When exploring The Great Outdoors, we can explore many things. Essentially anything a scientist may study on a field trip could be considered "outdoors". Animal behaviour, rock formations, lake colours, even humans. Thus we get questions such as:

All of the above questions obtained some close-votes, apart from the recent ones those subsequently timed out. Clearly, there is no community consensus.

I fail to see how we could possibly define our scope to include the questions above, but not essentially any question raised by an scientist on a field trip. When I'm hiking outdoor I observe and may have questions related to ethology, geology, meteorology, limnology, glaciology, agriculture, anthropology, and others. That doesn't make those questions on-topic on Outdoors.SE, unless it affects my behaviour on how to be or do in the outdoors.

Can we please reach a community consensus to either:

  • Declare the questions I listed above to be off-topic, or
  • declare them on-topic and clearly define when a question about something I have observed in the outdoors is and isn't on-topic.
  • 5
    I disagree. I think animal behaviour is on topic. I'd argue it's related to many outdoor pursuits. For example, I often take a pair of binoculars when hiking. Some examples are likely being a better fit for biology, but I don't see these being part of that. Also, whats the harm here?
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:04
  • 3
    @Liam The harm is that I at least no longer have a clue what the scope of this site is. We might as well merge with Earth Science? Not sure how you disagree with both alternatives I've listed at the end. What would you propose instead? We don't need to clearly define our scope? I'm confused.
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:07
  • 2
    If you really need that clear definition: "Everything which can be observed while hiking is on-topic."
    – OddDeer
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:09
  • 7
    Why do we need to define the scope so tightly? I really don't see any advantage to banning certain types of questions that are vaguely on topic. I would say if you don't want to see these types of questions, add an ignore filter? if we get a flood of animal behaviour questions that are just not useful, then we could alter the policy. Right now, we get a handful, some can be answered well, others not so. So it's a case by case basis. Blanket actions seems counterproductive to building the user base
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:09
  • 1
    I mean if you want an answer, then I'd say they are on topic (for now)
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:12
  • 4
    @OddDeer has provided an answer that I very strongly disagree with, but it's a comment so I can't downvote it. Taken literally, by OddDeers definition, I could ask about bus timetables, motorist speeding, sash windows, street names, railway electrification, the moon, architecture, aerial antennas, gutters, and arcade halls.
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:16
  • 1
    Yeah, that does seem quite broad....
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:17
  • @Liam Stack Exchange sites define a limited scope because they are a community of experts. There is no such thing as a community of experts of anything one can observe in the world; that's why Area51 proposals such as any other question invariably gets deleted, and there are separate sites for Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science, Travel, etc.
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:18
  • 3
    @Liam For example, on Earth Science we get a lot of identification request questions. Notwithstanding many aren't very good, would you say they would be on-topic on Outdoors if asked here? Surely geologists are the right people to ask about rocks, meteorologists to ask about clouds, and biologists to ask about animal behaviour?
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:22
  • 5
    What about bird watching? I've argued a few times that I believe this should be on topic. Now I know a little about bird behaviour but I'm not a biologist. But I am a keen bird watcher. I put my water proof and hiking boots on and stand in the freezing cold in the middle of no where watching bird behaviour. This feels very "outdoorsy" to me? :)
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:24
  • 2
    @Liam The logistics of bird watching is IMO on-topic, like aspects of a field trip to the Arctic. But "analysing the data" may not be. Editing your wilderness photos is more for Photography than for TGO. Aspects of animal behaviour affecting how to best observe them, yes. Beyond that, not sure, but boundary is unclear. Identifying clouds bringing bad weather to your hike, yes. Identifying conditions likely to trigger avalanches, yes. Telling if a lake is safe to swim, yes. But when questions become academic and answers no longer affect your ability to enjoy your outdoor pursuit? Unsure.
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:34
  • 3
    My two cents is that until we get the question rate up, it doesn't make sense to limit the scope as you are proposing. That dead cat question was rather well received. Apr 27, 2017 at 15:17
  • 2
    @CharlieBrumbaugh I am not convinced that a vague scope or liberal criteria are the best path to attracting a wider community of outdoors experts. To me, quality comes before quantity.
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:20
  • 3
    @gerrit The guaranteed way to kill the site is to have no new content. Right now we are averaging 2 questions per day. I don't think it makes sense to discourage questions because at some time in the future there will be a possible flood of them. Apr 27, 2017 at 15:23
  • 1
    @CharlieBrumbaugh This particular discussion doesn't seem to affect more than 1 or 2 questions among the most recent 50 questions asked, so I don't think it's a major issue either way. I just checked what migrations we did have and it looks like the only question migrated away in the past 8 months was yours on wind so it does appear the community is already very cautious with this.
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:36

