Sometimes people start questioning peoples motivations on asking a question. The most typical example that comes to mind is when some question is asked on dealing with annoyances on long distance flying in economy class. Almost always the default comment is: "Fly business class". Although this is certainly is a solution for that specific problem. Not everybody has a sugar daddy paying for the business class or business travelers just decided collectively to economise on traveling to have more funds available for their project. The point is that large part of the travelling community flies economy and having resources like travel.stackexchange.com are helping with dealing with small annoyances.

Recently, I had a similar issue when I was confronted with a problem during a trip in a train. I was suggested to be more social, and simply ask. I didn't add all the details of the trip. I was trying to be as concise as possible. Almost immediately a very judgmental comment came. In it self suggesting to ask your fellow travelers is actually a very valid point. However asking if I were alone in the train is way more productive, than suggesting people lost social skills. In this specific case I was going to a customer and I was in a cabin with others, who all were occupied and indeed all looking at their laptops. The fact was that I was working and I assumed the others were as well. I didn't feel the urge to disturb my fellow travelers for something as trivial as confirming I was in the correct train. For those little things an app is a brilliant solution.

But actually, I don't see how adding this detail to the question would improve the question. The question would remain valid if I would be alone in the cabin, wouldn't understand Dutch or French, or was intimidated by a group of hooligans.

The point I would like to make is that next to being nice, I would suggest to add Rule 2- Don't judge the motivations of a person asking a question. It is okay to not knowing an answer to a question. Use the comments to ask for clarifications. If there still is an urge to comment based on the moral ground, there is always the brilliant Chat for these issues.

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    Not everyone uses the chat, so that's not 'always' an option :/ Also nice in theory, but we often have to question the motivations - for example, when someone is trying to get denied entry to the US, the motivations can very often affect the answer.
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 8, 2014 at 14:28
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    @MarkMayo: I agree that sometimes the motivation is important so we give the answer the OP needs, but that is the exception, not the norm. Andra's question was a simple, concise question, and the tone of the comment was uncalled for.
    – Jonas
    Aug 8, 2014 at 15:41
  • @Jonas yeah, see my comments on the answers below.
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 8, 2014 at 15:45
  • Well, until @pnuts deleted his answer :/
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 9, 2014 at 7:28
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    I think this can be summarize with the more general: if you don't know the answer for a question, don't question the question.
    – Geeo
    Aug 10, 2014 at 17:09
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    Whay would you opine about this traveller then, whose travel plans seems very fishy ? travel.stackexchange.com/questions/34835/…
    – DumbCoder
    Aug 15, 2014 at 8:11
  • I'm interested to learn that confirming you're on the correct train is a "trivial" matter.
    – TRiG
    Aug 19, 2014 at 21:19

3 Answers 3


Sometimes knowing the asker's motivation helps to give them the answer they need rather than the answer they ask for, which may benefit the OP more.

However, to keep our site useful for others, we shouldn't be striving to provide uniquely tailored answers that will help exactly one person, but sufficiently generalizeable solutions that will benefit somebody else in the future. While a highly localized question may be easier to answer, it is also less likely to be useful to anybody else.

Another issue with second-guessing the motivations of the OP is that it can be incredibly frustrating for the OP. You ask for a solution to X, and people assume you need Y, so they give you all kinds of wonderful answers for that - but you happen to really need a solution for X, and solving Y is useless to you.

Consequently, I believe the OP should not be expected to fluff out their question, but ask concisely while providing all relevant detail, and the answer should not try to second-guess the asker, but answer the question that has been asked. How useful would the answer 'ask somebody on the train' be to someone who is looking to create an app that tells you in which bus you are and wants to find out whether there is something for the train already they could use?

Regarding the specific tone of the comment: To avoid confrontation, it is best to use first person language: "I would just ask somebody" is a neutral, inoffensive statement that would be ok as a comment, since it doesn't actually answer the question. "Why don't you simply ask somebody [...]? (emphasis mine) implies "you should have asked", particularly given the second, more aggressive "question". "Why don't you just take a taxi?" would be a similarly unhelpful answer to this question for example.

