It's probably worth starting a few meta threads to discuss and debate policy for closing questions, even though this is -- as MO experience suggests -- likely to evolve over time. Note that typically it is up to the community's high rep users and not the moderators to close questions (except in cases of actual spam or offensive material), because one moderator vote will close the question, and usually they prefer to avoid that lest they contradict the community consensus.

This thread is motivated by the question "What is the meaning of this symbol?" I think that it is a good example of the kind of question that should be closed as "too localized." I hope, incidentally, that the OP does not take this personally --- we're all trying to figure out what works and doesn't work here, and this is something that usually takes a while to reach a community consensus. The reason is that simple definition questions can just be looked up. In addition, there isn't any context for why the OP was interested in the question, say a reference he was reading.

Homework questions also make good candidates for being closed in this manner, though policy on them has a separate meta thread.

If the question were instead, "I'm having difficulty understanding the meaning of entailment, please explain" (assuming the OP came across the symbol in the context of logic), I think it would be a much better question. This is specific while yet a simple one-word answer or Wikipedia reference does not answer it.

In general, while SE sites encourage specificity, it is still useful to tell a story behind one's question and explain one's motivation.

I've started this thread for us to establish policy on the "too localized" option.

  • $\begingroup$ How do you look up a specific unicode character? Even if you know the LaTeX symbol (oh, I just saw this symbol in my LaTeX editor and was wondering what it meant). it's not always trivial. A naive search for 'latex models' shows nothing useful on the first page. First relevant result is number 20, and no results in the top 100 say anything about meaning. Sure, its trivial to search for 'latex models logic,' but how would someone know to do that? $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Jul 22 '10 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ I recommend detexify: detexify.kirelabs.org/classify.html. I think it's a better question than "What is the definition of entails?," but it still feels rather localized to me. If we close such a question, it's usually best to leave a comment with such an explanation (I'm going to do so myself now). On the other hand, if the OP says that he or she has already done all that, I think it's fine. $\endgroup$ – Akhil Mathew Jul 22 '10 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Akhil: Detexify suggested that \models was the same as \Gamma, \top, or \Pi. As I mentioned before, even knowing the code wouldn't have been useful. I think that questions where the real life solution would be 'ask a colleague' are appropriate on a Q&A site. See any of the multitude of examples of StackOverflow for 'how do I write a regex that does x' $\endgroup$ – Larry Wang Jul 22 '10 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ just another note on voting to close: I know that several MO moderators deal with not wanting to unilaterally close a question by leaving a comment that indicates they think it should be closed $\endgroup$ – Jamie Banks Jul 22 '10 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ Related info: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4818/… $\endgroup$ – kennytm Jul 22 '10 at 20:33

My comment on that question: @Harry: Not too localised, if any model-theory questions are not too localised.

Asking about prevalent maths terminology is fine. Only questions of interest to a tiny number of users are too localized.


As a great example, that specific question told me about a tool I didn't know: Detexify. So it did improve the knowledge of some people reading the question, plus probably answered the askerer's question, and taught him a valuable new trick. All in all, a net win. Therefore, I don't think it's something we should close.

On the other hand, that specific question has other problems: it isn't detailed at all (no reference of where he found the symbol), plus the title is very general, and not searchable. I would expect, in most cases, comments saying "please give us the situation you saw the symbol in". This is better than closing, because it teaches people how to ask better questions.

  • $\begingroup$ If the comment ""please give us the situation you saw the symbol in" comes up, the response by the OP should be to edit their original question rather than bury their reply in yet another comment. Plus, re-phrasing their question may put an immediate halt to a rising crescendo of votes to close. $\endgroup$ – Tom Stephens Jul 22 '10 at 14:32

Discouraging 'too localized' questions may have the unwelcome side effect of promoting questions that are ambiguous or vague. Frankly, I think we have too many open-ended questions as it is. I'd rather err on the side of seeing more questions that have a single correct answer. Most unreasonably localized questions I can think of are the questions that should be asked on MathOverflow or Wolfram Answers anyway.
This is probably a philosophical difference between the StackOverflow model and the MathOverflow model.

Also, one of the stated purposes of the site is to provide a place for professional non-mathematicians to ask math questions. We shouldn't discourage this with a narrow interpretation of "too localized."


I am not really sure what "too localized" means. Homework questions are too localized, but they rightly deserve another thread. Often a question, like the example above, may be de-localized with the right title: it's obvious that who put the question could not do better, but after having got the answer he could have edited the title in "what's the meaning of this symbol in model theory?"


Today I was searching the stackexchange for the answer to exactly this question: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/61518/homotopy-extension-property-involving-mapping-cylinder

It has been closed for being too localized. However that I was of use to someone in the wider internet (me) suggests it wasn't too localized.

I think the main advantage of this site is it has a large number of specialised questions. So I seems a shame to object to the sites main strength.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If you had read the comments, you'd have noticed that the closure was a response to the OP crossposting to MathOverflow. They received an answer there; you can use it to your advantage. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Aug 24 '13 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ This thread is literally from the first week of the site. Why did you find it a good idea to bump it??? $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 24 '13 at 15:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Bumping old threads is not always a bad idea. (It appears to be literally the first week of Juliet's account's existence.) $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Aug 25 '13 at 1:28

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