6 Answers 6


I mean "outdoors", as a concept, seems difficult to define. We've had several attempts but everyone has a slightly different opinion. If you'll excuse me slightly, I'm going to sidestep that bullet. :)

Ok, so here's an attempt at answering your main question. SO I'm going to say those are broadly on topic.


Ok I believe that is on topic. I've argued that this is an "outdoor pursuit" (whatever that means) meany times. So for me the two bird questions are in this area.

The foam question, well it's something I'm likely to come across while hiking or sailing. So should I be able to ask about these kind of things here? again I'd say yes. It's something I am likely to encounter while doing an "outdoors" pursuit.

Now that said I'd say there is another question here. Are they good questions? Yes and no. for example I'd say Lots of birds together at the same time is vague and unhelpful. Does this make it off topic, no. Does it make it a good question, again no. should it be closed? Possibly. Is this because it's off topic, I'd say no.

I would say, if these kind of questions don't get you very excited, add an ignore filter. It's fine to not like every question or answer.

  • 2
    It's not so much that they don't make me very excited; it's that I believe they could get much better answers in a community inhabited by experts in the particular topic asked about, thus improving the quality of Stack Exchange overall.
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:38
  • It's a valid point
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:39
  • I voted to close this question as this question as "unclear what your asking" BTW (Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.)
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 14:40
  • I still don't understand where you draw the line. Can you give any example of a question you would consider off-topic?
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:10
  • Ah, well, I kinda dodged that :) Drawing lines is hard... I suppose I'm just arguing for the examples your gave and also that I don't really see a reason to draw a line at the moment.
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:21
  • 3
    Would it be valid to paraphrase your answer as "I propose to keep the scope vague as long as there is no need to sharpen it, and there is no such need at this point"?
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:23
  • 1
    @gerrit yes, that seems fair
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:43
  • Liam, I too voted to close this for the same reason. I explained it in a comment I left under gerrit's original question. Apr 29, 2017 at 19:36


First of all, I strongly disagree with you. These questions are perfectly fine. Nevertheless I understand what your concern is. But it's build on a false premise. You compare TGO with completely different communities like "Biology" and so on.

The Wrong Premise

Let me start off with an example: StackOverflow. It shares its scope with:

  • Code Review
  • Super User
  • Computer Science
  • Web Apps
  • Software Engineering
  • Game Development
  • Android Enthusiasts
  • ...

Basically a question in scope of StackOverflow is always also in scope of another network. So, what's the difference?

StackOverflow is there to ask quick'n'dirty. You'll get no scientifically accurate formatted answer, maybe even without citation. You'll just get a quick common sense answer.

This is of course different on networks like "Software Engineering" or "Computer Science". You'll get scientifically accurate answers with proper citation.



What is the difference between a function decorated with @staticmethod and one decorated with @classmethod?

Computer Science:


In a standard algorithms course we are taught that quicksort is O(nlogn)O(nlog⁡n) on average and O(n2)O(n2) in the worst case. At the same time, other sorting algorithms are studied which are O(nlogn)O(nlog⁡n) in the worst case (like mergesort and heapsort), and even linear time in the best case (like bubblesort) but with some additional needs of memory.

After a quick glance at some more running times it is natural to say that quicksort should not be as efficient as others.

Also, consider that students learn in basic programming courses that recursion is not really good in general because it could use too much memory, etc. Therefore (and even though this is not a real argument), this gives the idea that quicksort might not be really good because it is a recursive algorithm.