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    If the suggestion to use a taxi had included information on where to find a taxi in rural Bulgaria, which is able to bring a bicycle and willing and/or allowed to cross the border, it would actually have been a helpful answer if the price had been reasonable. I would not take it for granted that Bulgarian taxi drivers are allowed to operate in Turkey and if only vehicles had been allowed to cross the border, it wouldn't have helped me if the taxi could only take me to the border and not across the border. Aug 8, 2014 at 19:05
  • If the suggestion to communicate with others had provided techniques how to best do this in the cultural and language context of Belgium, it may have been a lot more helpful as well.
    – Jonas
    Aug 9, 2014 at 6:05
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    Which I very well assume that andra has, considering that she had communicated with other people before boarding the train (she wrote that herself) and also lives in Belgium. Aug 9, 2014 at 8:15

First of all, I strongly disagree that my question was "very judgemental" and my point of view seem to be supported by both the comment upvotes and the other comments (it suggests you're taking things a little too personally).

In this case, you describe a specific problem, the problem has an IMHO obvious solution, but for some reason you don't want to or are not able to opt for that solution. There may of course be a reason for why you can't ask fellow passengers where the train is going, but as I also pointed out in my comments: If you don't explain why this solution is not an option, it is hard to give you any help, since it is not unlikely that the issue may apply to other solutions as well, e.g. a language barrier.

It is also not clear (and IMHO relevant) why you need an app to be part of the solutions you are looking for. Working as a "problem solver" (to use a very generic label for my occupation), I am often confronted with people looking for a solution to a problem, where they have already tried to deal with the problem themselves and eventually gotten stuck in a dead-end road. Unless there is a good reason for going towards the dead-end road, it might have been better trying to look for a completely different solution. To relate this to your question: Even if you think it might be a good idea to use an app to solve your problem, it might be completely different solutions available suitable for solving your problem and be within the constraints of your abilities. To stay within the realm of your question: If you don't want to disturb fellow passengers and there is no conductor on board, many trains (at least in Germany) have one or more intercoms in each carriage allowing you to contact the train driver. This could have been a feasible solution to your problem without using an app or internet access.

What I also often experience is that people think they have a specific problem, which they actually don't. I am now generalizing and not relating this to your question, but it is often important also to know why someone have a problem. Often, the circumstances leading to the problem are misinterpreted, people think they have a problem and try to find a solution by heading in the wrong direction as pointed out in the last paragraph.

To boil this down to a few points ... My experience is, that to give a good answer to a question or to help with a problem, the circumstances around the problem must be known:

  • Why is there a problem?
  • What is the problem?
  • Which constraints or limitations apply to a potential solution?

This, as opposed to your question, which in fact only contains the following information:

  • What is the problem?
  • How can I solve the problem using partial solution X (using an app)?

To clarify even further, I could use your style of questioning applied to a different situation and perhaps make it more obvious how to improve the question and why answering such a question is very difficult:

I am standing in a Belgian grocery store and I am thirsty. I do have connection to the internet. Does a website or app exist that allows me to order a bottle of coke and have it delivered here, so that I can quench my thirst?

I know that similar services are offered for food. There you can simply order a pizza and it will be delivered to your location. I am wondering if a similar service exists for lemonade or soda.

This fictional question follows exactly the same pattern as your question:

  • The problem is described ("I am thirsty").
  • A partial solution is suggested ("I want to order something to drink and have it delivered") and the questioner expects someone to suggest a refinement to this solution, so that it can be used to solve the problem.

It would however been much easier to find a solution if the question contained more details:

  • Why is there a problem? Being thirsty in itself is not necessarily a problem, it is only a problem if you don't have anything to drink. Without knowing this detail, it could have been assumed that the questioner carries a backpack with a bottle of water and could have drunk the water to solve the problem. This may of course seem obvious, but only as obvious as it is to me to ask fellow passengers if I am on a train and not being sure where the train is going.

  • Which constraints or limitations apply to a potential solution? In this fictional "I am thirsty" scenario, the most obvious solution would of course have been to buy something to drink in the grocery store. Even here though, there might of course be circumstances making such a solution impossible. If you've just arrived from the airport flying in from somewhere, don't have local currency and the grocery store won't accept your credit card, you may of course have a good reason not being able to simply buy something to drink. In this case, the same limitations do however apply to the partial solutions suggested by the questioner. If you don't have local currency, it is not unlikely that you are not able to order something to drink and have it delivered either. Also in this case, it is important to know how and why any possible solutions are not applicable.

Hopefully this explains my criticism better. It is hard to elaborate much with the limited number of characters in the comment field.

