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I was wondering yesterday, what are the things that lead people ask questions totally unrelated to travel on Travel.SE, I am not talking about normal off-topic questions, I am talking about people who ask about programming, or cellphone contracts, etc.

Is there something in the design or so that lead these people to ask such questions in a site about travel? where nothing obvious at least to my eyes that can cause such confusion, the logo and the title and the tags are totally clear. Even more, the site colors are totally unique and does not match any of the programming sites in SE network, so there is no way that people mistaken for this, plus most of these people are new to SE in general.

What could be the reason behind this? is it something so obvious but we are missing it because we are just used to the site? or is it as simple as innocent mistakes from these people?

Samples:

There were many similar question, but most of them were deleted automatically by the system because they were closed and with los scores. So I can't find many now.

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    Probably for the same reason people ask about things unrelated to the topic of every site... on every sight. – Flimzy Oct 10 '14 at 23:49
  • It happens from time to time on Skeptics.SE. Don't worry about it. – Andrew Grimm Oct 15 '14 at 1:47
  • Questions on cellphone contracts could very well be related to travel. (E.g. I'm going to travel in France for two months; should I get a cellphone contract? What contract should I get?) Programming questions are probably just a mistake (they were thinking of the original SE site). – Kenny LJ Oct 17 '14 at 15:52
  • @KennyLJ that was not the case of the question I saw, it was purely about phone contracts.. – Nean Der Thal Oct 17 '14 at 17:06
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For really totally unrelated questions that would fit on other SE sites ... maybe ...

The mobile version of the StackExchange sites do seem to all use the exactly same generic StackExchange theme.

stackoverflow looks exactly the same as travel, etc. Just click on the "mobile" link at the bottom of the page.

Maybe some people get confused by this.

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    This really makes sense – Nean Der Thal Oct 15 '14 at 14:44
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I have a theory (but no idea how to test it!) “A Q&A site that is free, quick, relatively reliable, little advertising, does not demand personal details etc? This is not the real world!” – at which point logical reference points fly out the window and the fantasy of a fairy godmother (who can fix everything) takes over *.

But it is also some practical considerations. If English is not the OP’s first language the message received will not be as clear as otherwise and there is a lot less incentive to read the details of what is and what is not on topic, etc. (May account for example for a question on SO about where to buy a particular brand of cigarettes.)

Site confusion is still a possibility. The design aspects you mention help to make the context clear but lose some of that impact for anyone “at home” at more than one SE site. I know this is the case as I flit between two or three and on one recently the OP readily admitted it was purely his mistake as he had never intended to post where he did. (If you have a problem, don’t really know what it is, are struggling with how to express it and with formatting and trying to comply with all the various conventions all at once your mind might be distracted – the style is familiar, but for the wrong reason!)

More seriously, in my view, but perhaps convenient that it is the most under Travel.SE’s control, is the “normal” in “normal off-topic questions”. I have not noticed many programming questions here (I’d be interested in an example) but certainly have seen a few about cellphones. Are these really not-normal off-topic questions? At present “cellphone closed:0” returns 14 results with around net +85 votes between them and ~30 answers. “mobile closed:0” 85 results, though at least a couple of these do not concern telephony and I’d expect for some any comms aspect is more incidental than core.

Travel.SE is clearly distinct in nature from the Trilogy, where technical questions and answers are more easily categorised. Answers in particular tend to be either right or wrong and there is little “grey”. (So, thankfully, less scope for differences of opinion and where emotions do not run as high.) The Trilogy of course has had longer to reach something of a consensus about what is and what is not on topic. Travel.SE is clearly a long way short of that at present. You have your idea of what is related to and not related to travel here but others quite often do not agree with you. “totally unrelated” should be easier to agree on but I suggest it is part of the same continuum, just crops up less frequently but will still sometimes do so.

the reason behind this?

No one thing, there are several.

we are just used to the site

Possibly the main ‘problem’. You are convinced it works one way, others are equally convinced it works another (slightly different). Some at least of the people who “ask questions totally unrelated to travel” are, in my opinion, being sent mixed messages as a result and not reading them the way you think they should.

innocent mistakes

I think that is part of it, in particular where questions may be on topic or close to being on topic at Aviation or Expatriates or The Great Outdoors.

* This question might be an example of belief in supernatural powers for TSE: “I am going to Germanh and taking a box with a chair in it. how much extra would I pay, and is it allowable”. Apart from a Title and [luggage] tag that’s all, no other details provided whatsoever.

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Cell phone questions do not seem particularly difficult to account for as we already have many of those! Obviously, to insiders, they are only OK if there is a travel angle to them but it might not be the most salient thing for a newcomer. Asking a slightly different cell phone question on a site where there are already many cell phone questions does seem quite logical. Innocent mistakes are therefore very likely (and a big and bright logo is the easiest thing to overlook, cf. “banner blindness”).

More generally, some people have questions that are not quite on topic here, on expatriates or on money but do seem vaguely related to question we already have. We have all gotten so used to closing off-topic question by pointing out to another site that there seems to be an implicit expectations that all questions following general SE rules about subjectivity and the like must fit somewhere. Thus it becomes tempting to post the question on the site with the “least bad” fit or to bounce them between various sites without realizing that there is currently no place for them in the SE galaxy.

That, or people do realize it's a long shot but try anyway on the off chance that they get some useful tip out of it. What's the downside for the poster?

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  • Relaxed, I was referring to this specific cellphone question and I was talking about questions totally unrelated, like programming questions on Travel.SE, not the vague ones or the subjective ones :) – Nean Der Thal Oct 14 '14 at 6:48
  • @MeNoTalk Not sure I understand your remark. My answer seems to apply just fine to any cellphone question and I also excluded subjective and vague questions so it seems we are really talking about the same thing. Incidentally, I don't see many programming questions. – Relaxed Oct 15 '14 at 5:51
  • @pnuts That question is about GPS apps to use while traveling (specifically, international travel.) That doesn't seem off-topic to me and it certainly isn't a programming question (they're asking for existing apps, not how to write one.) – reirab Oct 15 '14 at 16:02
  • @pnuts Ok. I wasn't really sure which you were going for, so I just addressed both. At any rate, that question is definitely not about programming. – reirab Oct 15 '14 at 16:23
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    @pnuts No, I don't. I've never seen a programming question on travel, but I don't watch the recent question page here very closely. I agree that an example of what he's talking about would be helpful, though. – reirab Oct 15 '14 at 16:36
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    Relaxed, check this question, it is deleted and can be viewed by 10k users. – Nean Der Thal Oct 16 '14 at 0:34
  • @MeNoTalk This one is certainly odd! – Relaxed Oct 16 '14 at 5:44
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    One could argue that all mobile phone questions are travel-related. After all, if one never travels but always stays in the same place, one can do with only stationary devices, and has no need for any mobile ones. – gerrit Oct 17 '14 at 14:50

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