Why, then, does quicksort outperform other sorting algorithms in practice? Does it have to do with the structure of real-world data? Does it have to do with the way memory works in computers? I know that some memories are way faster than others, but I don't know if that's the real reason for this counter-intuitive performance (when compared to theoretical estimates).

Update 1: a canonical answer is saying that the constants involved in the O(nlogn)O(nlog⁡n) of the average case are smaller than the constants involved in other O(nlogn)O(nlog⁡n) algorithms. However, I have yet to see a proper justification of this, with precise calculations instead of intuitive ideas only.

In any case, it seems like the real difference occurs, as some answers suggest, at memory level, where implementations take advantage of the internal structure of computers, using, for example, that cache memory is faster than RAM. The discussion is already interesting, but I'd still like to see more detail with respect to memory-management, since it appears that the answer has to do with it.

Update 2: There are several web pages offering a comparison of sorting algorithms, some fancier than others (most notably sorting-algorithms.com). Other than presenting a nice visual aid, this approach does not answer my question.

These two questions (yeah, cherry-picked :)) reflect perfectly what I mean. You need to add lot more context when posting on "Computer Science", since they don't just apply common sense. It's a scientific topic and therefore everything has to be as accurate and defined as possible.

StackOverflow not so much. You ask a question and people just answer for the most common case.

We are Stackoverflow

You often compare us to networks like "Biology" or "Earth Science". This is completely wrong! These are like "Software Engineering" or "Computer Science" and we are the StackOverflow to these.

If I ask here for a strange foam on a lake, everyone knows what I mean even though I didn't accurately define it. You just think: "Ah yes, this typical foam I've seen on a lot of lakes. (...)".

On "Biology" you wouldn't do this (even though you might know what phenomenon is asked for). You would ask where exactly it was, which water it was on, the weather and so on. You need this information to exactly identify the corpus delicti. You don't just plainly use the most common sense answer which might fit in 90 % of the real life examples.

Yeah, I would get the accurate chemical and scientific definition of this particular foam I experienced. But that's not what I - quick'n'dirty - want. I want an answer like: "This foam is created by the dissolving organic material in the sea.". Be aware, I don't know whether this is true and of course the answer also has to be more extensive, but I think you got the concept.

Basically I want an answer a hiking buddy would give me while actually experiencing the phenomenon with me. He wouldn't talk about the chemical composition of it or something (in most cases at least ;P). He just explains basically where this foam originates from.

Sharing Problems

And just like StackOverflow, nearly every other question on TGO is on-topic somewhere else.

Check out some of mine:

TGO or Law? Why is it prohibited to sleep in a tent?

Pets, Sport, Biology or TGO? Why do horses need to wear shoes?

TGO or Electircal Engineering? Why aren't there any electric stoves that can be used for cooking where you can't build a fire?

Christianity or TGO? Is it offensive to "just hike" on a pilgrim's path?

The truth is more or less always: all of them. The difference is only the answer I suspect and how "quick'n'dirty" my question should be.

The electric stove question attracted an answer which would fit perfectly to Electrical Engineering but that was not what I've expected (big kudos to the author anyway! Many thanks for it.). What I've expected was something like: "You can't carry enough batteries to do that mate. This site states you would've to bring around 10 kg of them in your backpack to cook a simple soup." Add some link and quote and everything is fine - quick'n'dirty. A common sense answer. This would not be suitable for Electrical Engineering however!

Have some Fun

To finally bring this to an end, I want to ask a question. Why do you always think we have a problem in scope? Do you have any rational negative experience regarding this topic on TGO?

Instead of constantly thinking about the scope, a few (or a lot) people here just have fun asking question and sharing or reading others experiences. It makes me smile when I read Charlie's questions which I would never have thought of or Sue having the time of her life explaining how to carry a snapping turtle :) This makes me happy and threads like these just angry to be honest.

I'm out to ask a few more questions. (/◕ヮ◕)/

P.S.: And I have to admit that I should rephrase the foam question. It actually may be misconceived as a question for accurate scientific definition.