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    While there was certainly nothing wrong with clarifying 'why not ask the person next to you?', I think the problem came with the second sentence - "Have people forgotten how to communicate with other humans just because something could be found on the internet?" - the tone sounds a bit sarcastic and probably wasn't necessary, IMHO.
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 8, 2014 at 14:23
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    @MarkMayo: I might have agreed with you if I had asked "Have you forgotten ...". Aug 8, 2014 at 14:30
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    For the record, asking someone why they wouldn't do something isn't wrong? But implying that people who don't do it are anti-social is downright incorrect as well. Aug 8, 2014 at 15:55
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    @Relaxed: I count three people criticising my comment: andra, you and Aditya. Who is the fourth? And completely ignoring the 6 upvotes, it makes you think I did something wrong or am in a position where I have to admit doing something wrong? If you feel the need to criticise my meta answer, please be specific and don't just claim it's off topic. It is ment as a response to andra's comment, trying to explain why further details are necessary to help. If you don't like the explanation, please explain why it's irrelevant. Aug 8, 2014 at 18:47
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    And by the way, can I complain somewhere about being bullied and called stupid? Aug 8, 2014 at 18:47
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    I think there is some noise on the line here. I upvoted @Tor-EinarJarnbjo , because I read it has "Nowadays many people are using their phone a lot, I don't really like that development", while Andra read it as "You are an anti-social retard who does not talk to people". Perception and intention is obviously mismatching here, which easily happens if you lose all kinds of information and only keep the words.
    – Bernhard
    Aug 8, 2014 at 22:57
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo I think you might want to refer to it as an XY-problem: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66377/what-is-the-xy-problem . I agree with you that the question looks like an XY problem (again, perception and intention). By adding a short "because I don't want to disturb other travellers" would've made this whole discussion non-existent.
    – Bernhard
    Aug 8, 2014 at 23:01
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    @Bernhard: I agree completely and that is exactly what I've tried to explain with this lenghty post. Had andra simply added "because I don't want to disturb other travellers" to her question, it would have been clear why she was not opting for the "obvious solution" and it would have opened for other possibilites than actually using an app or a web site. Aug 8, 2014 at 23:26
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    @Relaxed: Sure, it would probably have been more convenient for you if I just hid under a stone and didn't defend myself against your senseless attacks. IMHO, right now, it's you making a big problem out of nothing and I am not sure why you're interpreting Mark's comment to be in your league. He saying that my comment was "probably not necessary" and you insulting me with being "stupid or disingenuous" is not really the same. Aug 8, 2014 at 23:31
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo There is nothing that prevents you from saying "I am sorry, Andra, I did not mean to offend you", remove your comments, update/improve the question with this remark, and flag all the other comments as obsolete. That way, everybody is happy and we are left with an interesting question, which is the intention of website, right? :-)
    – Bernhard
    Aug 8, 2014 at 23:34
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    @Bernhard: It would have been very dishonest of me to say that I am sorry, if I am not. Choosing the easy path and lying to prevent a discussion is not really my thing. Aug 8, 2014 at 23:45
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    @Relaxed Your comment was more offensive than Tor-Einar's original comment. You called him stupid, and you are hiding behind the fact you called "some act" stupid. I think, if you reread it with a different pair of glasses, you see that that comment can be interpreted differently as well.
    – Bernhard
    Aug 9, 2014 at 7:07
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    @Relaxed The context should be completely irrelevant in how we treat eachother.
    – Bernhard
    Aug 9, 2014 at 7:23
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    @Relaxed It's not about how you call arguments (what you say here), but how you call people (what you did and what I referred to). Maybe we have different standard, but I never call people stupid in heated arguments.
    – Bernhard
    Aug 13, 2014 at 9:10
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    @Relaxed Exactly, that is what you intend. That is exactly the same hiding you blamed on the distinction between "have people" and "have you". I hope that you see the point I am trying to make. Anyhow, I will not reply here any more, I think we spent too much time on this discussion anyhow, which is not worth it...
    – Bernhard
    Aug 13, 2014 at 9:15

For the specific question you mentioned, the comment as some said was ok in the first part, second part of it was a less important addition. Regardless, the question was about an app, so the comments and/or answers should be about an app.

In general, I agree with you, as long as the question fits Travel.SE then there is no need to know the reasons behind it, what if the person who asked the question about the app for trains in Belgium was a mute person and he doesn't feel comfortable saying that in his question? then that comment would have been so rude.

For the record, I am not in favor of judging people's motivations, but I also do not think Tor-Einar meant to be offensive or rude when he commented.


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