engine?). Earth Engine specific questions are organized by the google-earth-engine product tag. (If you hover on the tag, you can see an option to 'subscribe' to it.) Note that Stack Exchange aims "to create a lasting record of great solutions to questions." Stack Exchange provides a great overview of what types of questions are and are not a good fit for Stack Exchange. As general guidance, questions related to the following are appropriate on Stack Exchange:

  • A specific programming problem
  • How to do things in Earth Engine
  • Getting help debugging an existing script

Be sure to search Stack Exchange for questions similar to your own before asking a new question!

Which is great we always need more users, but I haven't seen any sign that any one from the GEE team have shown up to keep an eye on things.

So the question is should we do anything (or something) about this? There has been some previous discussion in Are commercial services abusing GIS.SE policies? but in that case we were relatively happy as employees of the company were stepping up to answer questions.

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    What can be done? Google is free to point their users here just as their users are free to ask questions here without reading about where Google thinks support is best addressed. It would be nice to have some knowledgeable GEE people here to contribute, I think it would even draw more people to GEE, but it's their prerogative to do so (or not). – alphabetasoup May 21 at 0:28
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    I've seen at least 3-4 GEE experts here. I say experts, as their profile says something to the effect of working at google, on EE. – KHibma May 21 at 12:23
  • Poor quality questions is more a reflection on a technology becoming mature -- more help vampires. Look at Javascript versus Haskell questions on SE. It has nothing to do with abuse from Google, who in GEE, have produced an engineering marvel that has dramatically reduced the startup cost for remote sensing. – John Powell Jun 3 at 15:56
  • it was more are we being abused since Google have not provided any support for their tool and just pointed users directly to us, it's slightly different than a language. – Ian Turton Jun 3 at 15:59
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I currently work on the Google Earth Engine team. I'm not primarily involved in developer/user relations, but I've advised those who are on how best to interact nicely with Stack Exchange (and I really like Stack Exchange, so I want this to work out).

If you have any concrete ideas for how to improve our interaction with Stack Exchange, please let me know.


I do see a bit of tension with code snippets — within EE, "Get Link" is the preferred way to share a code sample because it is snapshotted and immediately runnable by any other user (much like the Stack Overflow HTML/JS snippet feature). But for Stack Exchange's purposes, of course it is preferable that the code be actually embedded in the question.

Anyone who's signed up for EE (no need to plan to use it seriously) can copy the code out (of course that doesn't help a whole lot if it's not very MCVE-ish), and we could add some text to recommend that users make sure to include the code when asking questions. If people read the advice.

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    Thanks for answering because is great to get a Google perspective in this Q&A. I think you've identified the main issue that I see in many Google Earth Engine questions so far. It is that they seem to be seeing us as a source of debugging code that they link to. For coding questions we insist that a code snippet be extracted from full code and presented as formatted text (using the { } button). – PolyGeo May 23 at 23:45
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    I went to the Google Earth Engine summit in 2017. The question was asked of the audience where should people pose questions, on the the GEE forum, or on GIS.SE. I was one of several who suggested this forum. We are definitely not being abused. – John Powell Jun 3 at 15:48
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I am glad that this has been raised because I too have perceived seeing many more Google Earth Engine questions asked over the past 6-12 months than previously and had wondered what the trigger was.

Focused questions about Google Earth Engine are clearly on-topic for GIS SE, and I think we should be flattered that Google believes that GIS SE (rather than Stack Overflow) is where GIS development skills primarily reside.

Like any question on closed or open source GIS software, I think these should be welcomed, and if their askers struggle to focus them by providing code snippets (not links to code), that illustrate what they have tried and where they are stuck, then we should work with them to improve their questions. We can do this by providing accurate feedback, and if necessary, putting the question on hold, like any other question in GIS SE until it gets improved..

While 25% unanswered is a little higher than our overall 20%, I think it is within the range where alarm bells need not be rung.

As a "quick fix" to better set Google Earth Engine developer expectations when using the GIS Stack Exchange I would like to see Google replace their three current dot points, for what they think is appropriate to ask, with a single link to Asking good Questions for GIS Stack Exchange?

  • I think the "trigger" is simply increased exposure, and therefore use. GEE has become quite huge in many science realms, and continues to grow in popularity. GEE's documentation has gotten better since I started using it in 2013, but I think it's still fairly not friendly to novices. I often point people to the GEE developer's forum, where tons of questions have been asked/answered. – Jon May 29 at 15:50
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A related question on the moderators stack overflow recently pointed me to this useful answer which is certainly helpful in this situation too.

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