  • 1
    The help center states that You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Your four Sharing Problems examples are all about actual, practical problems, but why a river goes up and down does not, really. It's a good question; it stems from scientific curiosity. Anyway, you and I are not going to agree on to what degree this should be on-topic on TGO :)
    – gerrit
    Apr 28, 2017 at 13:16

The help center states (emphasis mine):

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

Stack Exchange sites are a community of experts. Here, we are a community of experts on outdoor activities, such as hiking, rock climbing, bird watching, swimming, caving, skiing, kayaking, etc. We are not experts on bird behaviour, rock identification, or the chemistry of lakes or rivers. We are, however, a community of experts in not disturbing birds, staying safe from bears, avoiding avalanches, and determining when lakes or rivers are safe to swim in, cross, or drink from, and when they aren't.

A question on bird watching is on-topic because bird watching is an outdoor activity. Aspects of a field trip to the Arctic would be on-topic as well, even if the scientific aims of the field trip are far beyond what anybody on TGO knows about, you need to stay sheltered from the same weather and safe from the same polar bears as a hiker or kayaker. But when it comes to "analysing the data", TGO may not be the best target.

We take photos in the outdoors, then edit our landscape photos indoors. But our outdoor behaviour is not informed by our photo editing, and the photo editing experts live on the Photography site, not on TGO.

In the outdoors we find rocks, observe geologic faults, glaciers, etc. Humans are full of curiosity. Why is there a diagonal stripe across that rock face? Why does this glacier calve so many more icebergs than when I was here 20 years ago (does it really?)? Why is there so much petrified wood in this area? Although these questions are certainly triggered by being outdoors, they will likely get better answers on Earth Science than on TGO. The same goes for questions on ethology, many of which may well be triggered by wildlife watching but will receive a better audience on the Biology site.

I don't think it makes sense to consider any question about anything that can be observed during outdoors activities to be on-topic. That would be far too broad and there isn't a community of experts to answer such a broad scala of questions. To me, the defining characteristic is: does it affect the outdoor experience? That means many questions on animal behaviour are on-topic, if it matters in practice to an outdoor pursuit. Avoid the bees, photograph the deer without scaring it, knowing the best time of day and location to observe the falcon, knowing whether this foam means you shouldn't swim in the lake, or whether the cloud will bring dangerous weather: all on-topic. But knowing what butterflies eat, why birds are encircling an animal, whether squirrel teeth grow again when lost, or how old the ice caps are: do not affect outdoor experience and are therefore off-topic.

  • 7
    So... if the foam question ended with "Where does such foam originate from? Should I avoid touching it?" it would instantly become on-topic?
    – Roflo
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:12
  • @Roflo Yes — "Should I avoid touching it?" is on-topic. The chemical or biological details of its origin, not so much (although it serves to explain why one should (not) avoid touching it).
    – gerrit
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:17
  • 1
    Biology used to ban "species identificaion" questions, though they seem to of rolled back on this recently after a quick look
    – user2766
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:21
  • 7
    Maybe it's the way the Q is phrased, or maybe it's just me... but I never interpreted that the OP wanted chemical or biological details.
    – Roflo
    Apr 27, 2017 at 15:21
  • @Roflo See also The Help Center, which states that You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.
    – gerrit
    Apr 28, 2017 at 13:21
  • 1
    Yeah, I get that. I just don't think the sample Q (the one about the foam) is neither impractical, unanswerable, hypothetic nor unrelated to TGO. If anything I believe that the fact that it's being posted in TGO (and not biology) is begging for a TGO-oriented answer. 4 years ago I arrived at TGO because my climbing-related Q was migrated from sports over here. Climbing is a sport but was it off-topic over there? Maybe not, but those mods decided that this was a better site (in retrospect, I agree).
    – Roflo
    Apr 28, 2017 at 14:12
  • 1
    And there's the time I posted a running-related Q in Sports.SE, and they stopped to ask if I was sure I wanted to post in Sports and not Fitness. Maybe that's what we should be doing: ask the OP first what kind of answer they expect, then decide if it fits in our scope (and maybe a couple edits to make sure it's clear).
    – Roflo
    Apr 28, 2017 at 14:14
  • 3
    The problem with the actual problem is that sometimes we want to be curious about things like Mt Everest and sometimes we want the info before we have a problem. When being chased by a bear, I am not going to post a question asking what to do. Apr 28, 2017 at 16:26

Let's consider a question which I now think is marginal for TGO. Is the reappearance of large crow populations 15 years after the West Nile dieback a widespread occurence?

It is my question, and when I posted it I obviously thought it was right on topic. Now that I have done more research, I am not so sure. (Sorry, @Sue ). The question itself probably needs to be reformulated to focus more on what has happened to the West Nile Virus (how has it mutated) and what has happened to crow populations (have populations resistant to WNV emerged). I am off on a trip and won't have time to do anything with it until mid-May.

There is enough easily understood technical material in the Googleable (sp ??) literature to form hypotheses about these facets of the question, but the subject really is beyond my technical understanding, but perhaps not of someone else here. I will resist moving it to Biology because I really, really, really do not want to become involved in another SE.

On the broader question the OP raised, I think that TGO is a work in progress and too much definition at this stage will be stifling. Definition should come by upvoting, downvoting, closing and deleting -- sculpting the site so to speak -- until the on-topicness emerges.

When I came here, nearly two years ago, about the only questions about animals that were on topic were those about potentially dangerous or irritating species e.g., bears, cougars, snakes, leeches. We have now included birds, to my delight. But not all bird questions will be on-topic, nor will all bear and snake questions.

Contrary to some, I think these periodic self-examinations are worthwhile. In an earlier discussion, which I do not now have time to search for, we ruled out tennis and golf and ruled in climbing walls.


I totally agree with gerrit on this and I said so earlier. However I think we are flogging a dead horse here for a multitude of reasons. Nevertheless I will reiterate my opinion, especially because we still always manage to have very civilised discourses, which I value a lot.

I feel like a lot of the decision making is driven by question count and our beta status. It has been discussed at length in the main beta, that this status is an unfortunate one. The notion is of unfinished, not whole. On the other hand there is and, as explicitly stated, will be sites that remain in beta. Not because they are defective, but because they don't have and probably never will have the necessary volume. This is not a bad thing!
I mean think about it: Our site is called "The Great Outdoors". What might be a contributing factor why we aren't huge? Oh right - we might be a lot of time in the great outdoors.
On a less flippant note: Activities in the outdoors are inherently unpredictable. Compared to many other topics, there just isn't as much consistency. For many questions you can give some hints over the internet, but really, you must just learn it first hand in the field.

I would love for this community to embrace the fact that we are and probably always will be small. And also embrace the idea of Stackexchange: Be a community that focuses on quality questions and answers on expert level. For that a focus on outdoor activities and what is relevant to it would be perfect in my opinion. Not that we are far off (or even off at all), but in some cases we might be.

In the end I think we don't have a problem, so there is nothing to solve. Opinions seem to be very much made and don't shift much. I am sure we will just go on in the end as we have been (and that's fine with me): Allow almost anything, unless it gets too far off, in which case a new discussion will spawn.

  • Brilliantly put! Also, to add to the point, there aren't many who do outdoorsy stuff! So the number of people who come knocking on our doors might be inherently less than those searching for coding solutions or those trying to visit a country for sight seeing! May 18, 2017 at 6:27

TGO has a mod that supports anything even slightly related to the outdoors.

The tour states

The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who love outdoor activities, excursions, and outdoorsmanship.

By that definition it is in scope.

Focus on questions about an actual problem you have faced. Include details about what you have tried and exactly what you are trying to do.

  • Specific issues with outdoor activities
  • Real problems or questions that you’ve encountered

By that definition maybe it is in scope. I think this question is unreasonable. A picture of foam and want to know exactly what it is.

How to wire a camper sitting in a driveway was in scope because it was for use in the outdoors.

If anything that can occur in the outdoors or possibly be used in the outdoors is in scope then basically everything is in scope. I don't think it is good for this site. It goes against the idea of separate sites in SE for domain expertise.

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